Latin America has a very long and complex history of colorism, a practice of discrimination where those with lighter skin are treated more favorably than those with darker skin. Dominican-Brazilian indie pop singer Jarina De Marco decided to address it in her latest single and video, “Identity Crisis,” in an effort to unpack the internalized racism that still very much exists in our communities.
The song, which was produced by Nick Sylvester of Godmode, touches on the colorism issue De Marco observed in her home country, the Dominican Republic and how that mindset heavily influenced by white supremacy, still impacts people of color throughout the world. Lyrics like “You came out looking like a blanquito/a speak to De Marco’s own experience as a lighter skinned Dominican and the “white is right” narrative that was constantly being told to her.
“I wrote “Identity Crisis” because I wanted to start a conversation about colorism,” she says in a press release. “When I was 11 years old, I moved back to the Dominican Republic from Montreal, where my family and I had been political refugees. It was at that time that I was introduced to the complex systems and rules that were in place.”
De Marco noticed how race, skin color, and even hair texture often intersected with class. In the song she addresses common micro-aggressions, racial categories she grew up hearing and being called like “India Clara,” which touch on how one’s hierarchal value is often made based on their proximity to whiteness. The singer also goes in on the “pelo bueno” and “pelo malo” comparisons that are often made and in the video we see a group of women line up in order to get their natural hair textures flat-ironed on an ironing board. Other significant symbols are seen throughout the video as well, including flower petals that have white paint thrown on them, implying that what was already natural was later ruined by the influence of white supremacy, whether it be in the form of skin bleaching or hair straightening. We see hair and plants in rollos and De Marco surrounded by mirrors, revealing how one views themselves is often based on how society sees them.
“Doors were open to me that others could not walk through,” De Marco says. “Later on, speaking to other people of color from across the globe, I found common themes that all trace back to colorism. Hair, skin shades, Greco-Roman beauty standards are all used to exclude to elevate individuals in mostly post-colonial societies.”
The opening lines to the song are especially powerful:
“My papers they say, my papers they say, my papers they say — India Clara. My papers they say, my papers they say, my papers they say — India Clara. Your abuelos say, my Tia she say, and those people say —mejorar la raza.”
Racial construction and hierarchical privilege in the Dominican Republic is complex, to say the least. Similar to other countries in Latin America, the majority of the population are a result of interracial marriage, resulting in a population of mixed race people of African, Spanish, and indigenous descent — of a mostly shared race. This is where the obsession with colorism comes in, as skin color, facial features, and hair texture are noticeable features that became a way of racially categorizing individuals. The term “India Clara” was a term used to describe a lighter skinned Latina of African descent and terms like these were often used even on legal documents, which is why the lyric says “my papers they say India Clara.” De Marco’s reference of “mejorar la raza” touches on the common Latin American phrase, which means to “improve the race” by marrying someone lighter or whiter. It’s the concept of Blanqueamiento, a social, political, and economic practice used not just in Latin America but in many post-colonial countries to achieve a supposed ideal of whiteness.
De Marco’s aim to start a dialogue around the harmful impacts of colorism doesn’t end with “Identity Crisis.” She also premiered a video she produced called “Conversations on Colorism,” directed and edited by Iranian-Brazilian filmmaker and feminist artist Leila Jarman, in efforts to break down these systems that were intentionally built to oppress communities of color. Her goal is to help people develop an understanding of self-acceptance and self-love.
“I grew up all over the place — Dominican Republic, Brazil, Montreal,” De Marco says in the mini-doc. “And the first time I ever saw colorism was when I moved back to the Dominican Republic when I was 11. All of a sudden I was thrust upon this new ecosystem of class and color. My color was favored amongst the rest, of a country that’s mostly black and mixed. Being put in a position where everything was easier for me was also really disturbing. I wanted to write this song, “Identity Crisis” to really tackle this.”
“As a woman of color with a multicultural background, this mini-doc we created together was really important to me,” Jarman said. “It’s crucial that we start talking about the toxic and global issue of colorism as it exists in practically every culture. In order to dismantle these deep-rooted and problematic issues based on white, colonial and patriarchal systems, we have to start talking about them and confronting them and asking why we still perpetuate them. That’s what’s amazing about Jarina. She understands her power as an artist and influencer and uses that power to shed light on these kinds of insidious and toxic aspects of society.”
The video includes people of color of African, Asian and Latin backgrounds talking about their own personal experiences with colorism growing up.
“I really feel that accepting all the parts of who we are, Taino, African, and also our Spanish ancestry is important but only focusing on the white creates a lot of problems in society of self-acceptance and self-love and really expressing who we are,” De Marco adds.
I applaud De Marco for not only addressing this in her music — in her art — but for really prioritizing this very necessary dialogue. It’s also important to note that De Marco is a light-skinned Dominican that speaks to the fact that dark-skinned Latinxs shouldn’t be the only ones standing up to colorism. It’s an issue that impacts all of us as people of color and it’s an issue we should ALL be collectively fighting to dismantle. Check out the video and mini-doc below!