I love my Hispanic and Latino brothers and sisters, but there’s something we need to confront within our communities: anti-blackness. According to a Pew Research poll, 24 percent of U.S. Hispanics identify as Afro-Latino. I’d venture to guess that the number of Afro-Latinos in the country is actually higher, but so many Hispanic people try to distance themselves from their African ancestry and thus refuse to self-identify as Afro-Latino.
This issue has hit the headlines recently thanks to Amara La Negra, a self-identified Afro-Latina who appears on “Love & Hip Hop: Miami.” The singer’s popularity has risen in part because of controversy surrounding her identity. Apparently, some people didn’t know Afro-Latinos exist. La Negra has spent her time in the limelight educating others on her identity, as well as discussing the issue of colorism.
Afro-Latinos are people whose ancestry originated from both Latin America and Africa. Take La Negra as an example: She is an Afro-Latina of Dominican descent, so she is both black and Dominican. In an interview with Allure, La Negra said:
“I always knew from a very early age that my skin color was different from the rest of the people I worked with and that it came with a responsibility, racism, being looked down upon,” she said. “Anytime there are cops, I go into a total panic because even though I’m Afro-Latina, we feel the same fears as the African American community. Until you talk to us, you don’t know that we’re Latino. We’re seen as black and we have the same fears.”
La Negra continually notes that due to her dark skin, she’s had a harder time making it as a successful Latina artist. In an interview with NPR’s “Latino USA,” she pointed out that the most successful Latinas today — Jennifer Lopez, Shakira and Salma Hayek — are all light-skinned. That brings up colorism, which is discrimination based on skin color. This doesn’t just include racism between groups; it includes discrimination within races and ethnicities. It’s no secret that through Eurocentric beauty standards, lighter skin has been culturally instilled as the preferred skin tone. This happens within both the black and Hispanic communities, but I want to highlight it within the Hispanic community because it’s the one I’m a part of.
Anti-black Latinos have not been shy to criticize and even ridicule La Negra. Her afro became a topic of conversation when, on an episode of “Love & Hip Hop: Miami,” light-skinned Latino producer Young Hollywood implied she should tone down her blackness if she wants to make it big. She was also mocked on the Dominican variety show “Aquí Se Habla Español,” on which former beauty queen Geisha Montes de Oca parodied the singer while wearing blackface makeup.
Anti-blackness within our community isn’t just on TV, though. I couldn’t tell you how many Dominican friends I’ve had who are clearly dark-skinned, but refuse to acknowledge their African roots. Latinos outside of the United States are also guilty of this. A study published in a 2002 issue of Social Cognition compared American Hispanic and Chilean attitudes toward light-skinned versus dark-skinned Hispanic people. Unsurprisingly, the study found that both groups had a strong preference for the light-skinned subgroup. Even the dark-skinned subgroup had a preference for the light-skinned one in both American Hispanics and Chileans, “suggesting that the desirability of light skin apparently supersedes national boundaries.”
Light-skinned Latinos like myself need to acknowledge that even though we face racism, we have a level of privilege that our dark-skinned counterparts lack. Though we are still a minority, we have greater representation in mainstream pop culture than dark-skinned Latinos.
We, as a community, need to start having the conversation about colorism and anti-blackness within our circles. We need to better educate each other about Afro-Latino identity and how Afro-Latinos are just as great a part of our community as anyone else. All of our countries have ugly histories of colonization and slave trading. Latinos are a lot more connected to Africans than many may know and we need to stop denying the African ancestry that many Latinos have.
The Latino community should be welcoming La Negra and all Afro-Latinos with open arms. More than that, we should be elevating their voices, which have been ignored for so long. I have no doubt that La Negra is serving as a role model to young Afro-Latinos everywhere who haven’t had someone who looks and sounds like them on TV. She shouldn’t be their only role model, though; we must strive to keep our Afro-Latino brothers and sisters included, valued and uplifted.