Black and Brown: The Ancestral Colors of Resistance Echoing Liberation in Our Skin

School boycott, Chicago, 1964 / Photo by Marion Palfi

School boycott, Chicago, 1964 / Photo by Marion Palfi

Liberation is at the heart of human being. Liberation is at the heart of the universe. Liberation is what drives us to live. Freedom is Core to our existence. We learn this from the Animals, the Land, the Water, the Sky, from our most ancient of Ancestors - they remind us to return to the truth of being Free. And those of us who remember this, those of us who acknowledge this truth, have no other choice but to resist when our Liberty is threatened. Black and Brown communities in the United States and all over the world have faced continuous threat to our existence by those who have forgotten the Freedom that binds us to one another, who have been driven by things that oppose liberation and that confine and restrict human beings’ ability to be truly free - greed, power, and ego.

I'm writing this as a reminder. I'm writing this as homage and honoring. I’m writing this because we need to re-member that the story of our skin is not accounted for by historians and in what has been archived and written, filed away and bound in books. We all know how easy it is to omit truths, to erase whole narratives, and to manipulate them to serve purpose that is driven by the want for dominance and superiority. Etched into the Blackness and Brownness of countless generations, the stories in our skin have resisted, have waged wars against these fiction tellings. Master’s Narratives have dominated over the truth that Liberation lives in the core of our beings just as much as it does in theirs.

The truth about Ancestors of Black and Brown people throughout time is that they did not lay down and surrender when colonizers, imperialists, land-grabbers, and invaders set foot on territories unknown to them and claimed discovery, claimed ownership, claimed manifest destiny that gave them some divine “permission” to take over and do whatever they pleased with what they “found."

Selma to Montgomery March, Alabama, 1965 / Photo by James H. Karales, "Road to Freedom: The Civil Rights Movement 1958-1968, and Beyond," The Bronx Museum of the Arts at The New School

Selma to Montgomery March, Alabama, 1965 / Photo by James H. Karales, "Road to Freedom: The Civil Rights Movement 1958-1968, and Beyond," The Bronx Museum of the Arts at The New School

Our Black and Brown ancestors were not meant to be slaves, they were enslaved. They were not meant to be migrant workers, land, factory and mass production laborers, they were exploited.

The story I want to tell is deeper than skin; it is connected to the Land, the Waters, and the Skies that we each have been made from, that distinguish our ancestral origin of being. If we trace back to where it was that we “ethnically” originated from, we will hear the echoed story of Liberation - of Freedom - from every point of origin where human beings were created. The disregard of this has been, and continues to be, a key source of human demise. We are beings that are meant to be Free; and that Freedom, throughout time, has been forgotten.

What I write to recognize is about that forgetting, and how we forgot when the White Man has used the notion of color to justify their hatred, their fear, and their want to control and make sense of treating our communities as servants to their Freedoms. They've used these color categorizations to create limitations that have been forced onto our people, and have seeped into our hearts over time; by the repeated messages and actions and treatment that have been inflicted on our communities, and have told us that our Skin Story makes us unhuman, inferior, and victim. I write to invite us to re-member, to look at our skin and see the truth that lives in our physical makeup, that is living homage to our ancestors.

"INFORMATION WANTED: Uncle Sam - 'Now that I've got it, what am I going to do with it?'" / Illustration by Grant Hamilton, Judge, June 11,1898


"INFORMATION WANTED: Uncle Sam - 'Now that I've got it, what am I going to do with it?'" / Illustration by Grant Hamilton, Judge, June 11,1898

Our Black and Brown ancestors were not meant to be slaves, they were enslaved. They were not meant to be migrant workers, land, factory and mass production laborers, they were exploited. They were not less than human; closer to “beasts," they valued and lived with sacred connection to the Animals, Land, Waters, and the Sky. They were not "savage" because they never reached the “high levels of civilization” of the White European cultures; they reached those heights before, by their own means and with deep connection to the Divine.  

White culture has continued to be built upon what they consider to be the finest of many other cultures, particularly in America. They absorbed and adopted trades, luxuries, and delicacies from what they “discovered” and claimed this to be civilization, burying away the truth that all our indigenous origins - from Africa, to the Pacific Islands, to the Americas - came from highly developed societies and cultures long before Europeans came to dominate these places and steal from them what would serve their contrived way of civilizing. This basic truth was denied and written out of history by the European colonizers, missionaries, conquerors and enslavers.

There is a recognition of these ancient truths of genius, of advancement of “civilization” and we see it resonate in the Black and Brown excellence in this country and all over the world. We see how to this day, White Culture steals and appropriates for its own gain and achievement while still disregarding that Black and Brown peoples’ lives matter and are profoundly crucial to our whole existence - even when we have clearly found proof in artifacts, in writing, in divine telling, and in the living lineages that have survived and thrived throughout the ages. And when it is accepted it is more than ever being exploited for White Supremacist, capitalistic gain. And despite all of the exploitation, the degradation, the inhumanity and even the death that we have endured, our only response is to continue to be, to continue to survive, to continue to thrive, to continue to attain excellence - these are our roots of Liberation emerging and amplifying on the daily, declaring the Freedom within us all to Live.

In the U.S. it has been the Black and Indigenous communities who have led countless resistance actions and have refused to be silenced, refused to be held down by false Masters and proclamations of White Supremacy.
Members of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and supporters protest the Dakota Access Pipeline, 2016 / Photo source: Sacred Stone Camp Facebook page

Members of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and supporters protest the Dakota Access Pipeline, 2016 / Photo source: Sacred Stone Camp Facebook page

In this time when the Master’s Narrative of “Making America Great Again” means to say that our contributions to this country have not been valid, our Skin Story reminds us more than ever that our communities and Ancestors laid the foundations that have moved us all toward re-membering our connection to one another. The truth is that all that has been our experience in the United States has been the story of the pursuit of “Liberty and Justice for All.” In the US it has been the Black and Indigenous communities who have led countless resistance actions and have refused to be silenced, refused to be held down by false Masters and proclamations of White Supremacy. It has been those of us who remember that, unless you are of Native American blood, to be American is to be a settler, an immigrant, a refugee, a slave, or a descendent of them. Those who recognize this truth of identity know to stand up for the Freedom that is all of ours to have, that is Core to all of our beings. From the resistance of Native Peoples and the Ancients from the Pueblos, to the Plains, to the Catskills and Appalachia, from the Pacific to the Atlantic; Black and Brown ancestors rose to protect, to honor, to defend the Sacred and the Free. And they continued to fight, as allies of those who were brought to this land in chains, who in being enslaved knew no desire deeper than the want to be Liberated. Through the Civil War to the Civil Rights Movement, with the Black Panther and Young Lord Parties rising up and creating sustainability in our hoods; from the Farm Workers Movements and Labor Movements throughout the country; to #BlackLivesMatter and #NoDAPL connected to the Battle of Wounded Knee and all the fights for Indigenous sovereignty - it has been Black and Brown resistance that has gained us back the roots of true Liberation.

How many of our most ancient peoples have fought so hard to their near inexistence, and yet could not be wiped out completely because those roots of Freedom persisted within us? It is all of our right to be Free, ALL of us, but it has been the story of the Black and Brown who have understood and continued to give to the Labor, the Resistance, the Fight to attain, defend, honor and protect that truth.

Salupongan Ta Tanu Igkanugon (Unity in Defense of Ancestral Land) Indigenous leaders stand in solidarity with the Indigenous leaders and supporters facing state repression in Standing Rock, Mexico, Palestine, Haiti, and all over the world / Photo courtesy of Salupongan International, 2017

Salupongan Ta Tanu Igkanugon (Unity in Defense of Ancestral Land) Indigenous leaders stand in solidarity with the Indigenous leaders and supporters facing state repression in Standing Rock, Mexico, Palestine, Haiti, and all over the world / Photo courtesy of Salupongan International, 2017

I have heard inside of my heart the echoes of my ancestors that called me to trace the stories of my Philippine origins, and uncover the stories of how our people resisted the Spaniards, the stories of the heroes who rose up to defend our people - from Lapu Lapu who took Magellan’s head at Mactan, or the stories of Gabriela Silang on horseback defending her people in the name of her husband lost to war, or the millions who rose in People Power to overthrow a dictator, or the Lumad peoples who continue to fight, protecting their children, their land and all its natural resources and their Freedom again and again. When I think of what our freest people look like in the Motherland, I see in them the resonating features of indigeneity that relate us closer and closer to our Black brothers and sisters globally. Those who were touched freely by the Sun, the Sky, and the Waters, and live in exchange with the Land.

Aeta Children, 1937-1939 / Photo by John Tewell, Museum of Ethnology, Dresden, Germany  


Aeta Children, 1937-1939 / Photo by John Tewell, Museum of Ethnology, Dresden, Germany
 

Pilipinos are in their Indigenous blood of Brown and Black skin - the colors of Resistance, the Colors of Freedom. Our Indigenous brothers and sisters who escaped the Spaniards, the Japanese, the United States Imperialists, continue to hold the values and truths that we are sacred beings, that we are Free before anyone made us fight to be.

The Aeta, Ati, Dumagat, Mamanwa, Tagbanua, all persist in their Indigenous existence and have maintained the skin and features that are not of colonizer hybridity. And even deeper, they have maintained a sense of honoring and uplifting the values, the energetic motivations that call for us to seek freedom, to fight for it, to defend, honor and protect that sacredness. This is what unites us all.

I see in Black and Brown skin an act of resistance in continued existence. Although there have been attempts at erasure throughout history, our Skin Story remains one to be told.

My partner is of Dominican descent and we were speaking the other night about the Haitian Revolution and the powerful resistance of the Dominicanidad brethren and sistren who rejected their Black Brothers and Sisters in Haiti and rather, valued the messages of their oppressors. A Black free nation, turned on by those who preferred to adopt their oppressors ways. This resonates in the Philippines as well, with the majority preferring to adopt the colonizers’ doctrine, their “civilized” ways of being, their teachings that continue to seek our appeasement, our conformity, and our submission.

"Tayo Ang Gatilyo (We are the Trigger)" by Archie Oclos, Manila South Cemetary, Makati City, 2017

"Tayo Ang Gatilyo (We are the Trigger)" by Archie Oclos, Manila South Cemetary, Makati City, 2017

Power & Equality by Shepard Fairey, 2007

Power & Equality by Shepard Fairey, 2007

Those of White Ancestry have believed that they have more right to these roots of Freedom above Black and Brown peoples, but they have not fought for it as persistently. They have lacked the understanding that when we have fought to be Free, it did not mean that their Freedom would be voided, invalidated or replaced. They have now started to understand how important our Freedom is to the continuation of their own. Our communities and our Ancestors have long understood the mutual benefit of all of us seeing Freedom as essential to every human life. White narratives in connection to a pursuit for Freedom have been driven throughout time by possession of power, control and greed - the idea that Freedom should be inherently theirs, but not anyone else’s. That mere notion of owning freedom, confining it to some and not all, negates Freedom at its core of being. Freedom ceases to be, when only some have access to it.

I wonder often about the White Ancestral root that has driven their ideas of supremacy, of privilege, of entitlement; that has pulled them so far from understanding, accepting and loving the Core that connects them to all of us in like Freedom. I pray each time I encounter a person of White descent, and hope that they might see themselves in me as Kapwa (Shared Selves) connected to a common descent of Liberation - that they might feel my Freedom is not truly Freedom without theirs, and that their Freedoms are false without mine.

Our ancestors resisted, and we continue to resist. There echos in our own voices a call to return to our roots. Their voices echo in our skin, to return to the Divine that is deep within us, in the likeness of our creators; who are, more than anything else, in the image of what they have created: Free.

What is happening in the US, with the extreme presence of White Supremacist Leadership in our Governing bodies and in a time when we are more conscious and more empowered by the truth of Freedom than ever, is that we understand that ALL of our freedoms are compromised.  We can invite White brothers and sisters, who may not have seen themselves as allies in the past, into this conversation that it is not just about Black or Brown or White skin that divides us, but about The Roots of Liberation that Unite us.

We are all under attack, and yet it’s important for us to really think on how important it is for Black and Brown communities to be seen as core leaders in the resistance. This fight has always been ours.
Black Lives Matter protestors / Photo source: Occupy.com

Black Lives Matter protestors / Photo source: Occupy.com

Sacramento Black Panthers at the Free Huey Rally in Bobby Hutton Memorial Park, Oakland, CA, August 25, 1968 / Photo by Pirkle Jones

Sacramento Black Panthers at the Free Huey Rally in Bobby Hutton Memorial Park, Oakland, CA, August 25, 1968 / Photo by Pirkle Jones

We are all under attack, and yet it's important for us to really think on how important it is for Black and Brown communities to be seen as core leaders in the resistance. This fight has always been ours. We were forced to fight for Freedom as Black and Brown people in this country from the moment our ancestors set foot on this land, whether we were brought here in chains, by doctrine of colonization and commonwealth, or in flight from persecution and war torn lands - we all were in pursuit of Freedom, and we have always known the importance of resistance to our attainment of what has always inherently been ours.

We have always pursued Freedom; those who have not pursued it because they have believed they were "Free" need to wake up to the truth. It is time to understand that true Liberation is bound to Liberation for ALL. Those who have been in power, who have maintained the narrative of White Supremacy, have falsely believed that their own Liberation has been threatened by the want for Freedom by those of Black and Brown Skin. They have believed all this time that they were Free, when in actuality by not allowing Black and Brown communities Freedom alongside theirs, they were never truly Free. Even many from our own communities have blindly lived in this false Freedom, this White Freedom, because they have known no other way of being; because they have become complacent to comfort over Liberation.

Freedom in its core knows no color, but we have given into this segregated idea of what is Free. And because of this we need to look at whose intention has our greater Liberation in mind.  

True Liberation in this country begins and ends with the Story of Black and Brown Skin - the colors of Resistance that we need to look to for leadership if we ever want to see the Revolution result in the Freedom that we all envision.

 

BY JANA LYNNE "JL" UMIPIG

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Pronouns: She/Her/JL

Jana Lynne "JL" Umipig is a multidisciplinary artist, educator, and activist who seeks to elevate the narratives of Pilipina wom*n as a reflection of her own life's journey toward decolonizing, re-indigenizing and humanizing self.  She is the creator of the acclaimed Movement Theatre production "The Journey of a Brown Girl," noted as a "transformative human experience through the lens of the Pinay Narrative." She is a core member of The Center for Babaylan Studies, an Inner Dance facilitator, and founder of Butikaryo mga Babae, which creates sacred space for Pinay Womxn Healers seeking to learn and remember healing practice and knowledge connected to our ancestral traditions.