The Black and Latino Coalition Project works to improve an ongoing dialogue between Black and Latino communities. The ASU Center for the Study of Race and Democracy hosted a community summit in March. Dr. Matthew Whitaker, ASU history professor and founding director for the ASU Center for the Study of Race and Democracy discusses the summit.
José Cárdenas: The black and latino coalition project works time prove an ongoing dialogue between blacks and Hispanics. The ASU center for the study much race and democracy hosted the black and latino coalition project in march. "Trending Race Shaping and Embracing Black and Latino Identity" is a documentary film that was shown at the summit. We'll talk about the community summit in a moment, but first here's a short clip of what the film is about.
Clip: How do you answer the question, of being? How do you answer a question of existing? Who else am I? Who else can I possibly be? We've got a lot of fire and passion. What am I? That's when I started calling myself Chicano. It depends on where I'm at. If I'm in a corporate setting, the term Hispanic because it's a safe and culturally it's not very -- It's not a very -- It doesn't -- I think someone said they're Hispanic, or Latina, or Mexican, I just say I'm Mexican-American. I suppose I just say U.S. Latino. To talk about black identity, you can't do it in a vacuum. There is no one black identity. That has to be a very complicate and nuanced conversation.
José Cárdenas: With me to talk about the summit is Dr. Matthew Whitaker, a history professor at Arizona State University, and founding director for the ASU center for the study of race and democracy. Professor, good to have you back on "Horizonte." Let's talk about the documentary first. That was what kind of kicked off the summit as I understand it.
Matthew Whitaker: Yeah. I wanted to do something that would answer some questions about why blacks and Latinos historically have a collaborated to the extent that a lot of people think that they should have or should. And we found that one of the reasons why they didn't is because even within our own communities, there was really a lack of understanding about who we are and where we've come from. We did the film to interview people from all walks of life, who identify as black and Latino to have them talk to us about how their identity was shaped. And what we came away from that is that a lot of the lack of coalition between the groups really stems from a lot of ignorance about where we've come from, who we are, the fact you can be black and Latino at the same time, and those type of issues. So we wanted to do the film and show the film so we could talk about that before we started talking about the nuts and bolts of what a collaboration would look like, why we need to have one, and how do you put one together.
José Cárdenas: Part of this summit was reactions to the film.
Matthew Whitaker: Yes.
José Cárdenas: And what did people say?
Matthew Whitaker: It was fascinating. People were very moved by it. We showed it at every ASU campus, and they were moved because they said someone finally put something together that addressed something they had been concerned about. Particularly people who lived in the margins. For instance, I had a number of folks who identified both as black and Latino say to me, finally, somebody has identified the fact that the two communities are empathetical, that being Dominican is a nationality, but being a person of Afro-Latino descent is a racial construction. So a social racial construction. They were moved by it and felt something could be done, tangibly if more people had this conversation.
José Cárdenas: And what about those people, and there was a young man in the film who says, I'm black and I'm proud of it, basically I have no doubts. And I assume there were others like that saying the same thing about being Latino. What was their reaction to the fact that for many people that's an issue as to what they are so to speak?
Matthew Whitaker: They actually reacted really well to it. I think most liked the fact somebody asked them, and they had an opportunity to communicate that which they considered themselves to be. But what we found is that whether they were black or Latino or identified as both, all of them shared a similar history and a similar position to the large society as someone who is grappling with desegregation, de facto segregation, discrimination, and the marginalization that comes with being someone who is outside of the normal, the dominant culture. All of them shared that. So that was one of my goals, to tease that out so we can identify things that they could collaborate on, that we could collaborate on that were substantive in nature rather than this kumbaya call for can't we just get along brother and sister etc.
José Cárdenas: Did it work? You had this as kind of setting the stage. You had a series of workshops. Could you tell that the film had informed the discussion in the workshops?
Matthew Whitaker: Yes. Definitely. Because what we started having were substantive conversations during the workshop about things we have in common. For instance, America is 5% of the world's population. We have 25% of the world's prisoners. 66% of whom are black and Latino. We black and Latinos occupy the same space when it comes to indices and report about diabetes. Heart disease, educational inequalities and disparities. Whatever the case may be, when it comes to these major indices, we share a lot of that. In addition to positive things about how we put our families together, the value we put on networking and communalism, those are similar things we can partner on.
José Cárdenas: Did people react to that, saying I'm surprised we have these things in common? Were there really people like that?
Matthew Whitaker: Not surprised, as much as happy that someone was actually emphasizing it. Rather than emphasizing that which has been pulling us apart. So hardly anyone mentioned the recent tenuous and sort of district race in district eight.
José Cárdenas: Did that surprise you?
Matthew Whitaker: That surprised me. Because they were wanting to focus on positives. Things that overlap. They were more concerned with a solution-based conversation that can bring us together to pool our resources, social economic political and cultural, to address these issues together.
José Cárdenas: Is that something people should have been talking about more?
Matthew Whitaker: I think so. I think so. One person did say something to me that resonated. This person said, we are arguing so much over a school board seat, and a city council seat. What we need to be talking about collectively is power. Because numbers ebb and flow. Latinos may be the largest community of color in the United States now and will be for some time, but what if immigration demographic changed? What's going to happen? We are by 2050,2060 are going to be half of the population. So we are going to be half of the population hopefully of the remaining most powerful country on the planet. So how are we going to lead? Black and Latinos? And how are we going to lead if we have not 50 years earlier, dealt with problems like how are we going to share a school board seat? Or how are we going to negotiate a city council. How are we going lead at the national level years from now when the majority of us are fighting over one piece of the pie in the overall big piece of the pie?
José Cárdenas: Did you mention to me there was one person who brought up the subject and that was Edward James Olmos.
Matthew Whitaker: Yes, he was fascinating. We capped off the event with a conversation with him, and he was awesome. And one of the things he emphasized is this notion, this delineation between black and Latinos really is a myth. It's something that's fabricated, something that often times, too often our leaders fabricate. Because we really come from the same space. At one point he said whether you're black, Latino, or white, or Asian, we all could from Africa. We all have this sort of, if you go back far enough. He said he's been credit sized for saying something like that. But one of the things he emphasized was our shared humanity. If we're going to be political, be political in a way that identifies real present concerns. And I've already articulated some of them. Prison systems, health care, education, talk about that and talk about ways to come together to solve those particular problems. Rather than being very eager to sort of wield numbers on behalf of a community that may be large in number, but not necessarily building the sort of bonds they should be --
José Cárdenas: There's so much more to explore on this topic. I want to make sure we talk about something coming up very exciting, Forest Whitaker is going to be here.
Matthew Whitaker: Forest Whitaker is going to be our innaugural speaker on Delivering Democracy Lecture. He's an actor, filmmaker and director, but he's also an international humanitarian and activist. So he's going to come and challenge all of us particularly our young population, to be more engaged civically and to look toward the political process and community involvement as being an alternative are some of the negative things that pull us away from strengthening our democracy. So we're looking forward to that. We already have about 1,600 RSVPs for the event. It's going to be one of those things if you don't get a seat early on, there might be some problems.
José Cárdenas: We put information on the screen a moment ago. Is there still time for people to get in?
Matthew Whitaker: Yes. Plenty of time. It's free and open to the public. And we're going to have a media session, with young people who are very concerned about working with young people, and it's going to be an opportunity for people in the central city, and all over the valley, to come in here and to do so for free. And to hear an icon talk about the importance of some of the things we know are important, but it's different when you have somebody come on of his stature and say I may be rich and famous but these are things --
José Cárdenas: April 22nd.
Matthew Whitaker: Yes.
José Cárdenas: OK. That's our show for tonight. From all of us here at eight and "Horizonte," I'm José Cárdenas. Have a good evening.
Dr. Matthew Whitaker:History Professor and Founding Director, Arizona State University and ASU Center for the Study of Race and Democracy;