The latest episode of Red Table Talk: The Estefans is tackling colorism in the Latinx community, and it gets deep. The Estefans talked to Afro-Latinx singer and Dominican TV personality Amara La Negra and Queer Eye‘s Karamo Brown, who is of Cuban and Jamaican descent, about racism and colorism. They also specifically discussed the differences between race and ethnicity, which is something of a hot topic in the Latinx community. The episode is hugely important for Latinx people, particularly Afro-Latinx people, as it brings a new level of visibility to the challenges and struggles with race and colorism that many of us face on a daily basis. Grammy-winner and icon Gloria Estefan, her daughter singer Emily Estefan, and her niece and TV host Lili Estefan recently premiered season 2 of RTT: The Estefans and we love to see them shining a light on this important topic that doesn’t get talked about enough.
“Let’s be clear—being Latino is not a race. There are Black Latinos, white Latinos and every shade in between,” Gloria said, going on to explain that a quarter of Latinos identify as Afro-Latinx according to a Pew Research Center study. “It may not be something we want to acknowledge, but that’s exactly why we wanted to bring it to the table. We cannot know what it’s like to be in the skin of darker Latinos because we were born like this.”
“It breaks my heart to think that Afro-Latinos feel racism in their own family because you think of racism as a general thing in society, but when it happens in your own family it’s very difficult. It’s that feeling…the trauma of being oppressed,” Lili said.
Karamo who is the beloved culture expert on Netflix’s Queer Eye, has said that he rejected his Latino heritage for most of his life after dealing with colorism within his own family, which is something he discusses in his 2019 memoir, Karamo: My Story of Embracing Purpose, Healing, and Hope. Karamo shared that his grandmother was a light-skinned Afro-Latina from Cuba. “Growing up, I felt very embarrassed. Even today, to be honest, talking to the producers and talking to people every time they refer to me as Afro-Latino or Latino I get very uncomfortable. Still to this day,” he said at the very beginning of the conversation, almost as a disclaimer.
Karamo expressed that he doesn’t believe anyone in his family ever tried to hurt him intentionally, but that they had internalized racism that he feels manifested in their interactions with him. “I don’t think they understood what they were doing, but it was this subliminal, unconscious, internalized racism that was in them,” he said. “For me, playing outside as a kid was nerve wracking because my grandmother would say ‘Don’t go outside and don’t darken up my family’…so I would not go outside until after 5pm,” he recalled, emotionally.
The Estefans discussed the common notion in the Latinx community that lighter skin is better and safer, and that his grandmother may have actually said those things out of love and desire to protect him, however misguided the idea, and Karamo agreed.
“Her intention was to protect me, to try to say things that she thought was going to help me, but the impact is that it destroyed me emotionally, but it also made me feel like I wasn’t connected to my culture.”
Then, describing an experience that many Afro-Latinx individuals have had, Karamo heartbreakingly talked about how his mom and grandmother would squeeze his nose (to make it appear smaller), and how it always made him think that he needed a nose job. Karamo’s story reminded many of us of our own parents telling us that Latinos used to put a clothespin on their children’s noses with the idea of training them to be slimmer, which of course, is impossible.
“Your trauma—I mean, we don’t realize it but, it starts with the family, the people around you, you know like those experiences are going to mark you forever,” Lili said. Karamo went on to explain that he witnessed his sister who is the darkest of all his siblings be treated the worst. Karamo then went on to discuss how people have tried to tell him that he can’t be Latino, and to further strip him of his identity.
“Because of the internalized racism that I heard and experienced from my Latin side, I started to say, ‘I have to build myself back up,'” he said, noting that having the conversation with white Latinos like the Estefans who remind him of people in his family, is affirming to him and discussing how his partner Carlos, who is Mexican and joined them on the show, has helped him explore his Latin roots.
Moments later Amara La Negra who has always been vocal about Afro-Latinx identity, racism and discrimination, joined the group to continue the discussion. She immediately jumped into the topic of the years she spent as an entertainer on the notoriously white Latinx show Sábado Gigante, starting when she was just four years old.
She noted that she was the only little Black girl on at that time, despite the fact that there are Black people from every Latin American country. “I don’t like to generalize, but a lot of us are very hypocrite,” Amara said. “Stop being hypocrites! And it’s the truth and if you’re racist, don’t pretend to like us and really not like us…I’ve heard it all, and they make sure that you know that you are the darkest one.”
“That’s why to me I’m so passionate about it and I don’t want to sugarcoat it. Being Black—it’s not being Black in America, it’s not being Black in Cuba, it’s not being Black in The Dominican Republic—it’s being Black in the world. Just see us as people,” Amara professed.
“We have grown very much’…really, have we? How many Black people do you see in a noticiero? How many Black people do you see in the novelas? How many Black people do you see on the covers of magazines? Do you see them in movies? No you don’t…so it’s like, have we really evolved?,” she added.
It’s huge for people like the Estefans, Amara and Karamo to use their platforms to tackle such a taboo topic. Yes, we have a long way to go, but the first step is having these conversations, and being open and honest about our histories, our implicit biases and internalized racism and colorism, and actively working to combat them.
Catch the full episode of Red Table Talk: The Estefans on Facebook Watch.