It has been an unprecedented year for Latinx artists within the broader mainstream. Perhaps most notably, Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee made “Despacito” one of only 18 songs to ever achieve diamond status, and the first Latin song to ever do so. We’ve also witnessed a remarkable, whirlwind come-up from Cardi B, an Afro-Latina who has never shied away from her cultural influences by rapping in both Spanish and English, much to the delight of her fans. Latino artists who make music almost entirely in Spanish such as Ozuna and Bad Bunny are enjoying mainstream success that includes a vast number of non-spanish speaking listeners. The world at large appears to finally be embracing Latinx culture in a non-superficial way.
Despite these victories, we continue to see the age old problem of colorism and anti-blackness in Latinx communities rearing its ugly head time and time again, not only in the form of outright discrimination, but consistently in the form of the exclusionary popular media which erases Afro-Latinx faces, identities and stories from the popular consciousness. Many would argue that despite the forces against her (and there have been many, no doubt), Cardi B’s lighter skin has served as a huge advantage for her in the entertainment industry. If you don’t believe it, ask yourself why, despite making up such a significant portion of the Latinx population worldwide, it is such a rarity to see Afro-Latinxs in Latinx media (music, film, television…). Where are the dark-skinned video vixens in Bad Bunny's videos? or Ozuna's? Lord knows there are plenty to choose from in their native countries of Puerto Rico & the Dominican Republic.
When we begin to unpack the concept of colorism in the Latinx community, it is most simply epitomized as a manifestation of White Supremacy that has turned people of color against one another (which perhaps, in many ways, was the goal). Much like the colorism we see in African American communities and Black communities as a whole, colorism in the Latinx community is a phenomenon in which lighter skin is more privileged, and the darker your skin is (ie. the further it strays from “whiteness”), the further you are condemned to the margins of society. It is an outdated and imagined social hierarchy with long-lasting and highly damaging results.
This privileging of lighter skin makes it extremely rare for us to see representations of darker-skinned Latinx (or even Afro-Latinas who may have relatively light skin, simply due to their perceived proximity to blackness). When entire lives and identities are misrepresented or completely erased in popular media, the erasure and marginalization of these identities in society at large gets worse. Colorism exists on a spectrum in which some instances in everyday life are more casual; instances referred to in social justice circles as microaggressions - intentional or unintentionally hostile behaviours which portray negative messages towards a marginalized group. This can come in the form of veiled racism - “wow, how did you learn to speak spanish like that?” - to full-on disenfranchisement - think darker-skinned actresses and entertainers being denied Latina roles due to a stereotypical (and incorrect!) idea of what Latina looks like. This is all a result of the insidiousness of a culture steeped in anti-blackness and colorism.
In an article by Latina magazine titled “Negra & Beautiful: The Unique Challenges Faced By Afro-Latinas”, writer Damarys Ocaña Perez describes the dilemma of women who are Latina and Black specifically, and touches on the history of erasing blackness in Latinx communities.
"If it sounds strange that some young Latinas don’t know that it’s okay to be black and Latina, it’s because of the barrage of mixed messages young Afro-Latinas get.
Of the estimated 11 million enslaved Africans brought to the New World from the late 1400s to the 1860s, most were taken to Latin America and the Caribbean, with only some 645,000 landing in the United States. “So when you’re talking about blackness, you’re really talking about Latin America,” Jimenez says.
Yet while African musical and culinary influence on Latino culture is often celebrated, the Afro-Latino experience in many Latin American countries has been muted. In the Dominican Republic, for example, the government once encouraged blacks to use the term ‘indio’ instead of ‘black’ to describe themselves, partly as a way to distance themselves from neighboring Haitians; Mexico officially recognized its extensive African DNA only recently, even though its second president was Afro-Mexican and at one point slaves there outnumbered their Spanish masters."
I highly recommend this article for a deeper understanding of the divisiveness and violent nature of colorism in the everyday. The fact of the matter is that Latinx communities are incredibly multifaceted and diverse, in countless ways including skin tone. There simply can be no accurate depiction of the Latinx community or experience that excludes Black people. To end on a more positive note, one cannot deny the impact that new media (like social media) are having as far as resisting erasure and empowering marginalized communities. There are tons of Afro-Latinxs making waves, and subsequently, shattering hierarchical structures based on colorism, making space for more and more Black Latinxs in the entertainment industry.
With that, I’ll leave you with a short list of Afro-Latinx entertainers and influencers to check out - just some of my favorites - who are absolutely killing it these days.
Dominican Youtuber, Beauty Guru and Social Media Influencer
Cuban Actress (most notably, perhaps, she plays Jessica Pearson on the series Suits).
Zahira Kelly-Cabrera (@bad_dominicana)
Dominican Artist, Soci0-Critic, Public Speaker, Advocate/Activist and TedX speaker. General badass.
Note: Latinx refers to "A person of Latin American origin or descent (used as a gender-neutral or non-binary alternative to Latino or Latina)" - Oxford Dictionary
September 10, 2018
August 17, 2018