3-3.5 page essay (Article analysis)I uploaded the assignment and the article.1
Ramos, Santos. “Building a Culture of Solidarity: Racial Discourse, Black Lives Matter, and
Indigenous Social Justice.” Enculturation: A Journal of Rhetoric, Writing, and Culture
(20 April 2016). Web. 10 August 2016.
Building a Culture of Solidarity: Racial Discourse, Black Lives Matter, and
Indigenous Social Justice
Santos F. Ramos, Michigan State University
(April 20, 2016)
I am lying in the street. I hear cars honking frantically as I stare into the sky. Angry drivers are
yelling from inside their halted cars. What the hell are you guys doing!? Let us through! I link
arms with the people on either side of me. We dont speak to each other, but periodically we
squeeze our biceps together to offer silent signs of encouragement. A moment later a cop walks
up. He looks down at us and tells us we will be arrested if we dont remove ourselves from the
road. He walks away promptly, continuing further down the line of protestors to issue the same
A group of us—mostly undergraduate students, but also dozens of graduate students, faculty, and
local community members—have taken the busiest intersection on campus, spreading our bodies
out into a giant circle on the ground to make sure no cars can get past. A few of us stand in the
center of the circle, holding signs condemning racist police violence. We wait in silence: 4.5
minutes for Michael Brown, because they left his body in the street for 4.5 hours after they killed
him. The silence is meditative. In addition to reflecting upon Michael Brown and the racism that
his murder exemplifies, I also think about my role as a non-Black Xicano participating in this
I am lying in the street because of a point Stokely Carmichael once made in a speech: that the
destinies of Black and Latino peoples are intertwined. I am using my body to block the flow of
traffic, the flow of a society that has disregarded humanistic thinking by normalizing violence
against Black, Latino, and Native people. At the same time, I am dying-in specifically to show
my solidarity with Black Lives Matter.
A Cultural Rhetorics Approach
As an academic whose work often focuses on social change, participating in an action like this
could technically be considered part of my research, though I still often cringe when using this
word to describe what I do. It connotes for me the transformation of people into objects,
centuries of colonial violence against Indigenous peoples, and the foundation of capitalist
enterprise. Research suggests that I am not an activist, but an academic who enters activist
spaces in order to collect data, to bolster my career, and to improve the reputation of my
institution. I cannot erase these connotations, nor do I desire to, because confronting the colonial
legacy of academic research is something researchers should be doing. Academics need
uncomfortable thoughts like this in order to keep us cognizant of our relationships to power.
In order to integrate these kinds of measures into my research, I adopt a cultural rhetorics
approach, and I draw specifically upon the following excerpt from the essay Our Story Begins
Here: Constellating Cultural Rhetorics:
[i]n practice, cultural rhetorics scholars investigate and understand meaningmaking as it is situated in specific cultural communities. And when we say
cultural communities, we mean any place/space where groups organize under a
set of shared beliefs and practices—American Indian communities, workplace
communities, digital communities, crafting communities, etc. (Powell et al.)
Situating beliefs and practices within the cultural contexts from which they derive, cultural
rhetoricians prioritize accountability to the communities whose meaning-making we investigate.
This is done, as Andrea Riley Mukavetz has written, to value the efforts and practices used to
make and sustain something and use that understanding to build a theoretical and methodological
framework that reflects the cultural community a researcher works with (110). Cultural
rhetorics is an approach that emphasizes the importance of cultural context at all stages of the
research process; it attempts to align the goals of research projects with those of the communities
a researcher engages.1
The cultural communities most directly engaged in this essay are those with which I have
worked while organizing for social justice, especially activists of color involved with the Black
Lives Matter movement. The vast majority of these organizers and organizations have tended to
privilege action-oriented approaches to social justice—that is, participation in protests and direct
actions, as well as a reliance upon experience-based methods of learning—so my writing is
informed as much by my participation in these practices as it is by reading about the subject
areas I discuss. By analyzing parts of the racial discourse surrounding Black Lives Matter, I
highlight points of tension that need to be addressed in order for cross-cultural solidarity to be
fostered among communities of color amidst our struggle for both respective and collective
Solidarity and Its Discontents
To say that Black Lives Matter (BLM) has thus far been an important political and cultural
movement would probably be an understatement. Large protests and targeted direct actions have
been happening with greater longevity and intensity than we have seen in the U.S. for quite some
time. Many new organizations, organizers, and coalitions have sprung up with rapidity to
challenge systemic racism. Experienced organizations have taken leadership in cultivating the
recent burst in political energy, as serious conversations about race, police violence, and
institutionalized discrimination have moved into mainstream contexts. Yet the spread of BLM
has also come with its tensions, as organizers and allies attempt to negotiate the broad scope of
structural racism—which impacts all people of color—with the specific impact that structural
racism has upon Black communities.
In A Herstory of the #BlackLivesMatter Movement, Alicia Garza explains that she, Opal
Tometi, and Patrisse Cullors founded Black Lives Matter as an ideological and political
intervention in a world where Black lives are systematically and intentionally targeted for
demise. It is an affirmation of Black folks contributions to this society, our humanity, and our
resilience in the face of deadly oppression. And as BLM has increasingly gained attention in the
media, more and more organizations have started to borrow BLM phrasing in order generate
attention for their own causes. In the following passage, Garza recalls one such instance in which
a group changed the title of an event from Black Lives Matter to Our Lives Matter:
When questioned about who was involved and why they felt the need to change
the very specific call and demand around Black lives to our lives, I was told the
artists decided it needed to be more inclusive of all people of color. I was even
more surprised when, in the promotion of their event, one of the artists conducted
an interview that completely erased the origins of their work—rooted in the labor
and love of queer Black women.
The flaw of this kind of solidarity work is that it is more about claiming likeness to Black
communities than it is about recognizing the unique struggles that Black communities face. The
Our Lives Matter organizers elected to use a name that is recognizable because of the work of
queer Black women without actually acknowledging any of those women in the process.
Incidents like this one have sparked widespread discussions among activists of color about how
our various communities can and should be in solidarity with one another, and specifically about
the role of non-Black people of color in BLM.
On Twitter, similar hashtags such as #NativeLivesMatter, #LatinoLivesMatter, and
#AsianLivesMatterhave been contentiously debated as potentially insensitive and harmful
appropriations of media attention that had once been framed more specifically around Black
experiences with institutionalized and cultural racism. While these alternative tags have
sometimes been used with the intent of being in solidarity with Black communities, their impact
has in part been to effectively ignore the need for non-Black people of color to consider the
forms of anti-Blackness we find within our own communities. That the destinies of Black and
Latino communities are intertwined does not simply mean that BLM is an opportunity for nonBlack Latinos to empathize with Black folks because we share related experiences with regard to
poverty, incarceration, and state violence. For us to be in solidarity with BLM means that we
need to seriously and actively interrogate the anti-Blackness we find within our own Latino
As an alternative approach, some allies have been using other tags, such as #APIs4BlackLives,
which has focused more on bringing visibility to how Asians and Pacific Islanders have worked
to support BLM. As one example, #APIs4BlackLives was recently used to help provoke and
document an action in Oakland, California, where Asian and Pacific Islander allies used their
bodies to block and shut down the Oakland Police department for 4.5 hours in conjunction with
The Blackout Collective—a local Black direct action group. It is important to note that the
messaging of this action was framed in a way that centralized support for Black communities. A
key distinction between tags like #NativeLivesMatter, #LatinoLivesMatter, and
#AsianLivesMatter on the one hand, and tags like #APIs4BlackLives on the other hand, is that
the former tags appropriate #BlackLivesMatter for their own purposes while the latter acts in
support of it.
The general justification for appropriating the tag has been that, in addition to killing Black
people, White supremacy also continues to kill and harm a lot of non-Black people of color as
well. There have been recent reports, for instance, showing that, relative to population size,
Native Americans are actually being killed by cops at rates similar to and sometimes higher than
those of Black people (Vicens; Cheney-Rice).2 Additionally, more Latino migrants—many of
them Indigenous—have been violently detained and deported under the Obama administration
than under any other administration in US history, and the living conditions in immigrant
detention facilities are typically worse (and are far more unregulated) than those of
prisons.3 With these things in mind, it is at least understandable why some groups have felt
justified in appropriating BLM phrasing. This is to say that the appropriation is not necessarily
derived from ignorance about the problem of anti-Blackness, but sometimes from the pure
desperation that is the result of seeing ones own people repeatedly imprisoned, killed, and
denied basic human dignity, as is often the case for many Latino/Indigenous communities.
Regardless of where these justifications come from, however, they still tend to focus on BLM as
a legal intervention against state-sanctioned violence and ignore BLM as a cultural or social
intervention into the epidemic of anti-Blackness. This could be seen as, and in fact often is, an
attempt by non-Black people to absolve ourselves from the social responsibility we have to
address our own issues with racism. In order to adopt a more nuanced approach to solidarity, we
must be able to simultaneously acknowledge our similarities and our differences, our oppressions
and our privileges. But this is an impossible task without understanding race itself as a cultural
construction, because the categories typically used to discuss race come with constraints that
often oversimplify and mislead.
There exists a tendency among social justice workers, even those involved specifically with
racial justice, to universalize their conception of race. From this perspective, race is not
something that is culturally constructed, or that is understood differently within different cultural
frameworks. It is a perspective that assumes race literally is culture. It is impossible, or at least
painfully inconvenient, for this perspective to recognize anyone as being both Black and Latino,
both Mexican and Indigenous, etc. As a result, Indigeneity is often stripped from Indigenous
Blacks and Indigenous Latinos in the US because when any of these categories begin to overlap,
the resulting formations are too complex to fit into the universalized Black-and-White racial
dichotomy that is the standard framework used by far too many social justice workers.
This dichotomy becomes apparent when we are able to look beyond our stereotyped
understandings of racial categories. When it is declared that Black Native Lives Matter, for
example, that carries a vastly different connotation from the previous examples I have provided
about varying usages of BLM phrasing. That is, unlike other adaptations of BLM, Black Native
Lives Matter calls attention to Indigeneity as a part of the lived experience of Black people; it
does not treat Black and Native as mutually exclusive experiences. This example
complicates my narrative in ways that are both difficult to navigate and absolutely necessary
within in the context of solidarity. Thus, the example is important because it ruptures the
dichotomous Black-and-White framework (both literal and figurative) typically used to discuss
race relations in the U.S., which greatly hinders solidarity between ethnic groups. In creating this
rupture, some of our weaknesses in discussing race are exposed, and new radical decolonial
possibilities for cross-cultural solidarity are opened up.
This is not merely an issue of identity politics. I also make this observation about racial discourse
in order to point out how conversations can result in the erasure of actual Indigenous people, of
concrete and contemporary Indigenous issues. For the racial framework I am describing not only
produces a dichotomy of Black and White, but also a hierarchy of racialized oppression which
coerces Indigenous people to assimilate with Western cultural norms.4 As scholar Qwo-Li
Driskill observes, Native people often have an uneasy relationship with other struggles for
social justice because the specificity of our struggles—rooted in sovereignty and a claim to
land—is too often ignored (79-80). Indigenous social justice issues are often ignored because in
many ways they exist outside of a hierarchy of oppression that attempts to assimilate Indigenous
people into the dominant culture. The hierarchy allows Indigenous people to struggle for rights
within the dominant structure of society, but it attempts to keep them/us from gaining actual
autonomy or sovereignty; that is, it attempts to keep Indigenous people from being Indigenous.
To be sure, it is necessary to understand how people of color are oppressed in a hierarchical
manner, with some groups being granted more rights and privileges than others. However, it is
not necessarily always useful to respond to oppression using that same racial hierarchy. Because
Indigenous social justice is not simply about striving for the right to assimilate into White heterocapitalist patriarchy, Indigenous people are often not allowed to exist within the parameters of
that which gets counted as social justice. Scholars and activists should work to complicate
this—the dominant narrative. Our active solidarity, as ethnically and culturally diverse people,
requires ongoing consideration of how we exist in relation to one another and how our rhetoric
impacts the comrades we have in adjacent communities.
In order to more fully contextualize my own activism and research, I have attempted to practice
what some organizers refer to as relational organizing by building relationships both inside and
outside of academia, both within and beyond Xicano communities.5 While my work most often
focuses on the self-determination of Xicano people, relational organizing requires me to
understand Xicano communities as being situated within larger, colonial societal structures,
adjacent to and overlapping with the struggles of other colonized and oppressed communities. In
coordination with my Xicana and Xicano compañeros, I act in solidarity with Black Lives Matter
because it is my social responsibility to disrupt anti-Blackness and to advocate for Xicano selfdetermination with Black experiences in mind. In order to enact solidarity, I build relationships
across the hierarchical and dichotomous racial divisions imposed by ongoing colonialism, and I
try to maintain a willingness to be transformed by the knowledge that those relationships
Finally, the strategic crux of relational organizing could be seen as relationality, a concept rooted
in Indigenous worldviews and theories. [T]o practice relationality, Riley-Mukavetz writes, is
to understand ones position in the world, ones relationship to land, space, ideas, people, and
living beings (112). In the same way that it drives relational organizing, relationality is also
integral to enacting a cultural rhetorics approach to research. Within an academic context, this
means understanding ourselves as being situated within institutions that have a history of
exploiting marginalized communities and perpetuating destructive relationships with the
environment. It means understanding solidarity not so much as a shift in the central focus of
work we do within our own respective communities, but as a process of more fully putting the
work of communities of color into relationship with one another. This leads us to avoid engaging
in isolated acts of solidarity and instead helps to sustain a culture of solidarity, one which allows
us to subvert the status quo while simultaneously building love and respect for one another
across cultural difference.
1.The following two books have been integral in attempting to decolonize my
research: Linda Tuhiwai Smiths Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and
Indigenous Peoples and Shawn Wilsons Research is Ceremony: Indigenous
2.The reports Ive seen have all been based on the same statistics from the
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
3.For more information on this topic, see the American Civil Liberties Unions
Warehoused and Forgotten: Immigrants Trapped in Our Shadow Private
4.Jack Forbes Aztecas Del Norte: The Chicanos of Aztlán and Guillermo Bonfil
Batallas México Profundo: Reclaiming a Civilization are two texts I draw from
in forming an understanding of how mestizaje and hybridity have been
concepts used by colonial forces to impose racial hierarchies throughout Turtle
Island (the Americas).
5.My training in relational organizing has come primarily from Southerners On
New Ground, a regionally specific Queer Liberation organization.
Batalla, Guillermo Bonfil. México Profundo: Reclaiming a Civilization. Austin: University of
Texas Press, 1996. Print.
Carmichael, Stokely. Black Power and the Third World. Third World Information Service,
1967: 1-9. Web.
Cheney-Rice, Zak. The Police Are Killing One Group at a Staggering Rate, and Nobody is
Talking About It. Mic. Mic Network Inc., 5 Feb 2015. Web. 7 March 2015.
Mukavetz, Andrea M. Riley. “Towards a Cultural Rhetorics Methodology: Making Research
Matter with Multi-generational Women from the Little Traverse Bay Band.” Rhetoric,
Professional Communication and Globalization 5.1, 2014: 108-125. Web.
Powell, Malea, Daisy Levy, Andrea Riley-Mukavetz, Marilee Brooks-Gillies, Maria Novotny,
and Jenniger Fisch-Ferguson. Our Story Begins Here: Constellating Cultural
Rhetorics.Enculturation: A Journal of Rhetoric, Writing, and Culture 18. 25 Oct. 2014.
Web. 30 Oct. 2014.
Driskill, Qwo-Li. Double-Weaving Two-Spirit Critiques: Building Alliances between Native
and Queer Studies. GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies: 16.1-2 (2012): 69-92.
Web. 20 Nov. 2015.
Forbes, Jack. Aztecas Del Norte: the Chicanos of Aztlán. Greenwich, CT: Fawcett Publications,
Garza, Alicia. A Herstory of the #BlackLivesMatter Movement by Alicia Garza. The
Feminist Wire. The Feminist Wire, 7 Oct. 2014. Web. 5 Dec. 2014.
Smith, Linda Tuhiwai. Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples.
London: Zed Books, 1999. Print.
Vicens, AJ Native Americans Get Shot By Cops at an Astonishing Rate. Mother Jones.
Mother Jones and the Foundation for National Progress, 15 Jul. 2015. Web. 18 Jul. 2015.
Wilson, Shawn. Research is Ceremony: Indigenous Research Methods. Winnipeg: Fernwood
Publishing, 2009. Print.
Enculturation is published under an Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike Creative Commons
Please see our copyright page for details.
English 120 Fall 2016
Assessment Essay Response Assignment
Due Tue, Aug 30
Read: “Building a Culture of Solidarity: Racial Discourse, Black Lives Matter, and Indigenous
Social Justice” by Santos F. Ramos. You may need to read the article several times, and you
should make notes in the margins about points you find important and questions this article
brings up for you.
Write: A 4-5 paragraph summary and response to the article, which will include an overall
summary of Ramos’ argument, an analysis of and response to the issue(s) addressed, and at least
two integrated quotations. Include citations by putting the page number in parentheses at the end
of the sentence where you have used the source.
For the summary, consider: What issue or situation is the article responding to? What is
the article’s main argument on the issue? Why is this issue important at this particular
point in time? What supporting arguments does Ramos make? What evidence is
provided? Where does that evidence come from?
For the analysis and response, consider: What new questions or challenges about the
issue does this article bring up for you? What points or examples made in the article do
you find particularly compelling? What points do you agree or disagree with? What is the
basis of your agreement or disagreement?
Note: This short assessment essay should be typed in 12-point font, and double-spaced. (It will
most likely come to about 3- 3.5pages.)
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