Colorism is a problem that continues to exist within brown and black communities and we’re living in a time where it’s finally being addressed — in our pop culture, art, and music. In fact, earlier this summer Dominican-Brazilian indie-pop singer Jarina de Marco decided to highlight the colorism issue — that’s not only prevalent in Latinx culture but also a worldwide phenomenon — in her single and video “Identity Crisis.”
De Marco’s aim was to unpack the internalized racism that still exists globally through the practice of discrimination where those with lighter skin are treated more favorably than those with darker skin. While some would argue that De Marco did a decent job at highlighting how colorism still impacts people of color throughout the world, the video still received backlash from people who felt that De Marco wasn’t the right person to be delivering this message due to her lighter skin and the privileges she’s granted because of that. Some even questioned her motives. But the music artist and social justice activist is here to finally set the record straight.
“I’m not here to take up space, I’m here to amplify voices,” De Marco tells me after explaining the intention behind “Identity Crisis.” Produced by Nick Sylvester of Godmode, De Marco’s song highlights the colorism issue the singer observed in her home country of the Dominican Republic. She brings to light how the century’s old mindset that’s heavily rooted in white supremacy still deeply impacts POC today, especially those with darker skin. While she’s incredibly transparent in the song, in the video, and even in the documentary that accompanies the music video, “Identity Crisis: Conversations of Colorism,” about the privileges she’s been granted for being a light-skinned Latina with straight hair — many felt like this was a pass-the-mic kind of situation that De Marco missed the memo on. There was also a lot of criticism regarding the casting of the video which only featured one dark-skinned Black woman. But what a lot of folks didn’t pick up on was that De Marco’s video wasn’t just speaking about the Afro-centric experience in the Dominican Republic — she was trying to address the issue of colorism on a global scale while trying to be an ally.
“It’s important for us to all be involved in the outing and the protection of people who are discriminated, which is why I think it’s important that someone like me, who might experience the privilege that comes with being light-skin but also sees the horrible impacts of racism and colorism, speak up,” she says. “It’s not just the people who are experiencing discrimination that need to be speaking out but also people who are part of society and who move in the world as someone who can pass as white and recognizing how that differs from someone who can not. It’s about being an ally to them. Not speaking on their behalf but with them and for them.”
De Marco was born in the Dominican Republic and then moved to Montreal when she was five. But when she was eleven, she and her family moved back to the DR where she witnessed the impact colorism and internalized racism had on her community. While she recognized the privileges that came with looking the way she does, she also saw how toxic and problematic it all was. She grew up hearing terms like “mejorar la raza,” which translates to “better the race” which basically alludes to “whitening the race” by marrying a person that’s whiter or lighter to produce whiter or white-passing offspring. She witnessed people not being allowed into certain areas — including public beaches — because of their darker skin or kinky curly hair and she felt it was important to call it out.
If you knew De Marco’s upbringing you’d understand why social justice issues are important to her. She comes from a family of political activism dating back to her great grandfather who was part of the resistance against Rafael Trujillo, a corrupt dictator who ruled the Dominican Republic for 30 years. “I felt like my grandfather instilled a sense of duty and justice and speaking out against things that we feel are not right,” she says.
De Marco’s family, like many Latino families, consists of people of every shade and hair texture, which is part of the reason why the colorism and internalized racism issue hits home for her. “My grandfather is of Spanish descent and my grandmother is black and Native so my family has every shade of color. I come from a family filled with Black Dominicans, Native-looking Dominicans — my mother looks native — and light-skinned Dominicans,” she shares. “When I was living in Santo Domingo I would hear things like ‘pelo bueno’ or ‘pelo malo.’ My hair was touched a lot and people would call my hair ‘pelo bueno.’” But none of this ever sat well with her.
The inspiration behind “Identity Crisis” was inspired by her own experience witnessing colorism in the DR but also by the conversations she had with POC from around the world. One thing she quickly learned was that colorism isn’t just a Dominican problem, it isn’t just an American problem, and it isn’t just a Latinx problem — it’s a global issue that still needs to be heavily addressed.
“All of those comments that were made about the video, some of them were really mean and degrading — it messed me up. I understand their anger. That’s the number one thing and I don’t even feel angry at those people and all the things they said about me because I understand their anger,” she says. “It’s a very complex issue and I think people have assumptions of me as a person which lead them to believe that I did this for attention or made it my own, which is absolutely not the case. I very much stand by my work and I created that video that accompanies my song to explain and bring forth the voices that I needed to speak on it.”
De Marco feels there was a lot of misunderstandings around the casting decision behind the video which she is quick to clear up. One of the biggest criticisms she received was on why there wasn’t any Afro-Latinas in the video.
“A lot of the issues people had online about the video was the casting. It’s interesting because what I was trying to do was I didn’t want to use black bodies as props and then be in the center of it. That’s not what I wanted to do at all,” she says. “What I wanted to do was have a multi-ethnic cast. So I had someone from the Middle East, someone from South America who is of indigenous descent, someone from America who is African American and someone from the Philippines. So we had Asia, we had South America, we had America (the states), and the Middle East. The comments were that I didn’t have enough black women in the video but the thing about it is that colorism is not something that only pertains to the Dominican Republic or the black community.”
She adds: “It’s a worldwide phenomenon and the more that I spoke to people about it the more I would hear stories from people in Asia and the whole issue there with skin bleaching or in Africa, or in Jamaica — just everywhere. It’s a worldwide issue which is why the cast wound up being a multi-ethnic cast versus just an Afro-centric cast, which I didn’t think would have been appropriate for me either to only zero in on that. I understand the criticism behind the video but my casting decision was very focused on showing the different kinds of colorism that can exist in the world and not just in the afro-centric experience.”
Her intentions were certainly in the right place but it’s also understandable how people completely misread them. One important lesson to be learned here though is the importance of using your privilege, whether it’s having light skin or a big platform, to help highlight the realities of folks who may not have that kind of power. It’s crucial not just to share their stories but to show support, something De Marco is trying to prioritize these days and she’s starting with the immigration issue here in the states.
Two weeks ago she hosted a dinner in her house with two different immigration organizations and a number of her friends in entertainment on how they can all work together to amplify the message these organizations have set out to help the Latinx community.
“I am an immigrant. I’m a green card holder as well. And I feel very scared and I feel very angry about what’s happening right now. The thing is everything that happens in the world, in the territory that I’m living in, in the territory that I’m from, obviously takes center-stage as to how I move in the world and how I create change and action,” De Marco says. “My platform isn’t very big but I have friends that have bigger platforms so anytime that I can help I’m there listening… and that’s the most important thing. I think it’s about being respectful and listening to people who are having a harder time than you. And I think that helping causes and being behind anything that has to do with injustice will forever be a part of my music and any action I take.”
De Marco recognizes it’s very easy to feel afraid and discouraged in the political climate we’re currently in especially following the recent mass shootings and ICE raids that have taken place. But she believes that the Latinx community has more power to help stir change than we realize.
“You know after the mass shooting and the ICE raid… I realized we have to understand that we hold more power than we think. That’s the first thing,” she says. “If you’re a Latinx person and you’re feeling like shit, have a gathering in your house with fellow Latinx people and sit down and say, ‘Guys, what can we do in our part of our neighborhood, in our little piece of the world, how can we help?’ Let’s pick an organization and with our social media and our friends and family, let’s raise funds and bring awareness.”
Activism is something De Marco intends on always making a big part of her life, whether it’s getting involved with an organization or addressing social and political issues in her music. Her latest EP which doesn’t necessarily touch on politics does touch on the importance of owning and finding your truth — especially in a world still dictated by patriarchal systems intentionally set in place.
It’s called “Malcriada” and it’s her personal reclamation of the term she constantly grew up hearing. “Malcriada is kind of an ode to hearing that word a lot as a kid. We all heard it and you know it’s typically a negative word used by our parents when we’re being a brat,” she says. “That word stayed with me for years and I just thought to myself, it’s kind of a subversive word [that suggests] you’re not raised properly which means the way you’re raised is the rule that you’re given and what you’re supposed to follow… so I was like okay, malcriada means to me someone who’s subversive and goes against the rules that are laid out for them and makes up their own world. They could be someone who stands up for what they believe is right and is their truth.”
Living your truth and standing up for what you believe in seems to be the theme De Marco is trying to live by these days and she certainly won’t apologize for it, whether it’s addressing examples of light-skin privilege in the Latinx community or bringing awareness to the discrimination and abuse Latinx immigrants experience in this country. De Marco also recognizes there’s a learning that comes with speaking up and that’s understanding that it’s okay to learn from others, it’s okay to just listen, and it’s okay to not always be at the center of the causes that matter to us.
This Dominicana doesn’t plan on slowing down anytime soon. In fact, she plans on continuing to use her platform for good and to bring awareness to the issues that still need fixing and we don’t expect any less from her. After all, allyship isn’t a one-time thing. It’s a life-long commitment.