Reading Afrolatina/o/x Literature Requires a Locally Emergent Intersectionality

By | December 6, 2021

This week, in a series of blog takeovers, we’re looking at #MeToo and Literary Studies with posts from the collection’s contributors.

Guest post by Ethan Madarieta

In my essay for the collection, #Me Too and Literary Studies: Reading, Writing, and Teaching about Sexual Violence and Rape Culture, I wrote about how students in my course “Introduction to Afrolatina/o/x Literature” perform what I call “an impulse toward agency.” This “impulse” is a compulsion to read agency into scenes of sexual violence against Black, Indigenous, and Latina/o/x bodies. I write that it is “a well-intentioned impulse that seems to emerge from the desire to imbue Latina/o/x subjects with an agency that subverts the force of intersectional oppressions,” but frequently causes students to “overlook how agency is also a condition of subjugation and therefore always predetermined and restricted.”

In this course, we come to an understanding that the conditions imposed upon racialized bodies often coerce decisions and actions and therefore delimit consent or render it impossible. What I did not have the space to pursue in the essay was how this intervention in students’ literary interpretation is particularly fraught when discussing narratives by and about Latinas/os/xs and Afrolatinas/os/xs. As with other pan-ethnic categories, there is no fixed and shared characteristic that coheres everyone “included” in the category. Considerations of the insufficiency of the category Latina/o/x is not new, particularly as concerns social justice and reparative projects that seek material redress for the centuries-long racial, ethnic, and culture-based oppressions against this dynamic and complex population. In fact, this is a primary consideration of many works across the diverse field of Latina/o/x Studies. Thus, when we read and discuss scenes of sexual violence in Latina/o/x and Afrolatina/o/x literatures, we must approach each instance locally. As scholar Jillian Hernandez writes, racialized sexuality should be considered a “complex processes in flux” (online). Therefore, we must not only “always historicize,” as the well-worn and well-warranted Jameson injunction goes, but also closely consider the particular racialized sexual dynamics in play.

After an intense class discussion about Silvio Torres-Saillant’s “Inventing the Race” (2003) and Ananzi Dzidzienyo’s response, “Coming to Terms with the African Connection in Latino Studies” (2003) my student, Lamine, raised his hand and said, “I think all of this could be figured out with intersectionality.” We had, just the week before, discussed at length intersectionality using philosopher Kathryn Sophia Belle’s (formerly Kathryn T. Gines) article “Black Feminism and Intersectional Analyses” (2011). One thing we come to understand in discussion of Belle’s article is that intersectionality is an analytic, not a method, which is locally emergent. This means that none of the categories’ meanings, neither the intwined identity categories nor their intwined attendant forms of oppression, are wholly transferrable from one context to another, nor from one body to another. Thus, we must always consider, for example, how in being a Black woman neither Black nor woman can be thought separately, while simultaneously attending to how other intersecting dynamics such as class, (dis)ability, geography, language, sexuality, and myriad other racialized factors converge in a particular instance to form what Fanon calls “the lived experience,” in this example, of a Black woman. So, when Lamine says that we can figure out how intersectionality reveals blackness as the central identity marker for Afrolatinas/os/xs as a critical distinction from Latina/o/x, he is identifying the central problematic in forming interpretations of Latinidades from the perspective of the identity category as unified.

What this means for interpreting scenes of sexual violence in Afrolatina/o/x literatures is that, in an example I explore in my essay for this collection, when we read of the sexual encounters between young Piri Thomas, Black Puerto Rican, Piri’s friends, each differently racialized, and the three trans Latinas/xs, we need to consider the multiple dynamic presentations of racialized sexualities and gender identities, and thus the racial power structures at play. So, to conclude I’d like to propose a new injunction: always think intersectionally. For an example of what this might look like, you need only look to the critical and pedagogical engagements presented in #Me Too and Literary Studies.

Acknowledgments

Thanks to Mary K. Holland and Heather Hewitt for giving me the opportunity to write an essay for this amazing collection. Thanks to my “Introduction to Afrolatina/o/x Literature” students over the last few years, and special thanks to Lamine S. for your keen insights, generous participation, and allowing me to think with you publicly here.

#MeToo and Literary Studies cover

Ethan Madarieta is an Assistant Professor of English at Syracuse University. His current book manuscript, The Body Is (Not) the Land: Memory, Decomposition, and the Geographic Imagination, interrogates state, Indigenous, and diasporic memory, violence, and extranational geographic imaginaries through trans-American literature and political performance. He has published or forthcoming articles in Latin American Theatre Review, Critical Times, A contracorriente: una revista de estudios latinoamericanos, and chapters in the following Bloomsbury edited collections: New Approaches to Cultural Memory Studies and #MeToo and Literary Studies: Reading, Writing, and Teaching about Sexual Violence and Rape Culture.

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