Global anger over George Floyd’s murder has continuously grown with protests happening in cities all around the world. The Latinx community has also taken this time to show our solidarity for demanding the end of racism, police brutality, and the murder of our Black brothers and sisters by coming out in full force to protest. But there are plenty of ways we can help outside of organizing in person. We can contact state and local leaders to demand justice, accountability, and policing changes. We can sign petitions to demand the officers who killed George Floyd are charged with murder. We can donate money to Floyd’s memorial fund or to organizations like The NAACP Legal Defense Fund, Black Lives Matter, Communities United Against Police Brutality, and The Minnesota Freedom Fund. But we also absolutely need to take this time to address our own racial biases and use our voices to start dialogues with our Latinx families on how they can combat racism and anti-blackness.
“We know the small habits that can contribute towards anti-blackness like the pelo malo conversation,” says Dr. Griseleda Rodriguez -Solomon, a professor in sociology at The City University of NY (CUNY). “It happened on my personal page. I put something up and a black Dominican woman called the so-called looters in Philadelphia animals. ‘Eso animales, eso morenos.’ I’m on a Whatsapp text chat with my family. Dios mio esa gente. Esa gente — that kind of language. Those people and animals and looters, that’s the language that perpetuates anti-black racism and that’s an example of when you’re in the presence of it. You don’t have to go out looking and talking about I’m going to educate my family but if it comes to you through a chat or a conversation then you can sit in your throne and you can share with a lot of grace the knowledge that you know you have because you’re well-read and you’re woke on these topics.”
Dr. Griseleda who is also one half of the Brujas of Brooklyn alongside her twin sister Dr. Miguelina Rodriguez, believes what is happening right now is also spiritual awakening of sorts.
“It makes sense that the awakening would be sparked by racism in the U.S. because the U.S. is a nation that is rooted in racist oppression,” she says. “ I think what needs to be done to put an end to this cycle is an awareness that this is taking place. No more making excuses like, ‘Oh but they’re good cops’ or ‘ Oh but if he wouldn’t have spoken up or if he would have abided by the law.’ We have to stop making excuses for these monsters, for these systems of oppression that have kept us dehumanized for too long. And we need to reclaim our humanity and we do that by taking care of ourselves. We do that by drawing boundaries around family and friends that drain us. If you have that friend that’s constantly playing devil’s advocate then that person needs to be muted, unfollowed, and blocked on social media. You can screen your calls for now because right now we are being led to live in a very subtle survival mode. Not out of fear but out of self-preservation.”
Our activism begins in our personal circles. If we’re not calling out our Latinx friends and family when they say racist or anti-black things, we are not doing enough. If we are not examining the language we use to perpetuate false racist narratives around black people — Afro-Latinxs included — we are not doing enough. Here’s a look at a few racist and anti-black habits we need to check our families for right now. Let’s work to dismantle this evil thing called racism once and for all.
Not educating ourselves about our African History
The first step is educating our families about Latin America’s African roots. Anti-blackness is still very prevalent in Latin American culture and a lot of it stems from the lack of education many Latinxs — especially from previous generations — have about their own racial makeup and history. Regardless of if your parents or abuelos are actually Afro-Latinx themselves, it’s important for them to understand the African heritage of our cultures, as well as how anti-blackness stems directly from colonization and white supremacy. Take this time to really speak up, call out, and educate those around you.
Referring to curly or coily hair as “pelo malo”
You’d think in 2020 that Latinxs wouldn’t dare to refer to curly or textured hair as “pelo malo” but I still catch older generation Latinxs saying this all the time. Staying silent when your Tia refers to curly hair as “pelo malo,” is an act of complacency. It works towards the continuation of perpetuating false narratives around black people, black bodies, and black beauty. Calling out this relative and making sure that younger generation Latinxs aren’t exposed to words like “pelo malo” can prevent an entire generation of black — including black Latinxs — from growing up in a world where they can be discriminated and treated as less than just for the hair that naturally grows from their heads.
Embracing the concept of “mejorando la raza“
Young and woke Latinxs might know better not to feed into this awful mentality but the truth is chances are you still have a relative who adheres to the idea of “bettering the race” by marrying a white or lighter-skinned person to produce lighter or more “white-passing” babies. This centuries-old practice not only deeply contributes towards anti-blackness but it also harms us as a community. Explain to your family what the ideology of blanquemiento is really about and how it derives from European colonialism and revolves around white dominance in social hierarchies. It is essentially white supremacy.
Adhering to white standards of beauty
There’s a reason why Indigenous and Afro-Latina beauty has been underrepresented, undervalued, and practically invisible for years and that’s because the Latinx community for centuries has continued to hold the white standard of beauty above all others by embracing whiter complexions, straighter hair, and more Eurocentric facial features and it’s a problem. When you hear folks in your family referring to a darker-skinned woman as unattractive and praising a white or white-presenting person as beautiful as a result of their whiteness, CALL IT OUT. Let them know it’s not okay.
Referring to black people as negra, negro, negrita, morena, morenita, and basically anything but by their names
While many young Afro-Latinxs have proudly reclaimed terms like negra or morena, many older generation Latinxs still make a point to refer to black people by their race or by the color of their skin and it is demeaning in so many ways. La Morenita has an actual name so show her some respect by actually referring to her as such.
Watching novelas or news programs that feed into anti-blackness
You’ll probably get a lot of resistance from relatives for this one, but consider challenging some of your family members to consider not watching novellas or Spanish-language television shows that only cast white Latinx actors and have brown or black actors playing stereotypical or degrading roles. Many networks like Univision and Telemundo tend to spread misinformation about the black community like they have been doing lately regarding the protests. This only contributes towards anti-blackness and underrepresentation and we need to make older generations see it.
Erasing Afro-Latinx’s stories and contributions
Many Latinxs — especially older generation Latinxs — make a point to deny our African ancestry and history, as well as the contributions Afro-Latinxs have made to our culture. It has only contributed to the centuries of Afro-Latinx invisibility and has created negative and false perceptions of the black community. Do the research, show them the facts, and let them know that actually Afro-Latinx has played a vital role in our history. And if you have a platform, use it to bring more visibility to black Latinxs doing good and important work.
Referring to ethnic features as less desirable
Older generation Latinos have the terrible habit of referring to more Indigenous or African facial features as “ordinario” which translates to ordinary or less appealing and more Eurocentric features as “fino” which translates to fine or finer. By adhering to this kind of language, we’re essentially giving into white supremacy and continuing to push on Eurocentric beauty standards on ourselves and others. Let’s stop this, please.
Laughing or staying silent at racist and anti-black jokes
Enough is enough. Like it or not, racists jokes are harmful and only perpetuate negative stereotypes surrounding POCs. Think about if everyone in your family suddenly stopped laughing at that Tio’s racist jokes. How long is he going to actually have the energy to continue telling them? Something to think about.