Why We Need a Deeper Dialogue on Black-and-Brown Relations

By Luis J. Rodriguez

Recently, African American comedian Katt Williams went on a xenophobic anti-Mexican rant during a comedy show on August 27th in Phoenix, Arizona, apparently in response to a heckler. In comedy it’s painfully hard dealing with audience barbs and catcalls (no pun intended), although everyone knows this is part of the life and any comedian worth their salt generally address such attacks with their most powerful weapon–humor. Yet we get those instances when a comedian loses it. Here is some of what Katt Williams said during his tirade:

“If y’all had California and you loved it, then you shouldn’t have given that mothaf*cka up. You should have fought for California, goddamnit, since you love it… Are you Mexican? Do you know where Mexico is? No this ain’t Mexico, it used to be Mexico, motherf*cker, and now it’s Phoenix, goddammit. USA! USA! No n*gga, do you know where you at? USA! USA! No n*gga, this is my hood. [security comes] F*ck him! Mothaf*ckas think they can live in this country and pledge allegiance to another country. Do you remember when white people used to say go back to Africa? And we’d have to tell them we don’t want to? So if you love Mexico, bitch, get the f*ck over there! [breaks into the National Anthem]. We were slaves bitch, you just all work like that at the landscapers.”

I’m going to make this a “teaching moment” (I know, this is dumb cliché, but you get the point). Why react in kind to Mr. Williams in an already negative environment; this issue is bigger than one bad night at the comedy club (a small message to Mr. Williams: There is always going to be bad nights at the club, get over it). Mexicans did fight for California. In fact, the one major battle they had with Anglo forces invading California they won, with horses and lances, just outside of Los Angeles. Unfortunately, the decision to turn the state over to the United States was made in Washington D.C. without the input of the people involved. In fact, there was a whole war that Mexicans fought to stop the illegal invasion, which, lest Mr. Williams forget, was being pushed by the slave-owning interests in the United States. It was Southern slaveholders who ignited the war to rip Texas away from Mexico when Anglos refused to accept Mexico’s laws against slavery. Mexico had abolished slavery in the early 1800s, way before the Emancipation Proclamation; Mexico even had at least two African-Mexicans as presidents some two hundred years before Barack Obama was elected president in this country. The main catalyst for the Mexican war was the refusal of Mexico to return black slaves–believed to be more than 10,000–who had taken the southern-route of the “underground railroad,” crossing the border to a free Mexico. In Mexico’s governing assembly heavy debates on the issue ended up with the majority supporting these slaves, allowing them to own land, to farm, to become part of the Mexican social fabric.

Mexicans were willing to die so blacks could be free. The invasion, led by a more powerful U.S. army against a mostly poor and subjugated Indian population (including lots of African-Mexicans, who make up the great third of Mexico’s racial heritage) killed upwards of 25,000, mostly civilians, when there was less than eight million people. Today Mexico has one of the world’s highest poverty rate (with 60 percent unemployment and underemployment), the city with the highest murder rate in the world (Ciudad Juarez, due to the recent anti-drug lord campaign of President Felipe Calderon, instigated by the Bush Administration), and vast losses of agricultural as well as manufacturing income from the so-called North American Free Trade Agreement. Millions of Mexicans have been forced to cross the border to the United States to “slave” in the farm fields, the cheap labor sweatshops, and, yes, the landscaping industries. All of which became profitable for U.S.-owners of such shops and industries, profits that have helped keep an economy going, even when many U.S. corporations decided to send jobs–including inner-city jobs–to other countries. It’s time to base our actions and words on our unified histories, our real interests as working people, and not fall into the traps of blaming one another due to race or other nonsensical reasons. Any energy spent by Africans Americans against Mexicans–or Mexicans against African Americans, since this is equally wrong–is energy that could be better spent fighting for justice, economic equity, and a social transformation that benefits our children, our wellbeing, and future generations. My impact I hope will be with the growing surge of all peoples against war and poverty as well as to end the control of our homes, jobs, and lives by a smaller and smaller corporate class. Mr. Williams, if you love the U.S.A. so much, why don’t you rant against that!

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Categories: Chicano/Latino, Immigrant Issues, National News, Political History, Racism

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