Shifting Bottoms and Rotating Centers: Reflections on LatCrit III and the Black/White Paradigm
42 Pages Posted: 12 Jul 2012
Date Written: 1999
This essay chronicles my participation at the LatCrit III Conference and examines some of the issues raised. It touches on battles that rage within our efforts to build coalitions across boundaries of race and ethnicity, and it poses questions of centers, bottoms, and models.
Specifically, it asks: What group should be at the center of a given study or enterprise? Whose faces are at the bottom of the well and What model shall we use to analyze a given situation? The questions are complex, but LatCrit is attempting to address these complexities, not only in theory but in practice. Institutionally, LatCrit has implemented the concept of "rotating centers," whereby a session in each conference is devoted to an issue of primary concern to a non-Latino group. Further, LatCrit theory encompasses both race theory and ethnicity theory. I advocate using the racial paradigm of the Latino/a experience because, I believe this model is the common ground between blacks and Latinos/as. A racial analysis illuminates each group's respective conditions and emphasizes the similarities and connections between those conditions; connections, which I hope will facilitate coalition-building efforts. Nevertheless there are differences between the two groups and different faces appear at the bottom of the well depending on the issue analyzed. Thus, I tentatively propose that LatCrit embrace a notion of "shifting bottoms" as a complement to the process of "rotating centers."
Part I of this essay is a prologue, reporting some thought-provoking conversations I encountered at the conference and my initial reactions.
Part II presents a critique of a LatCrit sentiment that appears to blame African-Americans for the erasure of Latino/a histories, experiences and struggles. I argue that the aspects of American racial reality that are accurately captured in what I reframe as the "White Over Black" paradigm must not be ignored even though the paradigm is inadequate to describe all dimensions of the experiences of various American peoples of color.
Part III encompasses my preliminary thoughts on the operation of multiple racial systems as well as my initial thoughts on what constitutes the "bottom." In this section, I take the metaphor of the "bottom" from the White Over Black" paradigm and apply some of its characteristics to examine the different historical experiences and issues related to blacks and Latinos/as.
I argue that the key to the "bottom" metaphor is that the "bottom" is constructed by the particularities of "white power's" (hereinafter White Power) obsessions, which result in the creation of different racial categories and systems. That is, the "bottom" speaks not to which group is more oppressed but rather to "white power's" obsessions and how those obsessions form the basis of different racial categories as sites of oppression. The "bottom" is the embodiment of a particular obsession, and it represents the role a specific group plays in a particular racial system. In doing so, I examine “blackness” as a white obsession and a central construct marking the "bottom" of a colorized racial system; and then turn to an analysis of the Mexican American condition in 1950's Texas, positing that Latinos appear on the bottom of a racialized language hierarchy, another of White Power’s many obsessions.
Part IV is my conclusion, where I return to the LatCrit institution of "rotating centers," and endorse it as, among other things, a reflection of the reality of the "shifting bottom."
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