Testimonies to Survival:
notes from an interview with
AURORA LEVINS MORALES
by JULIA DOUGHTY

 

 


     
 

As a mixed-heritage person, I've grown up in coalitions. I have a deep personal stake in working with coalitions, particularly in working with people of color and Jews, since those are the people I belong to. And I have a personal commitment to confronting racism wherever I find it -- including in Jewish communities -- and in confronting anti-semitism wherever I find it, including in communities of people of color.

I'm particularly interested in the way these oppressions intersect: there are a lot of features that they have in common, and there are a lot of things that are different. For example, anti-semitism is very cyclical in nature. You can't really tell by the apparent security of the Jewish population at any one moment what the impact of anti-semitism is on their lives, since anti-semitism in its nature is not constant. A community can look relatively secure, but there is no guarantee that the next time the economic, social, and political cycles of that society swing toward economic hardship and conservatism, Jews will not be scapegoated again. That's a feature of anti-semitism that sometimes people of color, whose oppression is continual and constant, find hard to understand.

One of the places people get stuck is in the ranking of oppressions, which is completely useless in terms of getting anywhere. The fact is, we need to have a dialogue going in which the whole variety of specific historical oppressions that people have experienced can be discussed. And we can figure out how to build coalitions and how to help each other end our oppressions without having to do a score card about who suffered most. Slavery and the Holocaust are not comparable evils; they're both horrible.

The mistreatment of people of color is lumped together under the word "racism" but, in fact, although there are a lot of common features, there are also things that are very different about the historical experiences of Latinos, Chinese Americans, Korean Americans, African Americans, different groups of Native American peoples, and so on. There are differences, as well, between the ways Chicanos and Puerto Ricans have been colonized, and in the specific ways racism has impacted us. These specific histories of oppression can create challenges to our capacity to build alliances.

The issues that people feel the most urgency about will be different in various communities. For example, right now, in Richmond, California, and other areas of the East and West Coasts, there is a conflict going on between the Korean and African American communities. Koreans have been opening small stores in primarily African American communities where, among other things, they sell liquor. African American communities have organized to oppose this as part of the struggle against alcoholism and violence. From this perspective, the stores represent part of an on-going assault, particularly against Black youth. For many Korean store owners, these small business represent economic survival, built on enormous amounts of hard work. Community opposition to the stores may seem just another obstacle being thrown in the way of basic livelihood.

In attempting to build coalitions in the face of conflicts like these, each community must listen to what the other has to say; pay attention to specific histories; pull apart the places where each group's collection is making it hard to see another point of view. We have to take turns listening to each other's pain and anger and fear about surviving, to find ways of reassuring each other that no one is expendable.

 
     

 

 

 

Forward to Morales, continued
 
     
 

 
 

 

 

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