In 2001, Marta Cruz-Janzen wrote “Latinegras: Desired Women: Undesirable Mothers, Daughters, Sisters, and Wives” for the Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies. In this article Cruz-Janzen interrogates Whiteness as reflected in the Latinx experience by naming the tensions experienced by Afro-Latinx people. Cruz-Janzen writes of being both Black and Latinx noting how years of colonialism have resulted in the internalization of racism within the Latinx community, a racism that is manifested through the perpetuation of and desire for Whiteness. Though this issue has received some attention over the years through discourse related to colorism, the issue of racism in the Latinx community has not had the opportunity. Because Laitnx racism manifests most acutely in the guise of colorism it becomes an acceptable form of communal culture.
Our racism connected to colorism is more nuanced and complex, it is cultural, marrying up (lighter) versus marrying down (darker). It’s the way in which abuelas rub on an infants nose to try to straighten it. It’s the way tias y hermanas check a baby’s ears and knuckles to confirm how dark/light the child may be. This mentality and subsequent activity exists as an outgrowth of the subjugation and colonization of indigenous populations within the Latinx community. Some would argue that Latinx is an ethnicity, separated by land and culture. And that Latinx people have only recently been racialized in America. I would assert that the racial hierarchy that currently exists here in the United States, has existed in Latin and South American countries, as well as in the Caribbean which speaks to a racial caste system pre-dates the migration of Latinx people to the United States. The purpose of this is to say explicitly and unapologetically that racism exists in the Latinx community, we perpetuate it towards each other. More recently I experienced if from a fellow Puerto Rican at a racial equity conference (the irony of that…)
So it’s time… really, past time, for the Latinx community to interrogate the role racism has played in creating a colonial mindsets that have become an embedded part of our culture. The creation of a racial caste system within the Latinx community shares roots and experiences with that of enslaved Africans in America and like African Americans in this country, our perpetuation of anti-Blackness within the Latinx community is a part of a collective pain and harm we visit upon each other. We can use colorism, however, a “nicer” word does not mitigate the harm cause or the problem.
Among some Latinx, there is a duality in simultaneously reaping the benefits that being considered “of color” brings in the context of creating “diversity” while working hard to distance themselves from other people of color, namely Black people and specifically African Americans and Afro-Latinx people. The irony of some Latinx people benefiting from adding to the “diversity” pot within White spaces while existing in a privileged position of “Whiteness” based on skin color in the Latinx community is not lost on me. There is a contradiction in espousing a collective pride (orgullo) of our Latinxness while simultaneously holding up a racial hierarchy that is the bedrock of settler colonialism and imperialism.
The challenge here is that many Latinx people proclaim a resistance to identifying within racial category while enacting the very tenants of white supremacy towards members of our community. They use colorism to define our hierarchy through a lens of Whiteness; mestizo, moreno, blanquito, etc. have served to classify one in a racial hierarchy based on an association or proximity to Spain. More so, the term colorism is used to avoid having explicit conversations around racism while politely acknowledging in some ways that we engage in a racialized hierarchy. It is not discussed.
This experience is not unusual. Families will often hush those who name anti-Blackness and bias. Colorism and anti-Blackness are often experienced as cultural norms. In an article published by Hip Latina, a Dominican woman who self-identified as an Afro-Latina, experienced racism within her household and noted, “Colorism has always felt to me like an elephant in the room that would not be directly addressed or acknowledged, but its presence was strongly felt,“ she explains, adding, “Especially in family settings like mine where the skin tones of family members represent all colors of a broad racial spectrum.” If racial identity develop occurs primarily at home and school environments, imagine the impact of these mindsets on children in schools? With teachers who do not understand the complexities, varied histories, and pain of anti-Black racism among Latinx children.
The outcome of racism/colorism is implied language sends explicit messages in which those darker complexion know that it is better to be lighter. In turn, we internalize these messages and seek spaces and places where we can find true acceptance. Some engage in self-destructive behavior such as skin bleaching, others accept toxic relationships where they feel a sense of acceptability, and others find proximity to lighter/whiter people with the hope we can produce lighter children. For some, like myself, there is a rejection of our roots, for example, I spent many years immersed within and connected to my Barbadian (Bajan) and Black family members and the majority of my friends were Black, African Americans, and Caribbean American.
And for many Latinx people who enactment Whiteness towards others in the Latinx community, there are broader implications of this colonial mindset relative American socio-political realities, like the census. Taking a moment to reflect on the 2020 census and considering the immigrant history of the United States where Italians, Russians, Jews, Irish, and many others were able to ascend into Whiteness, it makes sense that Latinx people who have proximity to Whiteness would take the opportunity to fully do so. According to a recent Brooking report, White people in the United States, are slated to become a minority group by 2045. It is therefore timely that some Latinx people will have an opportunity to ascend into Whiteness per the census and grow the number of Whites in America. But what is given up to engage in this type of explicit racism? What is given up to become White?
Ultimately, Latinx people need to reflect on this dynamic through an intersectional framework and lean into holding intra-racialized conversations. While many Latinx do not like to think of ourselves as racist or racialized people, the realities are that as long as we are manifesting the behaviors of our colonizers, we will continue to engage in racialized behavior and uphold racist ideals. This is both isolating those among us who are “of color” and dehumanizing our own people. The notion of Latinx coupled with the intersection of being both Black and Latinx requires that as a community we engage in a deep analysis of our own anti-Blackness.
© Akilah Rosado and Musings from a Brooklyn Chick, 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Akilah Rosado and Musing from a Brooklyn Chick with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.