#TheWakeUp: How This Movement Moves

It is not often that movement moves, and politics finds its rhythm. But that is exactly what is going to happen at The WakeUp, a morning dance party

3 DJ's, 2 Organizations, 1 Movement

3 DJ’s, 2 Organizations, 1 Movement

supporting Black Lives Matter NYC and the Black Alliance for Just Immigration. The Wake Up is from 7am-9am tomorrow [9/7] at C’mon Everybody. This movement for Black lives will follow the tradition of past movements that moved with their own great music.

In many ways, music is the narrator of this current moment. Despite thousands of statements written and spoken no one is completely certain about the impact and direction of this current movement. The most accurate measure of the difference between the current movement and those of the past may be their sheet music. We can see it in how resistance has marched with Lil Boosie and Nelly while at the same time presenting a politics that exceeds the misogynistic and capitalist confines of the particular musicians, showing us that the break is just as important as the beat. The notes and cadence of this current uprising is heard in artists like Tef Poe and the current movement anthem ‘We Gon’ Be Alright,’ by Kendrick Lamar.  The politics of the artists aside this moment, preceding or in the middle of movement, chose them. In a now well-known incident at the Cleveland conference, Movement for Black Lives activists confronted police arresting a Black teenager. After the child was returned to their mother the group erupted into Kendrick’s ‘We Gon’ Be Alright,’ and a small butterfly floated above the crowd.

The WakeUp is a gesture to this tradition, and a new one of presenting principles that exceed the political or artistic tools that are available. BLM NYC has led locally on direct actions for Black women like #SayHerName and #BlackTransLiberationTuesday that present a challenge to movement: asking how we can address the needs of Black women and girls. This is not just a change in movement rhythm but also a break in the beat that for this new hip-hop generation that has enormous creative potential. And like the music that animates this generation, BAJI has pushed movement agendas that span the globe. We have led locally and nationally on the current crisis in the Dominican Republic, and presented a framework to the movement for Black lives that understands antiblackness as global reality. BLM NYC and BAJI came together in the Safety Beyond Policing collective to resist Mayor De Blasio and Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito’s NYPD expansion efforts and help our community imagine safety on our own terms. Safety Beyond Policing continues in a new phase as we address the surveillance and impact of “community policing.” When it comes to policing we are drawing on the past and providing important breaks from tradition.

This and much more lies in a shout, the beat, and the span of swaying hips and limbs. Tomorrow morning our chants will sound like music because our music sounds like protest. There will be room for everyone at C’mon Everybody, so bring a friend and the entire family. This will be a dry party where you can get some breakfast, contribute to two amazing organizations, and find a new rhythm.

A video posted by BAJI (@instabaji) on


Reflections As We Approach 9-11-15

Post by Devonté Jackson, BAJI Bay Area Organizer

Screen Shot 2015-09-01 at 9.32.51 PMWe are approaching 14 years after the September 11th attacks in 2001 and we are still enduring its aftermath. The reality is that the U.S. exploited this tragedy to broaden its global hegemony in a never ending “war on terror” and to further criminalize communities of color in the U.S. Many activists in the AMEMSA (Arab, Middle Eastern, Muslim, South Asian) community have been fighting the Islamophobic and Xenophobic government and societal response to the 9-11 attacks which has negatively impacted their community through mass criminalization and surveillance, increased hate crimes, and discrimination in schools and the workforce to say the least. But Black Muslim and Black Immigrants’ experience are often silenced through dominant narratives on the the post-911 era. We must understand that there are levels of anti-Blackness in the Xenophobic and Islamophobic response to the September 11th attacks. For example,
Somali-American students in Owatonna, MN reported that they were severely harassed by their classmates and disproportionately disciplined by school officials”.

By honing in on the Black experience in this era, we see the connections between the War on Drugs and the War on Terror. We must first acknowledge that the state had already been waging a War on Drugs when the War on Terror was declared. Domestically, the War on Terror served as a vehicle to expand the State War on Drugs practice and policy of Mass Criminalization. The impact of this expanded the capacity of the state to lock up communities of color through the creation of the Department of Homeland Security and expansion of federal collaboration with local law enforcement agencies.

Before 2001, the inclusion of civil immigration records in the NCIC [National Crime Information Center] had not yet been approved by Congress. Less than a year after September 11, 2001 data on criminal and civil immigration violations began to be integrated into the NCIC system, culminating in the creation of the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System.”

During this era, Mexican Nationals made up 71% of immigration violations, African or Carribean Immigrants 8%, and Asian or Middle Eastern 4%. These figures indicate that Black Immigrants were overrepresented approximately 5 times their actual presence within the larger undocumented community.

We must lift up Black Muslim and Black Immigrants’ experience in order to complicate the narrative around who was impacted by post 911 backlash AND we must complicate the narrative on whom society views as a terrorist as we approach 9-11-15.

This year alone police killings have increased, 9 Black people were killed while in Church in Charleston, several church burnings occurred and went largely unnoticed, and there is a current state of emergency in regards to recent killings of Trans Black Women. This is terrorism. Black people have been terrorized by the Police, White Supremacist Vigilantes (who are infiltrating local law enforcement agencies and the military), ICE, Transphobic Violence, and much more. Much of this is state-sponsored and we see much of this over and over through our social networks which have exposed the conditions.

As we approach 9-11, let us reject militaristic notions of safety and challenge state terrorism that is being waged on Black Lives and communities of color at home and abroad.


Lord Willing and the Creek Don’t Rise: 10 Years since Katrina, Black Communities in Resistance and Recovery

Post by: Tia Oso, National Coordinator for the Black Immigration Network

On August 23, 2005, Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast, the costliest natural disaster and one of the five deadliest Hurricanes ever in the history of the U.S. Devastating to a nearly immeasurable degree, the property and environmental damage suffered throughout the Gulf South region has been calculated in the billions of dollars. And while recovery efforts will be  celebrated this month by some government and corporate institutions, this belies the human cost of the storm and flood damages in the days following which have yet to be properly measured or compensated. In fact many of the most lauded recovery efforts have been damaging, including the privatizing of the Louisiana public school system. Instead, this moment calls fur us to solemnly reflect and assess the state of Black communities impacted by the storm, still healing, still recovering and still fighting to be free. Black leaders across the region created Gulf South Risingto lift the leadership of the people on the frontlines as the region moves from recovery to resistance.

We must never forget the way that Black residents in the cities hardest hit, most notably New Orleans, were abandoned, attacked, abused and neglected in the days following Katrina. As the world watched President George W. Bush fly over the scene, and government agencies such as FEMA and non-profit organizations such as the Red Cross scrambled to provide a woefully inadequate response, one thing became abundantly clear, to paraphrase Kanye West, [America] doesn’t care about Black people.

In the ten years since Katrina, Black communities have withstood and are withstanding with incredible courage and creativity the highs and lows on the path to liberation, with the sometimes faint  but unmistakeable drum beat of resistance. We stand with our brothers and sisters of the region, which holds so much history of the depths of the Black experience of captivity and fight for freedom in the U.S., we must remember our past to draw from it the strength to stand and fight together for our future.

Colette Pichon Battle, BIN Member and Director of Gulfcoast Center for Law and Policy      


Black Lives Matter Visits Cuba

A group of Black Lives Matter activists reflect on the lessons they learned during a recent solidarity trip to Cuba.

By Anita, Chapter Coordinator and Community Organizer with Black Lives Matter,
Amity, the BYP100 NYC Communications Co-chair,
Shannon, Organizing Committee member of the NYC Black Alliance for Just Immigration and Outreach Director for 2013 documentary film Black and Cuba.

“Venceremos, my favorite word in Spanish, crossed my mind. Ten million people had stood up to the monster. Ten million people only ninety miles away. We were here together in their land, my small little family, holding each other after so long. There was no doubt about it, our people would one day be free. The cowboys and bandits didn’t own the world.” – Assata Shakur

Ninety miles south of the United States is a truly different world. As Black Lives Matter activists, from various groups in the movement,  who have been calling for massive structural, political and social changes in our country, we decided to see just what change can actually look like. So in late July we came together with 45 strangers to embark on a life-changing journey to visit and learn about Cuba with the Venceremos Brigade.

In 1969, a coalition of young people formed the Venceremos, “We Shall Overcome”, Brigade, in order to show solidarity with the Cuban revolution and challenge U.S. policies towards Cuba, including the economic blockade and our government’s ban on travel to the island. Our trip, like those that came before us, consisted of work, educational activities, and travel.

We were introduced to a highly educated, politically conscious and diverse society that our government has tried to keep us from for more than 50 years. We met resilient, inspirational, loving people who taught us about generosity, community, humility, and the one simple truth of socialism: that people are consistently prioritized over profit. We found that even within socialism, racial justice is a struggle that must be fought for and encouraged. While we cannot claim to be Cuban experts after one or two weeks, we did learn a great deal about ourselves and what it will mean to continue to build and win a revolutionary movement in our own country.

The three of us — Anita, Chapter Coordinator and Community Organizer with Black Lives Matter; Amity, the BYP100 NYC Communications Co-chair and Shannon, organizing committee member with the NYC Black Alliance for Just Immigration and Outreach Director for 2013 documentary film Black and Cuba— came with different perspectives, met and bonded over our questions and analysis of the experiences we had during the trip.

(L to R: Amity, Shannon, and Anita)

We found that In Cuba, people do not like to talk about race.








For Cuba, racial discrimination is a curse that both fled the country with the Cuban exiles and stayed behind with the revolution. 

To be fair to the Cuban revolution, many of the Black Lives Matter movement’s “radical” demands to alleviate the effects of structural racism have been fulfilled in Cuba: all education (including higher education) is free, healthcare is free, housing is subsidized, healthy food is subsidized, and more. In 1962 the Cuban government declared the end of racial discrimination through the implementation of these egalitarian policies.  In the U.S., racism is aggressive and deadly, systemic and carefully calculated. Although not fully eradicated, we found it true that Cuba’s socialist model diminishes the presence of structural racism and Cubans rightfully take pride in being more socially advanced than the U.S. in their “pursuit” for racial equality.

But, more than 50 years into the ongoing revolutionary project in Cuba, racial equality has still not been fully achieved and is often not addressed directly. While Cuba is an amazing example of how socialism can work to benefit the good of all people, Cuba is also proof that socialism or any tactic other than deliberately and intentionally working towards eradicating institutional and structural racism will not yield total racial equality.

But, it is 2015 and Cuba still does not like talking about race and if you try, we learned, you may be seen as an enemy to Cuban unity. As we attempted to delve deeper into racial conversations while on our trip, we gained a deeper understanding of the possible reasons this response was so common.

We were told “structural racism doesn’t exist in cuba,” after all, the country was unified under the spirit of Cuban nationalism, the people are one. In fact, in the face of American imperialism Cuba needed to come together as a nation inclusive of race, in order to fend off violent physical, psychological and ideological attacks from the United States.  White, Black, and “Mestizo” or “Mulatto” Cubans fought side by side for justice against the oppressive ruling class of Americans and their Cuban business partners. In America we are Black Americans or White Americans, we fall (or are placed) into clearly marked categories that have been promoted to divide us for centuries. This difference presented a confusing paradox for us as we learned and traveled through Cuba.

What does it mean to an anti-racist movement if everyone– black, white, racist or ally– belongs to us?

Esteban Morales Domínguez, one of Cuba’s most prominent Afro-Cuban intellectuals and a leading authority on race in the country, told us that “when someone is racist towards you, you have a big responsibility in that moment. You can either make a friend or a foe in that moment.” For Amity, who is biracial, this reminded her of the relationship she has with white family members where she feels ownership and responsibility for them even when they say or do racist things. The idea is, if everyone, even a racist, belongs to you and your society, you are responsible both the your aggressor and to society as a whole in that moment.

 We were at an impasse. Almost every pivotal moment for African Americans in the United States has shown that this is not a reality that society affords us. While our allies have been strong and unyielding, on a national scale we are not treated like we belong and have consistently faced violence from our neighbors and even the state. The love of a family member is not present when dealing with American society’s racism on a larger scale and the three of us do not believe that it mentally or physically is safe for an oppressed person to have the inherent task of educating their oppressors. We have each advocated for white allies to take a more active role in responding to and educating racist Americans. We want to deal with the permanent racist element in our country in more holistic, balanced and safe ways in order to build a more supportive society for all of us.

It was particularly affecting for us to hear Esteban say this, especially when most white Cubans we met did not like to talk about or admit that racism even exists in Cuba. But you can use your eyes to see. Black Cubans do not have access to economic liberty in the same way that white Cubans do. This can especially be seen in the booming tourism industry in Cuba where economist and labor leaders told us that many Cuban businesses are owned and ran primarily by white Cubans. Much like in the U.S. for Black Americans, it is more common to see Black Cubans behind the scenes– in the kitchen as cleaners rather than servers, as performers rather than managers.

For many of us Black folx on the trip, the non Black Cubans’ approach to racial discrimination felt very similar to #AllLivesMatter, a dismissive response to the urgency and need for #BlackLivesMatter in the U.S. It felt silencing and hurtful. Especially when one Cuban government economist claimed that “institutional racism does not exist in Cuba,” only racism on the individual level, therefore making it a problem that cannot be solved by the State.  Especially when we Black Brigadistas experienced and witnessed racism in Cuba and in our own group. Our last night in Cuba, for example, Shannon was approached by two light-skinned Cuban men and aggressively implored to bleach her skin “in order to be prettier” after spending two weeks in a country where race was treated as a second-thought. This triggering incident made us think- if this happened to just one of us, how many dark-skinned Cuban girls are growing up with this type of violent messaging about their place in the world?

We were once again being told how to feel, see, and witness what it is like being Black.

This is an experience that is shared by both Black Cubans and Black Americans alike. In Cuba there are folk songs, monuments and effigies to the heroes of the revolution, the victors who freed the country from the cruelty of the dictator Fulgencio Batista Zaldívar and the strong arm of U.S. imperialism and enacted a total socialist revolution. The most prominent of these heroes are the three comandantes:

  1. Fidel Castro, revolutionary leader turned prime minister and president

  2. Camilo Cienfuegos, leader of rebel forces who tragically disappeared when his plane went missing less than a year into rebel forces winning the country’s governance

  3. Ernesto “Che” Guevara, the man with one of the most identifiable faces in the world, top Comandante and a symbol of revolution worldwide.

Over and over again we saw images of these men on t-shirts, highway signs, murals, memorials, posters and in the songs and talks we had with Cubans. From the siege of the Moncada Military Barracks for weapons led by a young Fidel Castro to Che Guevara’s bombing of an armed military train and subsequent capture of the city of Santa Clara to the folk tale of Camilo Cienfuegos standing in the middle of an open field, cigar in mouth, shooting at a Batista fighter jets– these heroes are the stuff of legend.

The fact that these three — good looking, cisgender, heterosexual, able-bodied, white, Latino men coming from class, education and privilege — became the leaders of a poor and working class socialist revolution did not escape us involved in the BLM movement.

They are shining, untouchable, messianic figures revered in by Cubans as the “Trilogia de la Revolucion Cubana” similar to white Americans reverence of the founding fathers and Black Americans love of Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X. Though their valor and heroic deeds were revolutionary and produced real change, their total visibility takes up space where Afro-Cubans, women and LGBTQ people should also share some glory.

Though Celia Sanchez emerges as one of the most beloved Cuban women from the revolution she is not treated to the same mythic proportions as the three comandantes. Although the revolution granted women equal status in the eyes of the law, protection from workplace discrimination, comprehensive maternity leave and the right to choose their efforts are not heralded as loudly. Much of the same social and interpersonal sexism and marginalization persists in Cuban society. LGBTQ of all genders experienced increased homophobia and transphobia during the revolution  (Fidel was openly homophobic) and, although progressive legislation has passed, sex-reassignment surgery has been available for almost three decades day to day life is still riddled with homophobia and transphobia.

La Trilogia de la Revolucion Cubana’s prominence continues the marginalization of these communities- communities that have always carried the brunt of the burden of the oppressive state and does the hardest, dirtiest work in eradicating it. In 20th century movements for social justice abroad and domestically cis, straight men are still typically the most prevalent figures to emerge, we see this as a detriment to the movements as a whole.

We thankfully saw another difference between our own movement and that of revolutionary Cuba. Standing in the Museum of the Revolution looking at the statue of these three pointing up and outward, named the “Trilogia de la Revolucion Cubana”  we couldn’t help but feel genuinely grateful for the community that Black Lives Matter has created that doesn’t ask us to repress any parts of ourselves for the greater good.

We wish we had come from girlhood to womanhood with the powerful image of  Opal Tometi, Alicia Garza and Patrisse Cullors the founders and leaders of Black Lives Matter leading the greatest movement for Black liberation in the 21st century. Seeing Black women in open communion with each other and even more open dissent against a powerful, oppressive regime is crucial in countering the harmful narratives of popular media that tells young, Black women to turn up on each other and be complacent with our position in society. Their leadership, action and humility are emblematic of a new dawn of social revolution that centers Black femmes of all fashion- queer, trans, cis, poor, working-class, differently abled. We know we can all be part of the movement because they are. In the words of Opal Tometi,  they want a leaderful movement because they believe can,

“create much more room for collaboration, for expansion, for building power when we nurture movements that are full of leaders, and allow for all of our identities to inform our work and how we organize. This then allows for leadership to emerge from our intersecting identities, rather than to be organized around one notion of Blackness. Because of this, we resist the urge to consolidate our power and efforts behind one charismatic leader.”

Not only did they selflessly create the platform for revolutionary leadership and organizing, but they don’t need the glorification of owning the movement and they don’t ask that any of us tone any parts of ourselves down.  This is what revolutionary Black femme-led leadership looks like.  The Cuban revolution was successful in creating a socialist economic and political system but its cis, white, hetero male leadership had the blinders of patriarchy on and they remained unable, or unwilling in some cases, to fight for the complete liberation of all Cubans.

Luckily Cubans realize the revolution is an ongoing, ever growing national project.

Unlike movements in the U.S. which have historically had beginnings and ends, the revolution in Cuba never ended. Coming from the Black Lives Matter movement in the U.S., we are very grateful and inspired by the results of the ongoing revolutionary efforts by the Cuban people.

As our own imperialist, racist country begins to open up relations with Cuba, we fear that our own communities will become a force that enhances the very racism and inequality we strive to eradicate at home. We challenge our movement and our country to study Cuba and travel with care and thoughtfulness as our country makes Cuba more accessible to us. And for those Black, queer, cis and trans Cubans who are still feeling the brunt of oppression, Black Lives Matter is a worldwide call to action in full support of your continued organizing for liberation and we will continue to lift you up and stand in solidarity until we are all free. Venceremos!

Surveillance and Black Political Futures

Post by Benjamin Ndugga-Kabuye, BAJI NYC Organizer

There is something different about the air we are breathing today. As much as we are expecting something there is also a sense that by our every action history is expecting us. The arc of history does not naturally bend in a particular direction so BAJI and the Black Immigration Network joined hundreds of activists and organizations in Cleveland for the Movement for Black Lives Convening (M4BL). We expected to get some answers, but we may have left with more interesting questions.

cle1Many of you have heard about the confrontation with police officers at the end of the convening but our first confrontation with security forces came during a night out at a local Cleveland lounge. What appeared to be an especially powerful night out for Black activists turned Michael Jackson werewolves and afro-beat mavens was in reality laced with aggression as Black trans men and women were surveilled throughout the night as they used facilities many take for granted. In response marching orders came from the DJ booth but for many the story that a Black trans man was forcibly removed from a bathroom came by mouth to mouth under the din of music cutting across the dimly lit lounge. We changed rhythms from dance to protest and the music stopped.

Mark Winston-Griffith argued convincingly that, “Black Love Matters.” If this principle of Black love is as central to our new rhythm then we must come to terms with the modes of surveillance different Black bodies face. This can be frightening and it is fear that in part explains the erasure of Black people who have no hope of translation, citizenship, or basic empathy. But if we are honest we are all under surveillance because anxiety over Black movement as any immigrant will tell you is central to understanding policing, the American Dream, or anything for that matter. And for that matter we can take for granted that M4BL was under heavy surveillance.

Convening attendee Dr. Brittany Cooper, wrote about the many times “leaders vocally reminded attendees that this space was not safe from surveillance.” Ric Wilson, a musician and BYP 100 member based in Chicago talked about how “folks had an idea they were gonna pull something like that” even before the confrontation with police that he documented extensively. It has also been noted that coming at the end of the convening “the timing was surreal,” for the arrest and pepper-spraying. Not only was the convening ending but this police aggression happened as buses holding many of the attendees had just left.

cle2Today, and always, the “threat actors” are Black protestors not agents of anti-Black violence. Baltimore, Cleveland, and of course the federal government want to maintain surveillance over Black communities. But it’s not just government agents we can safely categorize outreach from mainstream politicians as a form of surveillance especially we consider how all political parties engage Black organizers. Hillary Clinton in particular sent her black outreach director, LaDavia Drane, to meet with unknown convening attendees in a dialogue that intentionally “went largely under the radar.” While we were at the convening we held a workshop on our Safety Beyond Policing campaign where we made it clear that our neighborhoods will begin to see a new form of surveillance under the “community policing” framework.

We are building something new but we have been here before; the era is different, the communication platforms are faster and broader but the need to surveil Black movement has not changed. The emphasis on symbolic politics where protest and direct actions are central is transitioning to or being combined with an increased focus on strategy and policy. This transition is important because it is at this moment that surveillance from political parties, law enforcement will exert themselves using “some among us who …had their own agendas, who sought to prove discord and confusion.”

In this new era where the language of progressive politics is being used to enhance policing our communities have to be very cautious and disciplined with our political agendas, organizing, and our very lives.

Real Story Behind European Migration Crisis

Real Story Behind European Migration Crisis

by Opal Tometi, Executive Director, Black Alliance for Just Immigration

This past month I had the opportunity to travel to Europe and meet with immigrant rights activists from Greece, Russia, Germany, Brussels, France and more – and the common story that I heard was that economic hardships were leading to increased migration and migrant and refugee presence was being criminalized through various means across the continent of Europe.

In this video I shot and edited, Koray Yilmaz-Gunay, a Turkish immigrant who works with the Rosa Luxembourg Foundation and Migration Council of Berlin, discusses the root causes of migration across Europe and the political crisis that leads to tens of thousands of deaths in the Mediterranean Sea each year.

Tia Oso’s Statement on the SayHerName Action at Netroots

I Am the Black Woman Who Interrupted the Netroots Presidential Town Hall, and This Is Why

Tia Oso, National Coordinator for the Black Immigration Network and BAJI Arizona Organizer

“I felt I was the right person to open the action and shift the focus of the program, especially in the context of the conference theme of “Immigration.” I am a native to Arizona, the child of a Nigerian immigrant father and African-American mother, whose parents were migrant farm workers, aka “Okies.” I also served for three years as the Arizona organizer (and continue to work as the National Organizer) with the Black Alliance for Just Immigration, the premier racial justice and migrant rights organization in the U.S. As I shared in my remarks on Saturday, racial justice intersects with all progressive issues, especially immigration. Black immigrants experience a double oppression, as they must contend with both the reality of racial discrimination in America as well as its complicated and punitive immigration system.

Feeling dissatisfied with Netroots’ framing of black issues and the narrow focus of its immigration-themed activities, I worked with Phoenix-based organizers to create #BlackRoots, a space to focus on black perspectives and connect national organizers with local black community members.

Saturday’s action was powerful. Black organizers claimed our rightful place at the front of the progressive movement. Allies from Latino, Asian, LGBT and other communities stood in solidarity with us as we called the names of black women killed in police custody, expressed our heartbreaking requests to the community should we ourselves die in police custody and looked on as respected and revered progressive leaders were woefully unable to answer our reasonable question as to how they will lead America to a brighter future.”

Originally posted on, read the full article here.


Stop Zoologizing Africans Campaign Victory!

By Devonté Jackson, BAJI Bay Area Organizer and Rufaro Gwarada, Priority Africa Network

A Black Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI) and Priority Africa Network (PAN) Bay Area Collaborative.

sza1On Monday, July 13th 2015 the Oakland Zoo announced its closure of the ‘African Village Display’:

“Due to the concerns of some members in our community, the Traditional East African Women’s Dwelling, located at Oakland Zoo has now been closed. The Zoo will re-purpose this location to highlight our efforts surrounding the conservation of African elephants and the ivory trade”.

This marks a major victory for Bay Area community members of the African Diaspora and our allies who have fought for the removal of this exhibit since mid-2014 under the leadership of the Black Alliance for Just Immigration and Priority Africa Network.

In 2014 members of the African Diaspora, Bay Area community, and friends engaged with The Oakland Zoo demanding the removal of the ‘African Village’ exhibit by launching a petition demanding the removal of the African Village Display. The Oakland Zoo did not respond.

The Oakland Zoo established ‘The African Village’ in 1998-99 noting: “the buildings in the area replicate a Kikuyu village … [with] authentic African artwork, cultural exhibits in the nimbia hut, and, periodically, South African dance and music bring the village to life.”

This description of the exhibit plays into colonial, centuries-old racist exotification and othering that devalues the humanity of Black Africans for profit and entertainment. It is notable that while there are wild animals from various other places around the world, including Asia, Australia, and the Americas, the Oakland Zoo does not exhibit the material culture of the racial and ethnic groups that live in these places. This is not a coincidence. The African Village Display was symbolic of white supremacist ideologies equating Blackness to Wild Animals. This anti-Black racism has manifested time and again to dehumanize Black Lives!

A History of ‘Animalizing’ Black Lives

Sarah Baartman: Throughout the 19th, 20th, and 21st century Sarah Baartman, a Khoisan Woman from South Africa was taken from her home, sold, then displayed as an exotic, abnormal spectacle in ‘freakshows’ in London and Paris. While alive, Sarah refused to be nude for displays. But following her death, Sarah’s body was dissected and studied. Her preserved genitalia, skeleton, and brain were displayed, emphasizing racist notions that Sarah was closer to being an ape, than to being a (superior) European. Sarah’s remains were only returned to and buried in South Africa in 2002.

Ota Benga:–Ota Benga, a young man from the Congo, was on display at the New York Zoological Gardens from 1904-1906. He was stolen from his home, in the Congo, then caged and put on display with monkeys and orangutans. Amid mounting pressure and a protracted battle by African American clergymen to free Ota Benga from captivity, and daily debasement, he was set free in 1906. Ota Benga died, of his own hand, in 1916 still distressed and longing for his home and people.

African Village Festival:  In 2005-there was an African Village Festival at the Augsburg Zoo in Germany. This was a ‘cultural’ festival featuring African jewelry, masks, food, and music, in the middle of the zoo. Despite protests, Zoo officials moved forward with the festival stating: ‘This event is intended to promote tolerance and international understanding as well as to bring African culture closer to the people of Augsburg’”.

Recently, the Black Alliance for Just Immigration and the Priority Africa Network (PAN) have organized multiple community members and organizations from the Bay Area to sign on to a letter to Oakland Zoo demanding the African Village Display removal. Amidst our organizing efforts, the Oakland Zoo responded to PAN’s Facebook post regarding the campaign and announced the closing of the ‘African Village’ Display.

Oakland Zoo’s closure of the African Village Display is a major step in the right direction. Our community wants to ensure that the Zoo will never again display human material culture. We request the following of Oakland Zoo:

  1. Public Statement, such as the one by San Francisco Zoo  denouncing the anti-Black attitudes that contributed to establishment of the ‘African Village’.
  2. An apology to the African Diaspora for contributing to an the dehumanization of  Black Lives.
  3. Commitment to never displaying human material culture in the Zoo again.
  4. Commitment to establishing clear channels for community members to engage with the Zoo to share concerns about any displays.
  5. Commitment to actively engage core constituencies to receive input with all new developments at Oakland Zoo.

Black Lives Matter, Beyond Borders

A call to action against Ethnic Cleansing in the Dominican Republic

Post by Tia Oso, National Coordinator for the Black Immigration Network and BAJI Arizona Organizer

DRThanks to grassroots activism led by Dominican American and Haitian American community activists, many are aware of the humanitarian crisis taking place in the Dominican Republic, where a government ruling has rendered over 200,000 Dominicans of Haitian ancestry and Haitian migrants stateless. Ruling 168-13 by the Dominican Constitutional Tribunal was passed September 2013 specifically targets Haitian migrants and those with Haitian ancestry by denationalizing Dominicans born to Haitian parents prior to June 20, 1929, retroactively, as well as revoking civil documents and civil rights from recently arrived Haitian migrants. The harsh ruling requires that all affected be subject to apply for new identification documents and stipulates that any undocumented people are subject to immediate removal, as of the “regularization” deadline June 17.

This nationality law is a racist policy, targeting Dominicans of Haitian descent and those who appear Haitian based on their physical features, namely dark skin. Rooted in deep tensions and historical conflict between the Dominican Republic and Haiti, this current threat of expulsion is a continuation of ongoing ethnic violence. Many activists and scholars attribute this to anti-Black sentiment among some in Dominican society that seek to deny the mixed heritage of the Dominican Republic–the lasting scars of European colonial violence. The situation has bolstered a social and political climate putting Black people in harm’s way through xenophobic violence including public lynchings, raids and arson, which has and continues to drive people from their homes.

As a native to Arizona, the Dominican ruling rings all too familiar. In the United States, policies such as Arizona SB1070 and other “show me your papers” provisions are used to restrict the rights and abilities of migrants to participate in formal society. The hypocrisy and injustice of governments criminalizing and exploiting the same people that are migrating into these countries to work, as economic forces seek to maximize profit by using cheap labor.  The DR government has also imported U.S. immigration enforcement tactics, including militarized border walls, detention centers and immigration agents to enforce raids and violent removals, often accosting individuals at random in the street and demanding documentation. The crisis of ethnic cleansing in the Dominican Republic is just the latest newsworthy example of collusion of global economic and government powers to disenfranchise, exploit and subjugate primarily black and brown people, easily facilitated by racist social structures that have yet to be repaired.

Already, over 30,000 people have fled to neighboring Haiti, in fear for their lives and uncertain of their status and ability to return to the Dominican Republic. This situation will put an exponential amount of pressure on an already economically strained Haiti, still in recovery from the 2010 earthquake and resulting humanitarian issues there. It is important to support the expansion of policies such as Haitian Family Reunification Parole, and other administrative measures that expand and improve immigration to the United States, as many affected, both directly and indirectly, will seek relief and possible refuge in the United States.


What can we do? The Black Alliance for Just Immigration, as well as the Black Immigration Network is working with groups on the ground across the United States, as well as in the Dominican Republic and Haiti to call for a global movement to address anti-Black Racism in the Dominican Republic. Organizations such as We are All Dominican, Haitian Women for Haitian Refugees, Haitian Women of Miami  and more have been calling attention to this issue for years, as well as international NGO’s as the America Convention on Human Rights (ACHR) and Caribbean Community and Common Market (CARICOM). Now is the time to build coalition and unify efforts to demand an end to this violent and racist policy endangering the lives of tens of thousands of men, women and children. The Black Immigration Network calls for a Week of Action July 27- August 1, in partnership with grassroots activist and organizations to build strength and work in unity to address this human rights crisis. We hope you will join us and partners in declaring that Black Lives Matter, beyond borders. We must stand in fight in solidarity with Black struggles both at home and abroad.

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