This Workshop Seeks to Critically Address Anti-Blackness in the Latinx Community

Photo by asiseeit / E+

Anti-blackness is global, and it’s certainly alive and well in the Latinx community. From brushing off jokes that are racist to using questionable nicknames for people who are Black to interrogating Black Latinxs about their identity, we have a lot of work to do to move past these bigoted behaviors. Undertaking this task in New York are three Latinas of African descent: Janvieve Williams Comrie, Dash Harris Machado, and Evelyn Alvarez. This month, the three women will host the Anti-Blackness in the Latinx Community Training – the first event in the Caña Negra series.

The workshop aims to critically address how non-Black Latinxs have historically (and currently) perpetuated anti-blackness inside and outside the Latinx community. However, this isn’t often acknowledged enough. “Everybody says that they aren’t racist,” Williams Comrie tells me. “Everybody says that they want to do better. Let’s see who’s serious about it.”

And with Williams Comrie, Harris Machado, and Alvarez at the helm, attendees can be confident they’ll be in the right hands. Williams Comrie is a human rights strategist, trainer, and organizer from Latin America, who has worked with grassroots organizations and the United Nations. She’s a certified professional diversity coach and an associate professor at The New School. Harris Machado is a multimedia journalist and one of the forces behind AfroLatinx Travel, which connects tourists to Latin America’s African roots. She’s also behind NEGRO, a docu-series about Latino identity. Alvarez is the founder of Prom King, which collects and distributes dress clothes for young men. She is also a doula and a consultant with Ramapo for Children where she facilitates trainings for agencies, schools and programs to support urban families.

The trio have the varied experiences and tools to bring together this workshop, which is necessary because voices like theirs are often pushed to the periphery. As Evelyn explains it, there’s a trend that she has seen in recent years: When someone attacks a marginalized community, suddenly white people create workshops. “We want to disrupt that,” Alvarez says.

Alvarez adds that though there’s often a push to get white and white-presenting people to move and make room, they are “taking the room they deserve.” Instead of waiting for someone to invite them to be a guest on a panel, for example, they have decided to take control of the entire narrative. And as such, they can have conversations about blackness be led by those who have lived full black experiences – that is, those whose blackness has always shaped their lives.

“There’s a difference between being of African ancestry and being a Black person.”

While some may view the $125 ticket price as steep, Machado wonders if the cost would be questioned if the facilitators of the event were white. The three of them come from backgrounds that see little funding – much of the time, they money comes from their local communities, their family members, and their own wallets. Usually, they offer free and low-cost events for their communities, but this comes at a major cost to them.

“That’s part of breaking the cycle of anti-blackness,” Harris Machado says. “It’s compensating black folks for their work because this work and effort and labor and sweat and tears don’t come for free.”

And their knowledge doesn’t exist in traditional media. While many outlets have started to embrace the term Afro-Latinx, which has become increasingly popular in recent years, all three of the workshop organizers take issue with the word. They prefer terms like African descended from Latin America, Latina of African descent, or simply, Black. They believe Afro-Latinx has become a way for someone to avoid saying they’re Black.

“There’s a difference between being of African ancestry and being a Black person who has to confront what society puts out for Black people regardless of the border,” Harris Machado says. “The fact is, no matter where me, Evelyn, or Janvieve go, we are Black bodies.”

As they work to challenge anti-blackness in the Latinx community, they are trying to break down behaviors and attitudes that have existed for hundreds of years. As such, this puts them in a “really vulnerable position,” Williams Comrie notes, but they’re doing this to look out for the larger community.

The event’s specifically catered to non-Black Latinxs. On the Facebook page advertising the event, it explicitly states that this workshop is not “for Afro-Latinx people that have been talking, discussing, advocating, and organizing around anti-blackness within the Latinx community.” Instead, the women say they will have a future training for this group.

The workshop is a precursor to the trio’s upcoming podcast – Caña Negra: Porque no somos morenas – which is set to launch in the coming months. The podcast will educate and inform about the realities of people of African descent throughout Latin America and the United States.

While they don’t feel it’s their responsibility to educate people, they do see this as an opportunity to lead conversation and steer it in a direction where – as Alvarez says – it’s going to add value to everyone.

Anti-Blackness in the Latinx Community Training is a one-day event that will take place in Brooklyn on Thursday, March 7, from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tickets cost $125. Learn more here.


Update, March 2, 2019 at 1:20 p.m.: This post has been updated.