What Is Black Consciousness?

What is Black Consciousness? Frente Negra Brasileira; Quianna S. Canada, Quianna Canada

Similarly, in Brazil after slavery ended in 1888, former slaves and free blacks struggled to challenge the racial discrimination that relegated them to second-class citizens. Black Brazilians (pretos) found themselves locked at the bottom of a hierarchy defined by gradations of color with whites at the top. Morenos, mulattos, and mestizos (mixed race), in contrast, fared better socially and economically. As in all of Latin America, whites in Brazil held political and economic power while blacks jockeyed for positions relative to whites, often using their distance from blackness as a measure of social and political success. Yet, by the twentieth century, blacks in Brazil had formed organizations that specifically addressed racial discrimination and their position as blacks. In the 1930s they formed the Frente Negra Brasileira (Black Brazilian Front), an organization concerned with racial uplift, integration, and Afro-Brazilian mobility. In the 1970s and 1980s a flurry of organizations appeared in Brazil focusing on blackness and black issues, the most important being the Movimento Negro Unificado (United Black Movement).

In Spanish-speaking America, too, black groups pushed for inclusion through activism and protest. In Cuba, for example, during slavery the cabildos da nacions (council of nations) retained ethnic identities and created new ones based on memories from an African past. The survival of African belief systems and cultural forms facilitated an African ethnic consciousness well into the twentieth century. But alongside these African cultural forms, a more generalized black consciousness also emerged that unified free and slave populations. From these formations, leaders with a distinct black consciousness emerged in the late nineteenth century to challenge slavery and efforts to subject black people to white racist domination. One organization that grew from these slave nations and the revolutions in 1868 and 1898 against slavery and Spain was the Partido Independiente de Color, the first black political party in the Americas (1908). Its purpose was to work for inclusion within the Cuban state and a national identity that embraced black people as Cuban. Both Africans (i.e., dark-skinned persons) and mulattos were members of this organization, and they affirmed a black political identity as Afro-Cuban. The efforts to create a Cuban identity that was both black and Cuban resulted in a violent backlash in the race war of 1912, when members of the Partido were massacred by white Cubans. In the aftermath of this massacre, blacks did not abandon their black consciousness, but were forced to articulate that consciousness culturally and intellectually rather than in political organization.

About Quianna Canada

Quianna Canada is an anti-police brutality activist, author, and opinion writer living in the United States.
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