First-gen Afro-Latina Dr. Angel Jones is an educator, activist, and critical race scholar whose research explores the impact of racism on the mental health of Black students with a focus on racial microaggressions, Racial Battle Fatigue, and gendered-racism.
Colorism, which Alice Walker described as “prejudicial or preferential treatment of same-race people based solely on their color,” is a prevalent issue within the Latinx, one that is often denied by the same people who deny seeing color. And this denial, as with other forms of marginalization, is often motivated by a desire to avoid accountability. If they don’t acknowledge the prevalence of colorism, they think that protects them from having to acknowledge their complicity. Well, think again. Colorism is real and so are the psychological consequences it creates, consequences that I experienced as young as 7 years old. At the time, I did not have the language, but that didn’t stop me from internalizing the negative messaging I received about my skin color.
For example, I used to love being in the water and the beach was my happy place. However, what I didn’t enjoy about the experience was being discouraged from staying in the sun too long because, “te vas a poner prieta.” According to Dra. Zaire Dinzey, “simply put, prieta means dark. But the term is used in derogatory ways to mark blackness with negative attributions like dirt, ugly, and undesirable.” Her description is triggering and also resonates with me deeply because I was once told that my tan made me look dirty. I know now that the comments never came from a malicious place, and that they were the product of their own socialization, but it doesn’t change the impact they had on me and the doubts they created. Was I only seen as “dirty” when I got a tan or is that how they saw my natural skin too? Was I not as attractive as those with lighter skin? Was I less Puerto Rican because I didn’t look like most of my family members or the Latinxs I saw on the cover of Latina magazine? I remember being excited about each issue I received, only to be disappointed when I didn’t see myself represented on any of the pages.
My mom always told me to be a proud Black woman, but the messaging I received from others sometimes made that hard.
Although there is a segment of our community that ignores the prevalence of colorism, either intentionally or unintentionally, there are some that have no problem admitting its existence. However, their admission means nothing if it isn’t coupled with the acknowledgement that colorism is rooted in anti-Blackness. But, unlike colorism, anti-Blackness is more than prejudice or preferential treatment. Instead, it involves the dehumanization and systemic marginalization of Black people. As I wrote that, I couldn’t help but think of how many members of my own community probably thought, “Black people? I thought she was talking about Latinxs,” which is part of the problem. I am Black and I am also Latina because, contrary to popular racist belief, my Blackness doesn’t make me any less Latina, regardless of those who attempt to question my identity or deny my humanity. That’s one of the many problems with the concept of “Latinidad,” but that’s another article by itself.
The colorism I experience isn’t because people have a problem with the amount of melanin in my skin. It’s because they have a problem with what the melanin represents – my Blackness. And many Latinxs, even those with African ancestry, have an extreme disdain for Blackness, which is evidenced by the multiple ways they support whiteness and uphold white supremacist ideologies. An example of this is the attempted erasure of Black people within the Latinx community, such as anti-Black casting of In the Heights, which did not accurately depict any of the streets of Washington Heights that I’ve ever walked down. Washington Heights is historically a Dominican neighborhood and considered one of the most prominent Dominican communities in the U.S. yet there there was no representation of dark-skinned Afro-Latinxs. This happened in 2021 and is yet another reminder of our consistent and constant erasure.
As argued by Dr. D-L Stewart, “anti-Blackness hides within the rhetoric of inclusion, unexamined and unchecked, excluding and targeting Black people through ideologies of absence.” I refuse to allow colorism, anti-Blackness, or any other form of marginalization, to go unexamined and unchecked, especially within OUR own community. Denying the problem won’t make it go away, and denying our Blackness won’t make us go away either.