Zainab at the Black Speculative Arts Movement event at University of Toronto | Image source: Zainab Amadahy
“It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.”
As someone of mixed race (including African American, Cherokee and Seminole) I’ve been asked many times over my 66 years to play a role in community and arts projects aimed at building relationships among Black and Indigenous folks. Too often, that role has been to mediate conflicts that arise in such endeavors.
As a result of the work I’ve been doing, I’ve given a lot of thought to why relationships across these communities are seen as being so highly volatile. I’ve noticed a lot of fear and anxiety around doing this work. I know of community workers who swear they’ll never be involved such initiatives again. And I’ve certainly witnessed some unnecessary harm people have dealt to each other in these endeavors. Anti-Black racism among Indigenous people is real. Anti-Indigeneity is real among Black folks. The anxiety and trepidation folks bring to entering into these relationships and/or fostering them is real, and informs the negative outcomes. So I’d like to contribute to easing the anxiety and stress with which people enter into these relationships.
The first question I had to resolve for myself around this issue was why I feel this work is so important. Is it more crucial than building relationships across other communities? Blacks and Latinx people? Asians and Indigenous folks? Whites and everybody else? My answer is no yet I still feel Indigenous and Black relationships hold a special significance.
The foundations of White supremacist settler colonialism in the Americas are:
• The stealing of Indigenous lands,
• The enslavement of Black bodies,
• The enslavement of Indigenous peoples (which took place much more widely in the Caribbean, Central and South America),
• The intentional genocide undertaken on both peoples (although carried out differently),
• The erasure of these atrocities from historical accounts,
• The current and persistent denial of these atrocities.
These are the initial violences of colonialism in the Americas. They paved the way for massive wealth to be accumulated by mainly White male settlers in the Americas. All other violence that came after was heaped on top of that foundation. Black and Indigenous peoples have been pitted against each other for centuries because settler governments knew that solidarity between us threatened the colonial project. Several scholars have shown that White settlers were hyper aware of places like Palmares in Brazil, the Black Seminoles of Florida, and the Garifuna and other Maroon communities in the Caribbean and Mesoamerica, where Indigenous and Black people lived and fought together, resisting enslavement and land theft. Across the Americas laws were passed forbidding friendships, marriages, trade and business relationships across our communities. Fostering division was and is a key pillar of the colonial project. They were terrified of our unity and remain so.
Amicable relationships and solidarity among Indigenous and Black peoples is as crucial as it is for all BIPOC communities but to undermine the foundational divisiveness of colonialism is not only symbolic and inspirational and it shakes of White supremacy to its core. Just as when the ice cracks under your feet, undermining the foundations of any structure completely destabilizes and foreshadows its demise.
My intention with this 4-part exploration of Black and Indigenous Relations is to offer up some insights that have emerged for me over decades of not just doing the work but living it. Part 2: Traumatized People Traumatize People discusses how healing our collective, inherited and personal traumas is crucial to building healthy relationships, yet is consistently under valued. Parts 3: What You Resist Persists explores which intentions and points of focus undermine our relationships and which strengthen them. Part 4: Expanding Collective Consciousness discusses the spiritual benefits of deepening and strengthening our relationships.
My hope is that folks interested in decolonization and social transformation will benefit from this 4-part discussion and apply whatever wisdom emerges from it into their work, lives and relationships.