Tuesday, February 10, 2009
By: Carlito Rovira
Racist oppression gives rise to solidarity
The historical struggle of the African American people was the
inevitable consequence of the introduction of slavery by capitalists
in the Western Hemisphere. The collective experience of the African
American people over the course of many generations ran parallel to
the development of U.S. capitalism at every stage. Their plight, from
the era of the slave trade to the present day, reveals the inherent
oppression within capitalism.
Racist terror, degradation and discrimination were the objective
circumstances that compelled into existence the militant tradition of
resistance in the African American masses. Their steadfastness in
many key moments in history proved exemplary to the U.S.
working-class movement, and particularly to other oppressed nationalities.
African American history is replete with displays of genuine
solidarity with other liberation struggles. The Black press, the
Black church and outspoken African American figures such as W.E.B.
DuBois openly condemned the motives behind the 1898 Spanish-American
War. The U.S. government and giant banking enterprises sought
military conflict with Spain to win colonial control of Guam, the
Philippines, Cuba and Puerto Rico.
Black Puerto Rican scholar Arturo Schomburg devoted his life to
compiling vast collections of writings documenting significant events
in Black history. Before moving to New York City's Harlem community,
Schomburg was a member of the clandestine Revolutionary Committee of
Puerto Rico, which organized the famous 1868 Grito de Lares uprising.
He eventually became a prominent figure during the Harlem
Renaissance, which challenged the ideological facets of white
supremacy through the literary, visual and performing arts.
The young Puerto Rican revolutionary nationalist leader Dr. Pedro
Albizu Campos was very critical of the racism within the United
States. Campos's mother was Black, which gave him first-hand insight
into the impact of racist oppression. Campos's outspoken oratory
against the racist practices "in the house of the empire" caught the
attention of Pan-Africanist leader Marcus Garvey, who traveled to
Puerto Rico to meet the renowned leader.
Despite their differences in goals and tactics, the meeting was
highly symbolic for this period in history. The Russian Revolution
emboldened workers' struggles and nationalist movements throughout
the world, including the United States and Puerto Rico, and instilled
a sense of vulnerability in the U.S. capitalist class.
Black struggle inspires Puerto Rican militancy
The Spanish-American War had a significant impact on African
Americans, amongst them soldiers who were sent to wage the colonial
war. Black troops resented their white officers using racial slurs
against Filipino people, which were reminiscent of their own
experience in the United States. Many Black soldiers defected to join
the anti-colonial Filipino guerrilla army. The most notable of them
was David Fagan, of the 24th Infantry Division. Fagan won the
admiration and respect of the Filipino people and was made a
commander in their guerrilla army.
Puerto Ricans have migrated to New York City and surrounding counties
since the mid- 1800sin most cases, to escape Spanish colonial
persecution. But in the years after World War II and well into the
1960s, Puerto Ricans migrated to U.S. industrial centers at an annual
average rate of 63,000 due to economic hardships caused by U.S.
colonialism in Puerto Rico.
What the Puerto Rican migrants encountered was not what they expected
when they uprooted in search of a better life. In addition to the
agony of having to come to a strange land, the Puerto Rican
experience now included greedy racist landlords, housing and job
discrimination, cultural stigmatization by the mass media, police
brutality and the terror of racist white gangs.
While Puerto Ricans began their exodus in the late 1940s, African
Americans were already involved in their "Great Migration" from
southern states where they had been historically concentrated.
Fleeing racist Jim Crow laws and Ku Klux Klan terror, more than 5
million African Americans migrated to the North, Northeast and
California between the 1920s and the 1960s.
The instinct of any oppressed people is to seek allies and find ways
to resist. Puerto Ricans facing the realities of colonialism and
impoverishment could relate to the Civil Rights movement and were
attracted to its boldness.
The Nation of Islam began to approach the newly arrived immigrants
with the aim of politicizing them. And when the Black Panther Party
began organizing in the Puerto Rican community of Chicago, it caused
the transformation of a street youth group known as the Young Lords.
The Young Lords were the first Puerto Rican revolutionary
organization to arise in the United States based on the concrete
political circumstances. They were a decisive factor in the spread of
militancy in the Puerto Rican community of various U.S. cities. Like
the Black Panthers, they advocated for a multinational revolution in
the United States.
As this movement gained momentum, Puerto Ricans gained a sense of
hope and became inspired to fight for their political and economic
rights. By the second half of the 1960s, Puerto Ricans in the United
States had become much more politically adept, thanks to the
struggles of the African American masses.
African Americans and Puerto Ricans further developed their mutual
affinity based on their resistance to racist oppression. In cities
like Chicago, Philadelphia and New York, at street demonstrations and
on college campuses, African American and Puerto Rican masses
instinctively aligned with each other in common struggle. It was not
unusual for the Black liberation flag to be accompanied by the Puerto
The great lessons gained from this experience are still deeply
relevant today. Black oppression was instrumental in the rise of U.S.
capitalism, and the African American masses have confronted head-on
some of its most oppressive manifestations. Their struggle will
continue to be a source of inspiration to the working class and
oppressed peoples, and help forge genuine solidarity with deep
consequences for struggles at home and abroad.