Updated: Nov 11, 2022
I spend a fair amount of time in San Juan Puerto and have decided to divide my time between the Island and Miami, Florida. During my travels, I learned a great deal. While
I am not Puerto Rican; I do come from a family of mixed raced ancestry on my late mother's side. I know all too well what it feels like to have your culture stolen and be forced to rebuild again.
In an effort to connect with people who have moved to the island, are indigenous to PR, or have chosen to divide their time like I have, I elected to join two social groups for people living in San Juan. One was a group for entertainment, as well as outreach for hurricane relief. The other was a political chat that explored possible statehood or independence for Puerto Rico.
Within the second group, many conversations were started concerning the future of the island, the history, and exactly what racism is. My background at the university level explored race, ethnicity, and the unique experiences of black, brown, and indigenous people throughout the African Diaspora. I also concentrated on fine arts, and many of the productions I participated in or created myself were about reconciliation, liberation, and healing for all people.
During the course of one conversation, I shared the working definition of racism that is currently used in academia and for sociological studies. It is when a person or group of people use their power to deny another person/group of people basic human rights on the basis of race (ie: the right to clean drinking water, the right to an education, the right to travel freely, or marry who you want.) Contrary to what some definitions say, racism is not simply about hurling a racial slur at someone. While that may hurt your feelings, there is no power dynamic present and thus, your basic human rights are not being violated.
Additionally, if anyone (Irregardless of what race they are) has enough economic power, they can use that power to discriminate against a group of people. It just so happens that in the United States of America, due to the racial wealth gap imposed by slavery, Jim Crow, and redlining, Black Americans as a whole do not hold the same financial capital as White Americans for those purposes. (Please See the Racial Wealth Gap Report for More Information.)
After sharing the working definition of racism, I received a private message from a woman in the group. She told me that my definition was incorrect (even though I studied race and the African diaspora at the university level.) She then proceeded to tell me that I believed only white people could be racist and refused to recognize the pain, suffering, and oppression that white people experienced. After that she shared her own personal struggles as a white woman and told me that I was unaware of the suffering of white people.
I explained to the woman that the definition she was using was obsolete, gave her a reading list, and noted that while we all experience trauma, and she did have my compassion, that should not stop us from reading, growing, and educating ourselves. She then told me that she had studied the diaspora, as had members of her family. I knew that was untrue because the books I gave her contradicted much of what she wrote in her messages. I pointed that out and after a period of time, informed her that I did not have the emotional bandwidth to have further conversations with her. This was due to the fact that she was uneducated on the subject, continued to project dubious motives onto me, called into question my character, and kept presenting outdated terms as fact. I then blocked her and terminated further conversations.
Interestingly, as time progressed, the group began to take a turn and many of the sentiments echoed by that woman made way into other discussions. When I or other members shared books about Puerto Rican history or expressed solidarity with Puerto Ricans who wanted independence, we were met with growing opposition.
People began to say that Puerto Rico was a "melting pot" of all cultures and it was time to come and live together in peace. While that sounded nice, the medium and spiritual worker in me knew those statements were masking a deeper agenda. It was the desire to erase Puerto Rican history, begin again, and remake the island in a new image. I watched as a native Puerto Rican woman asked for more empathy and understanding. Her request fell on deaf ears.
When I vehemently argued that Puerto Rico was not a melting pot and that the three races were a result of colonization that forged one people, the melting pot narrative continued. Frustrated and disappointed, but not surprised, I chose to leave the group. I had so many wonderful experiences on the island and knew that this group of people were not reflective of that. While they spoke about equality, it was clear that many in the group came from a place of privilege and wanted to maintain that. They were fine to give money and supplies to hurricane victims, but they did not want to give up their status, power, or feelings of superiority. The notion of challenging themselves, extending empathy to the disenfranchised, or doing anti-racist work was out of the question.
As a spiritual worker, I was saddened but I also knew there were and are many of us who will continue the fight for racial equity. We are also committed to healing ancestral trauma. For those reasons, my heart is with the people of Puerto Rico and the beautiful Boricuas who fought for their independence but did not live to see it through.
I am thankful for the wonderful Poly Sci student who struck up a conversation with me just a few days prior and suggested I read A War Against All Puerto Ricans. It lets me know that the ancestors walk with us and the quest for healing is not in vain. I embrace solidarity with all conscious people who want to make this world a better place. May the light of God shine on Puerto Rico and may the valiant ancestors rise in power.
Your memory is blessing, always and forever.
Nicole Bowman is a Psychic, Medium, and Intuitive Artist. She is the author of I Am Spirit...Positive Affirmations for a Soul-Filled Life on Amazon
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