- While non-Black Latinx are impacted by white supremacy, we can still perpetuate anti-Blackness.
- Understanding and combating anti-Blackness within ourselves and our communities is our duty, and it starts at home.
- Pushing back against colorism and the “good immigrant” narrative, as well as uplifting Black voices, are all important starting points.
- Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.
The fight against racism in the United States is often framed as a battle between two sides. White and non-white. Oppressor and oppressed.
It’s a myth I bought into for much of my life. As a non-Black Peruvian who grew up in a predominantly white and non-Black Latinx suburb of Southern California, I believed that white people were the only ones who could be racist, while people of colour stood united in our oppression.
But when 17-year-old Trayvon Martin was shot and killed in 2012, my understanding of this false alliance crumbled.
Trayvon Martin’s killer, George Zimmerman, is a non-Black Latino of Peruvian descent. He is joined by Philando Castile’s killer, Jeronimo Yanez, a non-Black Latino of Mexican descent. Before Sandra Bland died in her jail cell in 2015, she was handcuffed by a non-black Latina police officer.
These people are not simply bad apples, nor are they anomalies. They sit at the far end of the spectrum of anti-Blackness in many Latinx communities. They are connected to the anti-Black statements made by our abuelas and tíos, of the images we see in telenovelas and Spanish-language news, and of the racial caste system Latin American countries were built on.
Now, non-Black Americans are reckoning with our anti-Blackness yet again due to the police killing of George Floyd, a Black man who died as a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck.
As the US becomes less white and expands into infinite hues of brown, non-Black people of colour must understand our role in upholding white supremacy and anti-Blackness. As the fastest-growing ethnic group in the US, Latinx people in particular must acknowledge the legacy of anti-Blackness in our communities.
The first place we need to start undoing this white supremacy is at home.
Colorism and anti-Blackness have a long history in Latin America
Much like the US, Latin American countries were built on a system of white supremacy, anti-Blackness, and anti-Indigeniety. Four million Africans taken hostage and enslaved during the Transatlantic Slave Trade were brought to Brazil, 10 times the number of people human trafficked to the United States – an important distinction when thinking about how Latinx people are rarely portrayed as Black in popular media.
Unlike the US, however, rather than building a clear “one drop rule” system of white supremacy that discouraged racial mixing, Latin American colonizers embarked on a mission of mestizaje, or forced mixing between Spanish colonizers and indigenous and Black people. This created a complicated racial “casta” system that placed white Spaniards and light-skinned mestizos on the top and indigenous and Black people on the bottom.
This racial caste system isn’t relegated to the past. It seeps into our media, our literature, and the comments of our family members.
My abuela would oftentimes make comments when I was a child that I failed to understand as colorist – preferring light skin over dark skin, even within the same racial or ethnic group – and anti-Black. While lighter-skinned nietos – myself included – were praised for our appearance, my darker cousins and friends would oftentimes be met with silence or more intense scrutiny.
Now, when I hear comments from my tías praising my little cousin’s ojos claros (light eyes) or pelo rubio (blonde hair), I make it a point to ask questions about why that’s considered more desirable.
Conflict can be difficult, but it’s important for us as non-Black Latinx to check our families on colorist comments about pelo malo (bad or curly hair) or dark skin, and open a dialogue with our families about anti-Blackness. Otherwise, we contribute to violent words and actions against Black people.
Sometimes, language barriers can make it even more difficult to explain anti-Blackness to our families. Here is a list of useful terms in Spanish for those conversations made by Melba Martínez, who uses they/she pronouns.
Part of the work that needs to be done involves dismantling “the good immigrant” narrative
Oftentimes, Latinx families come to the US in hopes of building a better life through hard work and perseverance – at least that’s how the old “American Dream” myth goes. Trabaja duro and grit are mantras my tíos, tías, Papa, Mamá, Abuela, and every other miscellaneous extended family member told me growing up. If you work hard enough, you will succeed.
As a child, I didn’t think critically about what the flip side of this narrative implies. If hard work is all you need to succeed in the US, what does that mean for a group of people who have been generationally impoverished and incarcerated?
While I know my family is well-intentioned in this advice – and buying into a narrative fed to them out of survival in an overwhelmingly white new country – their words are anti-Black. The “good immigrant” narrative suggests that the problems Black communities face are their own fault, whether it’s mass incarceration or generational poverty. If they’d worked harder, they wouldn’t be in this position, the thinking goes.
My family has a relatively “successful immigrant” story, and they tend to buy into the “American Dream” – so I make it a point to push back.
None of my older relatives were born in the US, so their understanding of racial history here is skewed. I’ve found it helpful to talk to them about slavery and indigenous genocide, and what it did to advance systemic white supremacy.
Media can be an accessible way to show your family what anti-Blackness in the US looks like, rather than make them feel like you’re talking at them.
If your family is into movies, you could watch Ava DuVernay’s “13th” on Netflix with them and answer any questions they may have afterward. (Spanish subtitles and audio are available for those who need them.) Follow it up with “When They See Us,” the Netflix series on the wrongful conviction of five teenage boys in 1990.
We may face similar struggles, but that doesn’t give non-Black Latinx ownership over Black culture or Black stories
While colorist and anti-Black beliefs are embedded in the foundation of Latin America, many of our families rarely talk about race.
Growing up, my family never had conversations about race. When I would ask, I was typically met with comments like, no importa que colour somos (it doesn’t matter what colour we are). But my family’s colorblindness didn’t mean racism was absent from my life.
When white kids would make comments about “going back to Mexico,” or ask me to not speak Spanish around them because “it made them uncomfortable,” I knew even if my family “didn’t see race,” my classmates did.
So I took solace in Black media, and like many non-Black Latinx, engaged in what I thought was a fair cultural exchange between Black Americans and Latinx (read: non-Black Latinx) people. Black artists, writers, and musicians told stories that resonated with me because they openly discussed what it meant to be other in a white-dominated society.
But just because we face similar struggles, doesn’t mean they’re the same, nor does it give non-Black Latinx any ownership over Black culture or Black stories. When celebrities like Gina Rodriguez, Fat Joe, and Jennifer Lopez say the n-word, non-Black Latinx are complicit in a system that benefits us at the expense of Black people.
When we hear comments like “I can say it because I’m a person of colour” or “we’re all Black and indigenous anyways,” it’s important to take the time to ask friends and family members to think about how harmful these statements are.
Dissuade your prima from getting braids if she isn’t Black, talk to your tío about how he raps the n-word in songs, and don’t support non-Black Reggaeton stars who don’t actively give back to Black people or communities but make money off appropriating Black culture like Karol G and Becky G.
Zahira Kelly-Cabrera, an AfroDominicana writer, scholar, and artist, has spoken extensively about cultural appropriation by white and non-Black Latinx of Black Latinx cultures, with attention to music in particular.
Following AfroLatinx scholars, artists, creators who are already doing this work, and paying them for all of the labour they have done and continue to do is the first of many steps non-Black Latinx people need to take. Next time you go to stream J Balvin, consider playing Amara La Negra instead.
Support and uplift Afro-Latinx voices on and offline rather than centering non-Black, non-Indigenous Latinx voices
Afro-Latinx people are oftentimes entirely cut out of Latin American history and erased in discussions about “Latinidad.”
Afro-Latinx people have existed since Latin America came to be and have created a majority of the “Latinx culture” we love to consume today. Cumbia,Reggaeton, Urbano music, Bachata,Samba, and more all stem from Black communities within Latin America. Yet many modern reggaeton stars are white Latinx or even Spaniards, and little to no recognition is given to the Afro-Latinx communities these genres belong to.
This erasure goes beyond culture. It seeps into the political sphere and into social justice spaces. While Black undocumented immigrants only make up 7% of people living without legal citizenship in the United States, they make up 20% of those facing deportation on criminal grounds – many of whom are Afro-Latinx.
Latinxs for Black Lives is a set up. It’s a slap to the face to the Black Latinx and Latin American activists who have been ASSASSINATED talking about systemic violence in their communities and countries. Stop erasing Black Latinxs from the transnational work we BEEN doing.
— Andrew Viñales (@fogoav) June 6, 2020
Alán Pelaez Lopez, an Afrozapotec writer, poet, and artist, has spoken extensively about their experience being questioned about being born in Mexico by non-Black Latinx because of the constant and violent erasure of AfroLatinx people. Their books “Intergalactic Travels: poems from a fugitive alien” and “to love and mourn in the age of displacement” can be bought here.
Mis últimas dos entradas en el país, como alguien con un pasaporte mexicano, me preguntaron sobre mi autenticidad como “mexicano” porque según la persona que revisó mi pasaporte, “no pareces mexicano”, lo que significa que, para ellos, no hay personas negras en México. pic.twitter.com/TEVP0fadpK
— Alán ACAB (@MigrantScribble) June 25, 2020
When we as non-Black Latinx centre the conversation and narrative about Latinidad on ourselves, we make it impossible to address the intersecting oppressions faced by Afro-Latinx people and erase Black Latinx life and experience.
While posting an Instagram graphic or holding a protest sign that says “Latinx for Black Lives” may be well-intentioned, it implies Afro-Latinx people don’t exist and contributes to the erasure of Black Latinx people.
Undoing white supremacy and anti-Blackness within ourselves and communities is a lifelong, ongoing, and non-linear process
There is no final step in undoing anti-Blackness. Internalized white supremacy, anti-Blackness, and anti-indigeneity lives in all non-Black Latinx. These are systems of oppression we have to undo within ourselves for the rest of our lives.
Business Insider’s Linette Lopez put it best: “For an America that preserves democracy and the rule of law, it is not enough for Americans to simply not be racist. We must be actively anti-racist, and build anti-racist institutions.”
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