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"I’m not Black I’m _____?” Anti-Blackness in Latin America

By Michidael Ceard

Popular Dominican American artist Amara La Negra is one of only a few Latin stars who has been vocal on the anti-blackness epidemic in Latin-America.

"I know that nobody wants to talk about this,” she said in a 2018 interview with NPR.“We suffer a lot of racism. We suffer a lot of colorism among ourselves.”

Many people do agree that Latin American countries have cultures that enable anti-blackness and colorism among their communities. Research into these Latin American countries shows that there is a toxic culture of anti-blackness that can be both overt and systematic.

Photo of Afro-Latinas *Stock photo retrieved by Evan Hewitt*

For example, in 2015, the Dominican Republic announced an ethnic cleansing campaign that rendered 1.25 million Haitian descendants undocumented. As a more overt manifestation of anti-blackness, many people who were left stateless had no familial ties to Haiti.

While the Dominican Republic has received most of the negative press associated with anti-blackness, other lesser known Latin countries exhibit similar characteristics.

One of Peru’s leading television stations uses the character “El Negro Mama” on Saturday primetime TV. This leading role is portrayed through blackface and reinforces negative stereotypes such as laziness and thievishness.

The role played by Peruvian comedian Jorge Bernavides dons flaring nostrils, thick lips, and curly-coiled hair. It continued to air even after sanctions from Peruvian officials.

Over in Brazil, only 65.3 percent of non-white students attend secondary school. More than half of Brazil’s population identifies as black or mixed-race. This is proof of the cycle of racism that has perpetuated there for many generations.

Scholars call it institutional racism when unintentional prejudice is seen in different social and political sectors.

Similarly, anti-blackness flares in Argentina.

A 2018 article written in Afro Punk magazine said that Argentina considers itself to be the whitest country in South America.

Further proof, the popular black news website The Root reported former Argentinian president Carlos Menem saying, “in Argentina blacks do not exist, that is a Brazilian problem.”

This assertion is false because, in the nineteenth century, blacks outnumbered whites by five to one and there are at least one million blacks still residing in Argentina.

Leandro Desaboto, a popular Argentinian soccer player, was even accused of making racist remarks following an altercation during a 2005 soccer game.

Although the representation of more Afro-Latinos in entertainment and media has increased in the last decade, many black Latinos feel conflicted when attempting to explain their identities.

As a popular Afro-Cuban reality TV star, Juju Castenada told popular black lifestyle magazine Madame Noire, sometimes it can feel “tiring and weird.”

“It’s like you’re too black to be Hispanic and too Hispanic to be black,” she said.

However, it is possible to be black and Hispanic. Both labels hinge on the concepts of race and ethnicity. Race refers to an individual’s physical characteristics such as skin and hair and is identified through labels such as black or caucasian. Ethnicity, on the other hand, is a label that references cultural factors such as region, ancestry, language, and nationality and is rendered through terms such as Hispanic or Latino.

Nonetheless, many still find it difficult to navigate systems in Latin America where blackness is approached via outsider groupthink.

Even Barry students who identify as Latino have recognized the strong culture of anti-blackness present in their communities.

One of these students is Dainely Fabregas, a senior criminology student, and a native Cuban.

“In Latino culture, there is a lot of racism,” said Fabregas. “It’s hypocritical because there would be no Latin culture without blacks.”

Fabregas is correct. In dance for example, genres such as the Argentinian tango, Puerto Rican salsa, and the Cuban mambo all have African origins. Iconic Latino figures such as Celia Cruz helped put Latin culture on the map—while being black.

But many fail to recognize these discrepancies.

Gabriela Gonzaga Jansen, a junior biology major, is a Brazilian who sees how institutional racism is present in her country today.

“There is a lot of anti-blackness in Brazil. People hide behind the fact that we are a mixed nation. Many people rather have European last names than African ones,” said Jansen.

Nicole Rafols is a first-generation Cuban American studying biology at Barry and has observed how fame and legitimacy are more easily achieved when you have a lighter complexion in Cuba.

“Lighter Cubans won’t recognize black Cubans as authentic and lighter Hispanics definitely get more representation,” said Rafols.

This has pushed many Latinos into using products such as skin-lightening and bleaching creams to achieve lighter complexions. Sammy Sosa, popular Dominican baseball star, boasted a significantly lighter face as a result of skin bleaching in 2017.

Other social problems such as interracial dating are viewed as taboo in many Latin cultures, too.

Erica Cruz, a junior biology major at Barry, is from El Salvador and said that there is still a huge disconnect there.

“There isn’t a community of oppression in El Salvador. However, in some households, there’s pushback on interracial dating,” said Cruz. “This depends on your family.”

Rafols agrees.

“There is this phrase when a black person starts a family with a lighter Hispanic. It's ‘purificada de rasa’ which means that the person is trying to lighten up their race or purify it,” said Rafols.

Nonetheless, many do believe that the tides are changing against anti-blackness in Latin America.

Senior finance major Adriel Solorzono from Nicaragua totally believes that Generation Z’ers are beginning to overturn the old systems of oppression.

“Our generation is different and anti-blackness isn’t strong,” said Solorzano. “We are changing.”