Interrogating a Source of Injustice and Inequity in our Community
Understanding Race in America
At the BWC, we have always felt the need to do regular training of our staff and board, and workers in our workers’ councils and rights workshops, on issues of racial justice. Our constituents as well as our staff – who tend to be first-generation Brazilian immigrants themselves – have difficulty understanding that their Boston troubles in gaining acceptance and fair treatment, and much of the abuse directed at immigrant workers, can be partly explained on account of racism toward them based on physical appearance, and their racialization on account of language and cultural differences. This leaves them in a very discouraging situation. They often think an appropriate response is simply to lower their expectations, maintain a low public profile, and remain isolated inside the immigrant community. Tuning out issues of race evident in their own fortunes as immigrants in a strange land also reinforces Brazilians’ sense they are in the US only temporarily – though this is not usually true ¬– and therefore they feel they can disavow any responsibility for civic engagement and advocacy for social justice in their adopted homeland, even when it is in their own communities and in their own interest.
Culturally particular views of race imported from Brazil also keep them from appreciating how many of their own struggles are shared by other immigrant groups. Because they do not always see reality of race in their own US experiences, it can be difficult for them to be empathetic toward domestic minorities who feel the long-standing sting of racism, and who perhaps see it more clearly. This can create special barriers for Brazilians in forging alliances and common purpose not only with African-Americans, but also with Latinos, despite obvious affinities in Latin American backgrounds, and attempts on both sides to work together on rights issues. The US is a challenging environment for newcomers who do not always understand it right away.
We have taken a variety of initiatives to engage with the issue of racial justice in our programming – including a film series on race in collaboration with Allston-Brighton SURJ (Showing Up for Racial Justice), introducing Racial Justice units into four weeks of our ESOL curriculum, participating in wider coalitions and campaigns for racial justice (such as Boston’s recent 2017 City-Wide Race Dialogue), and creating video vignettes for social media designed to examine racial issues our community regularly encounters.