Who’ll Teach U.S.-Mexico History to Katt Williams? Our Readers! [Reader Forum]

Our readers react to Williams' anti-immigrant outburst.

By Channing Kennedy Sep 12, 2011

Comedian Katt Williams has had a busy couple of weeks. First, he made headlines by taking time out of a standup performance to answer a heckler’s racist jeers with a lengthy racist tirade of his own, telling the person to "go back to Mexico" and leading the audience in a USA!-USA! chant. The outburst was followed by an official apology — which was followed in turn by Katt going on TV to say he had nothing to do with that apology, and he meant what he said and the United States being the greatest nation in the world.

Our own Monica Novoa appeared on Elon James White‘s "Blacking It Up" radio show last week to discuss everything that was wrong about Katt WIlliam’s outburst (and everything that’s wrong with acting surprised about it). The show’s embedded above — Monica pops in at around the eight-minute mark and ethers the topic.

Katt shouldn’t be taken as representative of anyone but Katt, of course, but his views are rooted in the same ignorance of history that we all possess to some degree, no matter what our beliefs or instincts or education. And much of the Colorlines commenter response to this story has been to provide a historical frame, around multiracial colonial slavery, around transnational abolitionism, and around the agenda of racial strife’s supporters.

So this edition of our reader forum is explicitly historical; here’s hoping Katt reads it and opens some Wikipedia tabs before his next TV appearance.

Cristina Lopez:

I’ve been told to go back to Mexico too many times. The funny thing is my ancestors lived in Texas when it was Mexico and before White settlers came in and fought to be independent of Mexico because slavery was outlawed in the country. Latin American immigrants (BTW not all of them are from Mexico) come to this country not because it is the greatest — but because the need to escape war, violence, poverty.

This "greatest country" of ours funded right-winged militias which then staged coups against democratically elected governments in Latin America, and which also resulted in years and years of civil wars, violences, and continual poverty. The US of A also imposed free-trade agreements which prevented many farmers and millions of latin Americans from earning a living in their own freaking countries. And so in order for them to survive they had to make the dangerous trip to El Norte to eke out a living in the most dangerous and exploitative jobs possible. And for this, they get racists’ rants to "go back to Mexico".

I just wonder if Mr. Katt Williams is aware that he is buying into this system of white supremacy.

Luis Rodriguez:

Le sigh, Katt Williams… Did you not once consider that thousands of black slaves fled to Mexico through the (reverse) underground railroad? Did you not once consider that US slaveholders perpetuated war against Mexico because it had become a haven for runaway slaves and the Mexican government refused to return what was at the time considered a slaveholder’s rightful property? Did you not once consider the Mexican-American War was in part started so that the slave-driven south could spread their peculiar institution to the southwest? Did you not once consider that Arizona — the very place where you confronted your Anti-US-American Mexico-loving heckler — was in fact once a part of Mexico?!

Oh, the irony..

manacha calls for specificity:

I see a lot of historical distortions by those writing the comments to the article. Sugar mills and plantations in the Caribbean as well as in Brazil used African slave labor. The indigenous people of the Americas were never enslaved. There was a big dispute in Europe after the conquest (XVII) concerning whether "Indians" were human or not. Bartolome de las Casas prevailed in those debates, and since the very beginning of colonization it was established that Indigenous peoples were wholly human, and thus it was forbidden to enslave them. Thus why there are statues of B. de las Casas all over Mexico. However, Indians were exploited. Given the mixture of races in LAmerica, it is not surprising that many people have black (slave) ancestry, as well as white and indigenous.

kornfeld replies to manacha’s points on slavery vs. exploitation with links to two academic papers. gabeholderz writes it out:

You are absolutely right that there was a debate about whether indigenous people in colonial Mexico were human or not. And by 1537 enslavement of Indians was prohibited by colonial law. However, I am not sure that simplistically stating "Indians were exploited" but "never enslaved" sufficiently gets at the complexity of the matter and the degree of labor exploitation involved. Indigenous people of colonial Mexico were part of the encomiendas, and were forced to pay tribute to Spaniards in the form of free labor, material goods, crops, farm animals, etc. In many circumstances the differences between encomienda and slavery were minimal. Also, under the repartimiento system, Indians were severely abused and compelled to organize crews able to work on any labor project commanded by the Spanish Crown. There is also the part of Vitoria’s Natural Laws dictating that if Indians resisted colonization they would not be given their legal rights and could in fact be enslaved.

Due to a number of reasons, including a reduction in forced Indian labor because of the epidemics, Colonial Mexico’s slave traffic grew dramatically and the large-scale importation of Black slaves from Africa began. Nearly half of all Black African slaves imported to Colonial Mexico arrived between 1599 and 1637.

And, as you were pointing to, there was of course intermingling and intermarriage between Black slaves, Indians, and Spaniards. This is a historical and genetic reality. As such, many people of Mexican ancestry (mestizos and Afro-mestizos) are at least in part descendants of Black African slaves and Indians who were forced to do unpaid labor in Colonial Mexico. None of this should be glossed over.

Ty DePass:

[…] "Race" was deployed successfully early on to avert the threat posed to white elite rule by an armed & determined multiracial working class. after Bacon’s Rebellion (1676); whites were declared "free" to defend elite rule, while blacks were to remain a permanently separate & enslaved underclass. and we’re still paying for that betrayal. have we really learned nothing since?

[…] b/t/w, i DID watch the video — more than once. and i’m familiar w/ Williams’ "edgy" style, but i’m not a fan of pimp-humor. but i’m puzzled as to why, in a state where a rhetorical war is being actively waged on Latin@s ("papers please"), while ethnic studies (for everyone else) is outlawed, Williams departed from his usual schtick to deliver talking points for the Minute Men — daring anyone to call him out on his b/s. frankly, the last thing AZ residents needed to hear from a black man was this abusive rant defending "his" country. ?


[…] Slavery exists today. Immigrants are brought to the US under false pretenses, their papers are taken away from them and they are forced into slavery, not paid for their work and unable to attain their freedom. Who cares about the past, look at the present. Katt Williams is an ass and represents exactly what the American owning class want – to have oppressed groups taking shots at one another rather than those who are oppressing them.

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