Marisol Jiménez’s words echo in the minds of UNC Asheville students long after her departure, making them think of how their every action could be contributing to the solidification or dismantling of white supremacy.
In a workshop dedicated to developing an understanding of race as a concept, how racism lives systematically and socially within our society and how to dismantle it, Jiménez told the story of racism in America and laid down the groundwork for a more equitable future.
The Office of Multicultural Affairs hosted Jiménez in Highsmith Student Union on Aug. 27 as a part of their Social Justice in Action Series called “More Than Language: Social Justice in Practice with Marisol Jiménez.”
“What’s happening here is structural, it’s systematic, it’s historical and it’s cumulative,” Jimenez said about racism.
An activist for more than 20 years in community engagement and policy writing, Jiménez is the founder and lead consultant of Tepeyac Consulting, a North Carolina based organization that helps non-profit organizations and grassroots leaders take strategic steps toward equity, according to the Tepeyac Consulting website.
Jiménez said she is not just OK with making people uncomfortable with topics like systemic racism, she aims to do it and says it’s her place in the Latino immigrant North Carolina justice movement.
“She said a lot of things that to some people might seem a little scary but she said a lot of things that were necessary to say,” said Ana Rodriquez-Cué, a cuban student at the event said.
Jiménez, the daughter of an Irish mother and an undocumented Mexican father, says as white a passing Latina women it is her responsibility to go into white spaces and work within them instead of being at the forefront of the movement like she did before this revelation.
“I thought I was doing good, I was working hard and I was becoming recognized as leader in Latino immigrant North Carolina justice movement and I still was struggling with all of this imposter syndrome and then suddenly there were these rumblings that were coming out of my community and they were asking this question in a lot of different ways,” Jiménez said. “In loving ways, in harsh ways, in quiet ways and in my face ways. ‘How is it that a half white, English-dominant, U.S. citizen yankee is the leader of the North Carolina Latino immigrant justice movement’ and I was like, ‘That’s a good question.’”
Jiménez did not take this criticism to leave the movement completely, but rather to rethink where she stands.
“That was my moment to realize that I need to reposition myself in the movement, it wasn’t for me to be like ‘Oh fine I’ll take all my toys and go home,’ but it was for me to reexamine the way that I was participating in the work,” she said.
This isn’t the first time Jiménez has grappled with her identity. Jiménez said as a child she had trouble finding her place in her two communities as a mixed race person. This was made especially difficult because her mother’s side did not approve of her parent’s marriage.
“So as soon as I was coming into the family there was already history waiting around the fact that my mother’s family never approved of the fact that my mother was marrying this man,” Jiménez said.
The polarizing state of the two geographical locations where the two sides of her family lived prompted her quest to understand her identity.
According to Jiménez, in the urban, Puerto Rican neighborhood where she was born, many people made her feel too light skin to ever fit in, while when she went to her mother’s neighborhood, in the suburban area of Chicago, she never felt accepted there either because it was extremely white.
“Throughout all of that trying to navigate these racial dynamics and also trying to figure out why it was as a child that my neighborhood looked the way that my neighborhood looked,” Jiménez said.
Her quest for identity lead her to work for non-profit organizations where she worked mostly with older white men.
She recounted when she would be asked by the men where she is from, and when she would tell them Chicago the men questioned further, searching for a foreign country.
“‘But where are you from from like where are your parents from’, trying to indicate the place that would say to them that I didn’t belong,” Jiménez said.
The equating of American to white did not happen unintentionally, Jiménez said.
“This is a systematic series of decisions and policies and enforcement efforts that have been created in order to make sure that we concentrate power and wealth and resources in whiteness,” Jiménez said.
Whiteness is a new concept, she said.
“The first time the word white ever appeared as a racial term in the law was in Virgina, 1700s, saying that white women who married and had children with non-white men would be exiled and their children would be forced into endured servitude for 30 years,” Jiménez said.
The white elite created the idea of whiteness to break up the poor masses of white indentured servants, enslaved black and indigenious people that formed coalitions to rebel against them according to Jiménez.
“They did what autocrats and fascists will always do, they created a system of tribalism. They created the idea of whiteness and this path of whiteness will also allow them to clink crystal glasses eventually. They create a way to separate the masses so they would never rebel together,” Jiménez said.
The goal of the white elite, Jiménez said, was to make whiteness and their privileges inaccessible.
“So what they did was, ‘white’ became this way to rights, benefits, privileges and protections that everyone else didn’t have. You wanted to be a citizen, you had to be a white man. You wanted to own land, you had to be white man. You wanted to vote, you had to be a white man,” Jiménez said.
In order for one to become American and have the privileges that come with it, one had to participate in American white supremacy, Jiménez said.
“Colluding with white supremacy, that was one way to become American. In the 1860s, for example, every male from the age 18 to 35 had to join the slave patrol. That was required and then eventually they gave them these little copper badges. And then they started calling them cops because they had these little copper badges. And you wonder where police came from? Slave patrol,” she said.
One would also have to forego their country, Jiménez said, in order to become American by erasing parts of their culture that weren’t white.
“You no longer name your children Giuseppe, you name them John,” Jiménez said.
According to Jiménez, this system built years ago still permeates our society even though people of different races are not biologically different.
“Race is a social and political construct. There is nothing scientific or measurable about race,” said Jiménez.
She said this idea presents itself when one takes a DNA test. The test results don’t tell one their race, it shows nationalities.
“Race is not true. But it has very real impacts on people’s lives everyday. So we don’t get to racially bypass it and be like ‘No let’s just go ahead to this place where none of it matters,’ when it’s killing people in all kinds of ways. Mothers giving birth, police shooting people in the street— that’s racialized,” she said.
This idea of racism being biologically justified, she says, is inspired by Thomas Jefferson, who believed there were some races biologically superior to others. This science was then studied in many countries that attempted to prove what the hierarchy of the races were. In each model, black was at the bottom.
“Always built on an anti-blackness model. That’s important to understand. The whole construct is deeply embedded in anti-blackness,” Jiménez said.
Jiménez’s goal is to help non-profits break down racist structures for an equitable, not equal society. Jiménez says equality and diversity should not be a priority because they are outcomes of equity.
“Equality in outcomes sure, equality in access to good health outcomes, good educational outcomes, good security, wealth attainment, home attainment. We should be seeing some equality in those numbers. But that again is like the diversity thing, it’s an outcome. But how you get there is not going to look equal, because what we need is equity,” Jiménez said.
She does this by looking into her own movement for ways that white supremacy replicates in non-profit organizations aiming to dismantle it.
“I go into our movement and I hold spaces with what are primarily non-profit industrial-complex type of organizations that are driving the funding, the resourcing and the microphones of this work and asking the similar questions that were asked of me. ‘What are the ways that we are replicating white supremacy in our own movement, just as we are trying to dismantle it? And how do we begin to disrupt that practice?’” she said.
She uses the example of providing dinner to explain this. In this example Jiménez makes a fancy dinner that includes pork, rum custard and wine. This dinner, no matter how hard she worked on it and how much she paid for it will still cause complications for some people.
“‘Why are you complaining you all got the same meal?’ That’s the equality approach,” Jiménez said.
People who do not drink alcohol, people who do not eat meat and people who are lactose intolerant would have trouble with this meal.
“I would have to drop my little white supremacist mask that says, ‘Everything I like, you like. Everything I’ve experienced, you must experience. The whole world is just like me,’ I would have to admit that I don’t know something, that everyone’s not like me. I would have to ask questions,” she said.
She then introduces the idea of having a potluck instead, where everyone brings food they can eat and makes their own plate.
Jiménez said she trusts people to fix the plate they need. She did not watch them to make sure they only took what she thinks is best for them.
“My goal was never equality, my goal was to make you feel nurtured and nourished,” Jiménez said.
When you don’t set equitable tables, she said, people leave hungry.
Jiménez says to non-profits that request her services that they must start with a conversation about power and making a safe space for diversity.
“I don’t do diversity, that’s not the work that I do. I love diversity, diversity is great. Diversity is an outcome, not the work. When you’re doing the work, then you get diversity,” Jiménez said.
Some non-profits however, according to Jiménez, aren’t ready for diversity. Before diversity, one must have inclusion.
“How does the room feel? Do people have access to the room? Are they able to participate? That’s when I start talking about things like the way you get diversity. Do you have your meeting on a Saturday or do you have your meeting on a Monday at 1 p.m.? Do you have transportation? Do you have child care? Do you have interpreters available? All of those are inclusion practices,” she explains.
After these day long classes on equity, she is honest with an organization on where she believes they are on their journey and if she find they’re not ready for diversity she tells them to warn people of color when they interview.
“Don’t pretend that you’re in the place where you would like to be. You have to say ‘You know what we’ve been all white organization for this many years. We’re on this learning journey, but it’s pretty problematic and if you come in the likelihood is that you’re going to have to do some serious emotional labor here. Do you consent?’ And the offering of that opportunity to consent or not, in a real way I think is one of the steps that organizations have to take,” Jiménez said.
When one is really trying to dismantle racism, there is an aspect of danger that comes with it, according to Jiménez.
“Doing anti-racism work, doing racial equity work, if you are actually making a difference, if you are actually having an impact, it’s really dangerous work. It’s not feel good work,” she said.
This work a lot has consequences that bleed into your personal life, Jiménez said.
“When you really start doing the work you will get push back. From your friends, from your family, from your work, from your school, from the public, that’s real. And that’s the moment you decide how in solidarity are you?” she asked the audience.
One must also recognize the flaws in every movement, Jiménez said.
“The way that white supremacy works is that even in the LGBT movement, and the way that has been played out in that movement, needs to be reckoned with. Like who is dying most? Black Trans Women,” Jiménez said.
It’s very easy, Jiménez said, to take the easy way out.
“This is a lifelong practice because the magnetism of being pulled into either the despair, or the collusion or the apathy that is all around white supremacy and structural racism is real. All you have to do is stop trying and it’ll pull you right back in,” Jiménez said.
According to Jiménez, this is even easier if you try dismantle racism from inside of the system.
Jiménez left her audience with three questions she also asks her clients;
“What is your organization doing to confront structural racism that should be encouraged to grow?”
“In what ways is your organization participating in structural racism that needs to be pulled out by the root?”
“What are new ideas that you could begin planting within the organization?”
The questions Jiménez asked impacted Sean Miller, a freshman at UNC Asheville, greatly.
“She asked us to ask ourselves when we first became our race and fully realized our racial identity and I think that definitely made a lot of people think because it’s something that not a lot of people reflect on,” Miller said.
Miller now strives to reflect on these questions daily.
“I spent a lot of time reflecting on it and trying to process everything and apply it to how I live my life on a daily basis as well as how I look at myself in this community,” Miller said.
When asked if there can be true revolution without violence, Jiménez looked to American history.
“The state has clearly demonstrated its capacity for extreme violence, incarceration, and repression in the face of revolutionary movements,” Jiménez said.
She uses past and current acts of violence by the government to shut down social justice movements as examples.
“It is in Ferguson where we can truly see the state practicing what urban welfare looks like against its own people,” she said.
According to Jiménez one can look to the past to predict the future of the movement.
“Ultimately, I think that we can expect, if there were true revolutionary efforts and change, we should go ahead and read our history books and see that has not changed, and be ready,” Jiménez said.