If you grew up in a Latino household, chances are you’ve heard the incredibly racist phrase: “mejorar la raza,” which means to “better or improve the race.” The phrase which is commonly used in Latin American countries implies marrying or having children with a person that’s “whiter-looking” than yourself, so that your kids will have “whiter,” more European features versus black or indigenous features. Dominican music artist and social justice activist, Amara La Negra grew up hearing this phrase a lot. In fact, the proud Afro-Latina was even discouraged from dating black men and advised to seek a more European-looking partner to white-wash her future kids.
On a recent appearance with VLAD TV, Amara opened up about the “mejorar la raza” mentality she constantly grew up hearing and some of the effed up things ignorant folks have told her.
“A lot of Latinos can be very racist among their own community,” she said. You know, you could be my cousin and if you’re two shades lighter than me: ‘Ugh, I’m not as black as you are.’ Wait a second, as if that’s an issue. One of the things that I get all the time is like: ‘Oh my god you’re so pretty for being a black girl or you have such great features—don’t get married to no black man with like a big nose and big lips … they’re gonna mess up your children’ type of thing, as if that’s a problem.”
Amara goes into how black Latinos with darker skin like herself are constantly treated differently within the community. “A lot of Latinos don’t want ‘my kind’ mixed into their family because they want to ‘better the race.’ And ‘better the race’ means more European features.”
Amara’s mother’s friends were constantly trying to give her “advise”on the kind of men she should and shouldn’t date and were always discouraging her from dating black men for ‘bettering the race’ reasons.
“It was more like my mom’s friends—the people that surrounded her—would say stuff like that, like: “Oh my god you’re so pretty you need to be with a European man or you need to be with an Italian, a French, a this, a that, a gringo, a this that … but never—don’t be with a black guy or a Latino … because you need to better the race. You need to better the family.”
“I just feel that, that brainwash mentality has been passed on for many years and that’s what they feel is what’s right,” Amara adds while breaking down the whole ‘mejorar la raza’ mentality. “You don’t want to have dark-skinned babies. You want to have light-skinned babies with ‘good features’ … What exactly does that mean? I don’t know til this day. You don’t want any nappy head kids. You want them to have soft, silky hair. So therefore, no black husbands and no black boyfriends. No black this and no black that. And it took me a really long time to understand that ya’ll got a problem. Like it’s not me, it’s really you because if you’re telling me not to like that than you’re telling me to self-hate myself.”
Apparently Amara’s Dominican mother, who is significantly lighter than her, also got a lot of grief from her own family when she got together with Amara’s father who is a very dark-skinned Dominican man. She explains how her mother and her uncle are the darkest ones of their siblings because the majority of her relatives on her mother’s side are very light-skinned because her grandmother was a very light-skinned Dominican woman.
“Yea she was criticized by her own family for being with a darker man and they call my dad Haitian all the time because when they want to offend you they’ll call you Haitian and it’s just that mentality,” she said.
The “mejorar la raza” mindset is gross and hard to stomach but unfortunately it still very much exists today. This mentality has been around for centuries and dates back to colonization and the European/Spanish influence that took place in Latin America. The Spaniards were the conquistadors and they were the ones in power. The West Africans were brought over as slaves to work the fields and the indigenous communities were pretty much treated like slaves, which is why that mentality of being “whiter is better” is still around in Latino communities—especially with older generations.
But what a lot of folks don’t realize, is that this mindset actually hurts us as a community. It not only separates us as a community but it also inflicts self-hate because we’re essentially telling ourselves that we’re not good enough as brown people and we need to improve our family and the generations to come by whitening the future offspring. Seriously, how sick and demented is that? By giving into that mindset, we’re essentially giving into the system that brown people are less than and this finally needs to stop.
Check out the full interview in the video below!