Meet Valerie Reynoso, an Afro-Taino activist, artist, writer, and journalist. Valerie shares with us on how she uses education as her go-to clapback to respond to racism.
1. Tell us a little bit about yourself.
My name is Valerie, my pronouns are she/her and I am an Afro-Taino activist, artist, writer and journalist from Kiskeya (indigenous name of Dominican Republic). Social justice and decolonization are my passions, as a Marxist, as a Native, as someone who is colonized. For centuries my people have been colonized, murdered, tortured, raped and more in the name of western imperialism, the colonizers tried to violently erase them from existence, I am not supposed to exist due to this but I do. I am living proof my people are not extinct. Since it was made illegal for my people to be who we are, I am reclaiming and documenting all our ways so they may never be forgotten, especially since I am from a historically Taino town called Azua in Kiskeya, and my culture is very Taino, most of what I know about my culture is from the elders of my family. I am a descendant of what was yesterday and the legacy of the now. Capitalism, imperialism and colonialism must be withered away in order for us to achieve true decolonization. I currently work at the United Nations and am part of the Decolonization Committee of the General Assembly and representing my country, Dominican Republic. I have also been published and presented in numerous outlets including TeleSur TV, Teen Vogue, Hampton Institute and more. My art also melds decolonization with surrealism and my own style, with my art having been featured in the Guggenheim Museum, New York University and more. As I work at the UN I am also always continuing my writing and art. I am dedicated to becoming the change I wish to see in the world, and will continue to fight for this change to take place and for capitalism-imperialism to be finished off.
2. Microaggressions and covert racism are way too normalized and a daily occurrence for people of color (and sometimes expressed by people within our own communities). How do you respond to them? Or was there a time when you didn't respond to a racist comment - how did it make you feel in the moment and after?
I respond to more covert forms of racism by educating others as to why it’s still racist even if it wasn’t blatant. Racism is an institutional structure upheld by capitalism-imperialism and has colonial origins. It permeates every aspect of society, its hegemonic and no one is exempt from it, to think otherwise is individualist and ahistorical. Once people understand how systematic racism is, they will understand why microaggressions are still a legitimate reality. One time in one of my publications on my Taino culture where I showed an image of the bohios, Taino homes, where my family grew up, several white men commented telling me to go back to where I came from, that I'm "indigenous tears," that indigenous homes have “poor infrastructure” and to “welcome to civilization.” I just blocked them and didn’t reply, although others did come to my defense and argued with them. In the moment I honestly wasnt surprised because I knew someone was bound to comment something of a racist nature. I was still disappointed nonetheless that people still have that level of ignorance and hate for the oppressed, but unsurprising coming from white men who is privileged in all aspects of capitalist society.
3. How do you deal with this when it's another POC?
I am more inclined to respond if the microaggression is coming from another POC and even more so if they are of the same demographic I am, as not all POC have the same experience. When it’s another POC i educate them as to why they’re wrong and why them being another colonized person should be even less incentive for them to be racist to me, and sometimes if it gets extreme I either intensify this argument, maintain my posture and walk away or block if it’s online.
4. How do you decide when to respond or to ignore it? Do you have a safety plan when you find yourself in a compromising situation?
I choose my battles wisely and have learned to not abuse my own patience, to know when to respond and when to just ignore. It’s not healthy nor productive to argue and get mad on a regular basis with those who don’t want to listen. I used to argue with everyone who says ignorant things but we can’t realistically wake everyone up especially when they willfully don’t want to and enjoy the privileges of being oppressive. I am more responsive to POC and especially WOC, I am less responsive to privileged groups.