A Word on “Anti-Blackness” in Latin America

As March begins, and we transition from an eventful Black History Month (Formation, anyone?) to Women’s History Month, I wanted to take a quick look back at a few things that sat on my spirit.

Namely, the attention that has been brought to “anti-blackness” in Latin America, particularly from those of Afro-Latinx descent.

Now, while I understand I live in America, and Blackness is viewed, judged and “awarded” through the lens of African-Americans, one thing that particularly stood out to me is the misunderstanding of how we define it, or how we identify with it. And, as I struggle to find appropriate words as the issue of “proving” Blackness hits a bit too close to home, I thought sharing the first things that come to mind can maybe start much-needed dialogue and hopefully some understanding. With that said, a few random thoughts on Latinxs and Blackness:

Afro-Latinx, as a term, is brand-spanking new. However, Blackness in Latin America is not.

Latinxs-to the eyes of the outside world-are relatively “new” at “showcasing” the diverse faces of Latinidad, and having distinct terms to describe it. This does not mean we are new to our Blackness. It means we are new to describing it the way you do. There is a very rich Afro-Indigenous history in Latin America that many would know of if it weren’t for the pesky fact that the only time they pay attention to our Blackness is to self-righteously chastise us for “anti-Blackness”. “I no Black, Papi”, indeed.

Latinxs are a nationalistic bunch and tend to identify culturally first, much like you do..

You just happen to call that culture “Black”. To that point, much of what you consider anti-Black sentiment in the Latinx community belongs to a much larger conversation on anti-American sentiment (and African-American in relation to Blacks of other countries, for that matter), because “Black” has for so long been synonymous with “African American”. This is how you can say someone isn’t “Black enough” and when asked to expound cultural descriptors come out, such as movies, food or music.

Your challenges with colorism differ from ours- because where we are from many more of us are considered “dark”.

I didn’t identify as a light-skinned Black woman until well into adulthood; even though I considered myself Black, I identified as a Dark Latina. Many of the biases you identify as solely being of “dark girls” I have also experienced and can identify with within my culture, because “Spaniard” (read: lily white) is default, everything else is “dark”. Yes, there absolutely are levels to anti-Blackness within Latin America, and yes outright denial of African ancestry by some exists; yes colorism and favoritism based on varying degrees of skin-tone and hair grade exist. But many negative biases attributed to being dark-skinned can also be found within the context of being a “dark Latina”. Erasure, teasing, the desire and attempt to lighten skin and “tame” hair, wondering what life would be like if you didn’t look like that or your parents “bred up”, wondering if you’d ever see someone that looked like you on tv, not having makeup available in your shade, being “____for a dark-skinned girl”, being a guy’s charity case in dating… why do you think darker Latinas even started dating Black American men here? Do you really think Latin America would be home to some of the most advanced techniques in skin bleaching and hair straightening if it was only meant to “fix” the most ethnically dark in our bunch?

We are acutely aware the institution of racism in America uses Afro-Latinxs as proof of “progressiveness in diversity” at the exclusion of African Americans. We also need jobs.

Amongst people of color, Afro and Indigenous Hispanics enjoy both the lowest median income and the lowest education level OF LATINXS, who already have the largest pay gap in comparison to their white counterparts. Asking a Latinx to step aside in a job opportunity, as opposed to directly challenging the institution that put them in that predicament, just doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me. But while we are on the subject, it should be pointed out that similarly, the institution of racism also uses peoples of the countries of Africa, non-Hispanic Afro-Caribbeans, Black Brits and others, especially in entertainment, to make the same statement of “progressive diversity”. Eliminating anti-Black sentiment as a whole-and anti- African American sentiment specifically-cannot be the responsibility of those whom you consider to be the “most privileged” among you-because we are all STILL considered “non-white”, which means that privilege is contingent upon the “favor” of an institution that takes great pride in reminding us of our “place” in society.

The truth is, I’m tired. Standing at an intersection means your work is added upon exponentially by whatever roads you cross, be them cultural, racial, orientation, gender, size or disability. And I do not know where we go from here. But I do know if I have taken the time to learn history and gain some understanding before I speak on things, it isn’t a lot to ask if others do the same. And maybe one day we will finally understand we’re all in this together, after all.

*Author’s Note- I very specifically did not refer to Zoe Saldana in this post because this is an issue much bigger than she, and I did not want to “date” this post with the reference. But if you believe she does not consider herself to be Black you are welcome to click here. Also, understand that whatever backlash she is receiving for her current projects is tame compared to the racist backlash she got for “Colombiana”. And honestly, after being subjected to over a decade in the industry of being forced to discuss race and ethnicity, I can’t say I would or wouldn’t have done what she did and opt out (as clumsily as she may have) from discussing it altogether. Again, before you defend or deride…try to understand.

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