Day 2 of the International Exchange: Confronting Anti-Blackness
“I recognize and embrace Guatemala – and I recognize and embrace Guate-Black.” – Joanna Wetherborn
Anti-Blackness exists everywhere, including in our movements to end violence against cis and trans girls and women and those who are gender non-conforming. The only way to build successful, powerful anti-violence movements is to recognize and confront the anti-Blackness in ourselves and in our work. To help us ground in the context of Black women’s experiences in Mesoamerica, JASS invited Glenda Joanna Wetherborn, a Guatemalan Creole journalist and communications specialist, to join us for the day.
Joanna candidly shared that Blackness has been erased in Guatemala – “People think I’m from anywhere but here” – and when they do acknowledge her, they assume she is Garifuna. The Garifuna community, a Black Indigenous community along the Atlantic Coast of Central America, has received a lot of well-deserved attention for their successful community organizing to defend the territory and human rights of their people. But the lack of narratives and education on other Black populations in the region, such as Creole people like herself who have been living in Guatemala for several generations, is indicative of their invisibility and a broad unwillingness to interrogate stereotypes. One of her missions is to break down the myth that the only explanation for Blackness in the region is due to slavery. She and other Black women have been advocating for the Guatemalan government to adopt the term “Afro-descendant” in the census and other governmental processes that impact public priorities and budget allocations.
Many experiences Joanna shared resonated deeply with Black Movement Makers, such as Black women and girls being frequent targets of sexual aggression and violence and at younger ages, not being believed when they share experiences of racism and sexism or having their experiences minimized, hyper-sexualized attitudes toward Black bodies, and no recognition of their work and expertise. She also shared that even though she has called herself a feminist since a young age, she doesn’t see herself in a feminist movement that historically has and continues to center white women.
Indigenous women in the Intercambio, including Mayan women from Guatemala, also saw clear connections in their experiences, including being exploited by elected officials for votes and cultural tourism without any actual investment in their communities, being seen as cheap labor, and having to change the way they dress and the languages they speak for their own safety. Many wondered how Indigenous and Black communities could be better allies and see themselves as part of a common struggle.
Joanna named some clear ways that she helps build power for Black communities in the region. At the top of the list are creating autonomous spaces for Black women to connect and support each other, consistently naming the contributions that Black people have made, and always bringing her perspective as a Black woman to any dialogue – “I make all the spaces I occupy Blacker.”
She also expressed a desire for more accomplices in this work: “I’m not tired of fighting. I’m tired of fighting alone.” She challenged us to think about our responsibility to interrupt anti-Blackness including when Black people aren’t in the room. She named the un-learning we all need to do around Indigeneity and Blackness, and called for more opportunities to come together.
Joanna joining us early on in the Intercambio has created a crucial opening for deeper dialogue around anti-Blackness in our movements, greater openness of those who identify as Mestiza to name their Black ancestry, and stronger interest in building cross-racial alliances. We are deeply grateful to her for moving us further along a powerful path of exchange.