Why is identifying as a Black Latino/Afro Latino important to you? Here and in your home country.
I am always interested in thinking about identity and how it impacts what you do in the world and how the world sees you and what you do. For me, I think a lot about my own cultural heritage growing up, the beauty of being a part of an Immigrant community in central Brooklyn that had its beautiful moments of being at families house or a friend’s house, eating the food and hearing the language spoken, going to the Caribbean day parade and having the section of the parade where people are dancing and talking, engaging is something that feels very important for my identity. It’s not just being seen as a black person in the United States but being seen as somebody who has this rich heritage from Latin America, from Central America, Panama in particular. For me being able to name my heritage to say, this is where I come from when they don’t assume that, when it is not ascribed to me by just my phenotype, they don’t make that leap because I am a Black man in the United States, I am not Latino in any way. It is about celebrating heritage, celebrating my ancestry and my beautiful community that I was raised within. The other part is to helping explode folk’s stereotypes about identity.
What has been the impact both positive and negative of people not seeing you as a Black Latino/Afro Latino?
On the black front, the way that this country ascribes race on people based solely on their phenotype and what they look like, has made it that I have had to argue about being Latino, I have had to argue about my heritage, I have had to argue about the food we ate. I remember friends of mind, Black, white Asian who would say, ‘Why is your mom speaking with a Spanish accent?’ I would have to say, this is who I am. They didn’t believe it. I think that that piece of identity that is more culturally relevant is more hidden. It has been hard to consistently have to argue for that piece of who I am. I think on the other side, I think there is such a clear color line all throughout this world. Being Black in Panama when I went back to live there, moving through the country where they are many of us, before I open my mouth folks would treat me X way and then as soon as I spoke in my English accent in Spanish or spoke in English, I would get treated a different way and having that Americanness being a piece of how I was viewed was very interesting. Interesting because it clearly gave me a sense of privilege in some settings and it also made me different in other for some folks and not in a positive way. The real downside of not being seen as who you are, being both Black and Latino. They are moments when I use that privilege that people ascribe to me to try to teach on. Black folks who are disparaging about folks from Latin America and I would have to say, that’s me too or folks who were assuming a certain things about Black Americans and being clear about your stereotypes are wrong. I feel like a walking example that is a non-example for people. I have had real moment of feeling disassociated from that part of my identity. I think of my father’s experience in Jim Crow, Canal Zone, Panama experience was traumatic. He came to the states moving away from that. He wholeheartedly embraced the African American identity in part because he felt so problematic how he was treated more as a black person than a Panamanian. I think that was his defense mechanism. I give those examples to show the complexity of things and I appreciate the complexity.
How do you Amplify in a Latinx world that expects us to all look like J Lo and Marc Anthony?
“I amplify by embracing the African diaspora.”
Black History Month Message
One of the things I love about being me is that I feel so good about embracing all aspects of the African Diaspora. I was raised in a household that did that and seeing many people from different parts of the world, Black Brazilians, Black Jamaicans, Black Panamanians, South Africans. I love this idea of explode the notion, this specific way of being of African descent and how much we have to learn from each other and from all these different places. For me, Black History is often about Black Americanness but I love the idea of expanding it into African Diaspora and thinking a lot about the Black experience all over the world. This is a service to our community to be open to all these other brothers and sisters we have. If you can name yourself as a black person of Latinx descent then you can also see the affinity and connection you have to black people of lots of other descent around the world.
Thabiti Brown is the Head of School at Codman Academy Charter Public School. He joined the school as the founding Humanities teacher in 2001 before serving as Academic Dean and Codman’s first Principal. Prior to joining Codman, he taught at the Beacon School in New York and at the International School of Panama. Thabiti is the recipient of a Milken Educator Award, EL Education’s Silverberg Leadership Award, and was named by the Boston Chamber of Commerce as one of Ten Outstanding Young Leaders. Most recently, Thabiti was named a 2019 Barr Fellow. Thabiti’s special interest is in schools as laboratories for producing social justice warriors. He is a proud member of a number of boards including the Codman Square Health Center, Invest in Girls and the American Repertory Theater. Thabiti is a graduate of Brown University (BA in American Civilizations & Urban Studies) and Teachers College – Columbia University (MA in Social Studies).