Section 10

Guest Curation: Black Feminist Approaches to the Debt Crisis

curated by Ashley Coleman Taylor

Image Credit: Colectivo Moriví, “Libre y Peligrosa.” Detail from mural, 2019. Humacao, Puerto Rico.

Black feminism and the concept of intersectionality;

a Black feminist approach considers how race, gender, sexuality, class, colonial status, ability, and/or ethnicity, among other axes of difference, inform the impacts of the Puerto Rican debt crisis on the everyday lives of Black women and other marginalized people who navigate these realities.

Although popularized by Black women in a U.S. context, diasporic Black feminism reminds us that Black communities in the post-slavery Americas have shared (but not identical) experiences of multiple and overlapping forms of oppression such as racism, classism, and sexism. In this way, it is important to situate and contextualize Puerto Rico’s debt crisis within a broader framework that understands not only Black women’s subjugation and their resistance to such conditions, but also those who have various experiences of nonnormative gender.

A Hemispheric Introduction to Black Feminism

One of the key contributions of Black feminism is intersectionality. Intersectionality considers that ways that intersecting social locations (e.g. race, gender, class, or ability) inform access to or denial of power through oppressive systems. Specifically, in the case of Puerto Rico and other sites of debt colonialism, we can consider how Black women’s experience of the debt crisis as already marginalized citizens compounds its impacts. The readings in this section have been selected to provide learners with a foundation in key texts to analyze the other sections in this module alongside Black feminist issues in the Americas.

Ultimately, the texts in this section shows that Black feminism is not merely the study of Black women, but rather a method and approach to the study of power and lived realities of marginalization compounded by issues such as racism, sexism, etc.

Foundations of Race, Class, and Gender Hierarchies in Puerto Rico

Contemporary phenomena like racism (as antiblackness), classism (as elitism), misogynoir (misogyny directed at Black women), homophobia, transphobia, and other oppressive ideologies in Puerto Rico have their root in history. The colonialization of the Caribbean took shape as European imperialism demanded territorial expansion at all costs. African enslavement emerged from imperialism and colonial control emerged the system of African enslavement, rooted in the economic system of capitalism and espousing the belief in the inferiority of darker peoples. During the Transatlantic Slave Trade, African peoples became the capital used for economic expansion in the Americas. As units of sale and production, enslaved Africans in colonies like Puerto Rico became commodities in the expansion of capitalism. The Spanish colony of Puerto Rico under Spanish rule was built on the extraction of labor (enslaved peoples) and resources (goods and property).

The post-slavery 20th century found Puerto Rico under the weight of U.S. imperialism. This led to the establishment of detrimental economic policies and an Americanization project rooted in extractive colonialism control and undergirded by racist ideologies. The current debt crisis in Puerto Rico is a direct result of the practices of expansion of capitalism, American imperialism, and colonialism. A Black feminist approach to the histories of imperialism, colonialism, and the expansion of capitalism in Puerto Rico critically examines ideas about issues like racism, classism, sexism, ethnocentrism, and colonial status as intersecting issues that contributed to the direct oppression of Afro-Puerto Ricans. It further asks, how did these histories of colonialism impact the livelihood, embodiment, and livelihood of Black women during and after slavery? How do these ideas about race (specifically) created during the age of European, and subsequently American, colonialization become embedded in Puerto Rican popular ideas?

Part 1: Enslavement Under Spanish Colonialism
Part 2: Imperialism Under American Colonialism

Race, Class, and Gender in Contemporary Puerto Rico

Black Puerto Ricans face considerable societal inequalities rooted in historical contexts. In the last section, we examined the roots of issues like racism, sexism, classism in the archipelago. A Black feminist lens may critically examine the ways that racism (as antiblackness), classism (as elitism), or sexism (as misogynoir) impacts the everyday lived experiences of Black women or others who face gender discrimination compounded by the intersection of these issues. In this section we specifically explore how Black women’s marginalization is only amplified by the debt crisis and the effects of disaster capitalism on colonialism. The sources ask you to explore how multiple intersectional oppressions (e.g. racism, sexism, or classism) impact Afro-Puerto Rican women. As you read, consider the impacts of marginalization on Black women who experience multiple forms of oppression as they navigate their daily lives.

Disaster, the Debt Crisis, and Resistance

This section focuses on the direct Puerto Rican resistance to the debt crisis and disaster capitalism. From everyday practices of resistance to large-scale and ongoing protests, on-the-ground actions serve as a force that pushes back against economic imperialism and colonialism. Protesters fight back against the conditions worsened by the debt crisis and further exacerbated by the damage of hurricane María. Direct actions like mutual aid, planning demonstrations, and feeding community members keep them safe and supported. As you read and listen to these sources, consider how Black feminism and other intersectional racialized approaches continue to inspire direct actions of resistance in Puerto Rico. How might Black feminism inspire change as communities in Puerto Rico resist governmental responses to disaster and debt? How does Black feminism as a method inform community and activist efforts to effect change for a better future?

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