The Anti-Racist Manifesto of Puerto Rico’s Colectiva Feminista en Construcción (La Cole) outlines a radical solution to capitalism, colonialism, and climate change.
Natural disasters are also catastrophes of colonialism and neoliberalism. Take, for instance, Hurricane Fiona. A category 1 hurricane that made landfall on Puerto Rico on September 18th, Fiona knocked out power to the entire archipelago – some 1.4 million households – and left sixty percent of the territory without clean water. Bridges, roads, and buildings have been destroyed and massive flooding and landslides continue to be a problem. Capitalism-induced climate change is certainly a problem here: warming oceans have caused more frequent, and much more powerful, tropical storms, creating an existential state of ecological crisis for Puerto Rico, and for other territories of the Caribbean archipelago. Yet the problem of climate change has been made more acute, and more devastating, by the combined histories of colonialism and neoliberalism in Puerto Rico.
Puerto Rico has been a colony of the US since 1898. As colonial subjects, the people of Puerto Rico have minimal US citizenship rights and none of the benefits of statehood. Economically dependent on the US, Puerto Rico is the dumping ground for mainland products, the victim of suffocating trade laws, and the recipients of an extortionist tax regime. Puerto Rico also suffers from a racist, anti-Black, whitesupremacist colonialist consciousness. At the same time, Puerto Rico’s economic stagnation, combined with its colonial mismanagement, led to the expansion of its sovereign debt to the tune of $72 billion with more than $55 billion in unfunded pension liabilities. This debt led, in turn, to a state of fiscal supervision under PROMESA, the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act, imposed by the Obama administration and enacted by the US congress in 2016. Typically, debt restructuring has meant neoliberal gutting. Public utilities, including the electricity grid, were privatized, social services were slashed (although policing was increased), and hundreds of schools were closed – the latter act instigated using Hurricane Maria as justification. All told, in Puerto Rico, protections against climate change have been undermined by a racist colonialism and undercut by neoliberalism. Meanwhile Puerto Rico is becoming the playground for white tech nerds, crypto-bros, and hedge fund bloodsuckers who are eagerly buying up local properties while draining power to “mine” bitcoin.
Of course, Puerto Rico also has a long history of militant resistance to Spanish and US colonialism, and, more recently, to the vicious austerity programs of neoliberalism. The Colectiva Feminista en Construcción, also known as La Cole, is one of the more important institutions in this regard. La Cole is a Black feminist political group largely based in San Juan, Puerto Rico, that has been active since 2013. Through a range of militant interventions and creative tactics, they have addressed questions of femicide, sexual harassment, abortion rights, trans rights, and neoliberalism. La Cole’s Manifiesto antirracista, written during the heights of the global Black Lives Matter protests of 2020, is a radical statement that connects the Puerto Rico’s history of coloniality to its problem of whitesupremacy, and links its neoliberal economy to the persistence of a violent, heterosexist patriarchy. Among its demands, the Manifesto calls for “the restoration of land, clean air, clean water and the termination of the privatization and exploitation of our natural resources.” It is only through the critiques and demands of organizations like La Cole that we have a chance of halting the destruction wrought by colonialism, capitalism, and Hurricane Fiona.
The Anti-Racist Manifesto of Colectiva Feminista en Construcción
“If Black women were free, it would mean that everyone else would have to be free since our freedom would necessitate the destruction of all the systems of oppression.”
~Combahee River Collective, 1977
Racial states are neither ahistorical nor atemporal. They belong to a concrete political experience called modernity/coloniality and begin from the social construction of the category of race in order to establish differences and hierarchies between individuals. This experience has survived decolonization processes and has generalized the racial state everywhere as the “natural order of things,” posing an almost impossibility to its destruction.
Racial states are not established at the margins of capitalism. On the contrary, the centrality of race as the axis of power relations was possible thanks to the violent dispossession of the lives, work and knowledges [saberes] of Black people and people racialized as non-white in the period of European imperial expansion.
Racial states are not separated from patriarchy. These, rather, are co-constitutive with the patriarchal system for it is in the domestication of feminized subjectivities and in their marginalization as the infantile, the perverse, the other, the beastly, the savage that racial states configure their politics of race based on racial purity or racial mixing for the purpose of “whitening” [“blanquear”] the progeny.
Racial states are not immovable. These are reconfigured and transformed according to the possibility of sustaining white supremacy oppressing Black bodies and bodies racialized as non-white in diverse ways, always with the main objective of maintaining the status quo: white/capitalist/patriarchal dominance.
Racial states are constituted under the myth of the nation-state in order to establish borders that allow them to exercise different types of dominance according to who is inside and who is outside. For this reason, racial states are also imperial states that deploy colonial violence where they prevail, in order to maintain or expand their economic and racial interests.
Racial states are as nationalist as they are internationalist. While they use the apparatus of border control or citizenship to establish life or death of one or the other, they also ally themselves with those who share, with them, white supremacy as state policy.
Racial states operate systemically. They establish an unequal system based on race—evident in the segregation between neighborhoods, the unequal distribution of state wealth, the policies of policing black communities, and the lack of access to state resources.
Racial states operate in collective imaginaries. These are part of the racialized identity of Black and white people, which makes each group have different experiences of existing, of being, of surviving.
Racial states permeate the individual. In the depths of being, the white subject assumes its role in the unequal relation of power, benefits from the racial state and reproduces it with its fears, its anger and its frustrations. While, in the depths of being, the Black subject survives and resists the premature death announced since his being in the world.
The Racial State in the Colony of Puerto Rico
In the colony of Puerto Rico, the racial state operates with diverse logics. The criollo imaginary reproduces racial narratives of a mixture that does not recognize the anti-Black violence that it entailed. It is hidden as well, behind the mixture of races, the confinement of Black bodies/territories to the marginalized, the expropriable and the criminalized. Just as is hidden the fixing of mestizo bodies/territories with white aspirationism in different dimensions: from the aesthetic to the economic. Likewise, behind the mixture of races, is hidden the devaluation of the work carried out by visibly Black people and how their bodies are turned disposable in the face of physical, economic and environmental violence perpetrated by the racial state. However, the racial state in the colony of Puerto Rico is not solely sustained by criollo imaginaries. United States colonialism in the last 122 years has contributed to the linking of racial imaginaries with white social practices such as individualism, economic liberalism, neoliberalism, and also the aspiration to be part, entirely, of the racial state par excellence: United States of America.
This is why, we insist, racial states are not atemporal. They have not always existed, they can —and if we dismantle them, they will— cease to exist. Racial states are not ahistorical. They belong to a concrete political experience that we are willing to abolish in order to build another political form that does not reproduce, ever again, the violence that has brought us here.
In Puerto Rico, anti-Black violence is manifested in “mano dura contra el crimen” [“iron fist against crime”] policies, the criminalization of poverty, the zoning of Black communities as dangerous and insecure spaces and the policing of these spaces, environmental racism and police abuse against the Dominican and Haitian community in the country, as well as measures that impose control over the bodies of women, particularly the bodies of Black women and women racialized as non-white. Furthermore, the racial state operates with complete impunity implementing austerity policies that leave Black people and people racialized non-white without access to dignified housing, education and health services.
In La Colectiva Feminista en Construcción, given these hierarchies of power that sustain the racial state, we reaffirm, together with the Black feminists who have gone before us—that the liberation of Black women will be the end of all oppressions, the end of the racial state in all its manifestations and all its articulations with different structures of power.
The end of the racial state will be the end of the colonial state and the post-colonial criollo state. It will be the end of capitalism, it will be the end of patriarchy and it will be the end of systemic and epistemological racism and its identitarian reproductions. That is why, as Black feminists, we assume the revolutionary task of fighting for the fall of the capitalist, racist and patriarchal system, recognizing that its fall and the end of the racial state will be what will allow us to build other lives and other ways of being and existing, other decolonized lives, in short, other worlds.
For this reason, at the particular juncture we are living, we join the demands of the organizations that form part of the Black Lives Matter movement, demanding recognition of and accountability for the devaluation and dehumanization of Black lives and we demand radical and sustainable solutions that aim for the protection and the best quality of life for all Black people. Therefore, we demand:
- End the war against Black people: This includes abolishing the death penalty, mass policing and abusive police intervention in our communities, violence against Black people (including trans Black people, sexual dissidents and gender non-conforming people as well as the immigrant community), impunity for crimes against Black people, particularly those perpetuated by state agents, environmental racism through exposing our communities to polluting agents and the imposition of austerity measures that principally affect the country’s Black community and impoverished communities.
- Reparations: Immediate decolonization of Puerto Rico. Assume the past and current harms of slavery, such as mass incarceration of Black people, the destruction of our communities, and family nuclei, the implementation of laws that impede the integral development and improvement of our quality of life, reparations for the wealth extracted from our communities, that a dignified income and free and quality higher education be guaranteed, with open admission to the University of Puerto Rico, as well as community colleges, universities and technical schools. Decriminalization, immediate release, elimination of records and reparations for the derogatory effects of the “war on drugs” as well as the “criminalization of sex work” in our Black communities.
- Investment: Instead of investing state and federal funds for the police to monitor and repress our communities and for the benefit of exploiting corporations, we demand that the state invest in long-term security strategies, in strengthening access to justice programs and gender violence prevention. In the same way, that the improvement of our education system is prioritized, that an anti-racist and gender-perspective education curriculum is implemented in the public and private system. Investment in restorative justice programs, employment programs for marginalized and impoverished people and universal health insurance.
- Economic justice: That Black communities have real collective ownership of wealth. That the necessary actions be taken so that Black people can have access to a job with a living wage —with an increase in the minimum wage— social and labor protections, as well as access to housing and the basic food basket according to their family composition. That support be provided for the development of networks of social or economic cooperatives, and that measures and efforts that address systemic discrimination and protect the civil rights of Black people be strengthened. Additionally, that the right to the restoration of land, clean air, clean water and the termination of the privatization and exploitation of our natural resources be guaranteed.
- Power to communities: Ensure that our communities have active participation in decision-making on budgets and infrastructure, desist from privatizing education through charter schools.
- Political power: Through political participation in decision-making spaces such as government agencies, the legislature and municipalities. That the protection of the right to vote be guaranteed for all Black people, that universal and free access to the internet be provided; and greater protection and financing for institutions that do anti-racist work.
Manifiesto antirracista de la Colectiva Feminista en Construcción. English version reposted from Latino Rebels.