Colorism & Anti-Blackness in the Latinx Community

By Pearl Vallejo, Guest Contributor

I’ve been writing this article for months. Aside from me being a perfectionist and wanting to make sure I write it to the best of my ability, life has also put some delays on this article. It has also been very difficult for me to write it because of my own personal trauma and being forced to face it.

The delay may have been a blessing in disguise because a Mexico Vogue cover has recently taken the internet by storm. Yalitza Aparicio Martinez is on the cover, an indigenous woman stars in the new film Roma. It has caused some uproar, both positive and negative. Much of it is colorist comments on her appearance, and how she is not deemed worthy of her cover. It is unacceptable.

My name is Pearl. My pronouns are she/they/them. I am a 20 years-old, a gem rising, and sun with a sag moon. I’m Mexican and Guatemalan, born and raised in Los Angeles. I’m a South Central baby who spent some years in East L.A. Trauma in these communities is as common as the liquor stores on each block. Finding a space to comfortably exist hasn’t been easy in any way, shape, or form. It typically isn’t easy to exist if you aren’t a White, cishet male.

Growing up, I hated all the features of mine that weren’t Eurocentric. That is what was deemed “attractive” by society.  I am a beautiful shade of Brown year-round. I’ve grown to love my complexion. It took a tremendous amount of work – and still is required on some days.

As an adolescent, I woke up by 5:30 am to style my hair and apply makeup.  Appearing feminine meant there were rules to follow, many of which were taught to me by peers.

Girls are taught to see each other as competition and that our biggest goal in life is marriage and becoming mothers. The message underneath that that, this is only achievable through our “good” looks. I want to clarify that there is nothing wrong with marriage and children IF it is done by choice. I felt pressured to and that was my problem within that.

As teens, we are already caught up in the superficial things. We are all aware that kids are not kind, at all. We are taught that the more Eurocentric we appear, we are more beautiful and desirable. My actions were extreme for a teenager. I intentionally harmed myself because I felt as if I needed to live up to these standards. As a teenager, you are already going through so many changes because of puberty and being exposed to this violence makes the experience anything but smooth. It is traumatic and takes time to unlearn these toxic lessons/behaviors.

My actions were extreme for a teenager. I intentionally harmed myself because I felt as if I needed to live up to these standards. As a teenager, you are already going through so many changes because of puberty and being exposed to this violence makes the experience anything but smooth. It is traumatic and takes time to unlearn these toxic lessons/behaviors.

One issue that I’ve become extremely sensitive to is the level of pressure faced by my Black friends. I’ve learned that Black people and other people of color (PoC) face certain dangers the moment we step out of our homes. It is important to distinguish the difference because – obviously Black people are people of color, but we non-Black PoC still hold a tremendous amount of privilege.

We will never fully face the level of discrimination and racism that our Black peers face from the rest of the world. Non-Black PoC hold the privilege to perpetrate violence in the form of discrimination and prejudice.  In fact, in America, people strive to identify with the White culture and distance themselves from Black culture.

It is also important to mention that Latinx people range in racial identity – meaning some of us can be Afro-Latinx and others White. One of the harshest lessons this simulation has to offer Black and other PoC is that this world does not often work in our favor. It is a lesson that is constantly reaffirmed.

The issue of colorism and anti-Blackness in the Latinx community is often dismissed or ignored. Many of our elders are unfamiliar with this because Latinx culture is replete with hateful references towards Black and indigenous people and culture. It is a direct result of colonization. I also know this because growing up, I was often put down because of the color of my skin.

My family thought it was funny to clown my dark skin and other features they deemed uncute – they didn’t understand the tremendous pain and trauma this caused me. It was not only something I experienced at home, but I also received the same treatment at school and with peers.

The issue of colorism and anti-Blackness in the Latinx community is often dismissed or ignored. Many of our elders are unfamiliar with this because Latinx culture is replete with hateful references towards Black and indigenous people and culture. It is a direct result of colonization.

In the environments I grew up in, I was exposed to anti-Black rhetoric. It is almost everywhere, we are taught that it is not uncommon. I saw it in my home life, in my school life, in the media. We are taught to believe that it is okay to engage as well — it isn’t. It is violence. We must all take accountability for our past and do better moving forward. It is time for a change.

None of what I experienced is unusual. So many other children experience this and it is important to recognize that it is not justified. It is one of the greatest issues in our community that does not allow us to progress. I didn’t recognize the result of the trauma until I was much older. We are programmed to believe that this trauma is a normal part about coming of age – that it is apart of it. For most Black and other children of color, trauma is a constant in our lives. We experience it in every part of our lives. We are never shielded from it.

It is important we acknowledge this because it is the only way we will heal.

Black children and other children of color are rarely able to have a proper childhood. Trauma forces us to grow up faster as a survival mechanism. It is unacceptable. Black children and other children of color are taught to survive. We are constantly being taught to shrink ourselves and our presence in the world as a means of survival. Some lessons on survival are taught to us by those in charge of our care, and some we learn through experience.

As a child, learning that your biggest priority is to survive and make it in a world that does not love you and will often work against you is very traumatic. You do not realize it then, but you are being taught that your life does not matter. It is left up to us to survive on our own with very little resources. Not all survival mechanisms we have are healthy. When your biggest priority is to survive, the way you begin to live adapts. It takes a toll on somebody physically, spiritually, and mentally.

Black children and other children of color are rarely able to have a proper childhood. Trauma forces us to grow up faster as a survival mechanism. It is unacceptable. Black children and other children of color are taught to survive. We are constantly being taught to shrink ourselves and our presence in the world as a means of survival. Some lessons on survival are taught to us by those in charge of our care, and some we learn through experience.

As a result of colonization, anti-Blackness is evident in the Latinx community. It was the goal to separate us from our Black and Brown identities. Being called Latino/Latinx is a direct result of colonization. We were taught to disconnect from our culture and identities. Colonization was meant to erase us.

A big contributor to the anti-Black rhetoric in the Latinx community is assimilation. It is no secret how terribly the United States treats undocumented individuals. It is not surprising how many struggles with assimilation. The lives of undocumented individuals do not matter to the government unless they are profitable. As it goes for many Black and other U.S.-born PoC.

White supremacy says that Black lives do not matter, any anti-Black rhetoric reaffirms that statement. That is the reason why anti-Blackness must be eradicated.  All Black lives matter. Anti-Blackness is violence in every way, shape or form. If you are not Black, you hold privilege. I believe that it is important to recognize your privilege and how it is being put to use. Latinx people do a terrible job of recognizing our privilege and the spaces we occupy. Especially when it comes to being anti-Black and colorist.

I do not pretend that eradication of this system will result from one article. But, there is an opportunity for a few lessons.

Acknowledgment is the first step.

Becoming aware and educated is the only way to progress. Beginning a dialogue about the anti-Blackness in the Latinx community will allow us to be comfortable confronting it when it is encountered and less comfortable allowing it to happen.

It is important to believe that the time has come for Latinx to gain consciousness and in doing so, allowing us to heal multi-generational trauma.

Becoming aware and educated is the only way to progress. Beginning a dialogue about the anti-Blackness in the Latinx community will allow us to be comfortable confronting it when it is encountered and less comfortable allowing it to happen.

We must eradicate anti-Blackness and colorism in our communities. And in order for that to happen, we must start with ourselves.

Next is action.

It is time we take accountability for our actions regardless of how recent or distant they were carried out.  Silence can no longer be tolerated, it does nothing but harm us all. We must do better. The community deserves to progress and heal, the world does.

We must acknowledge that this behavior has been passed on through generations. Our ancestors were taught that their physical features were not praiseworthy. This carried on through generations and reinforced with our elders through religion, television, in news media, magazines, school books, and in one-on-one interactions.  

I also want to clarify that we cannot excuse away any form of violence simply because it was perpetrated by somebody else. There is never any excuse. I know that people believe their acts of violence should be excused because they too have been harmed by others. It doesn’t.

One of the biggest lessons all Non-Black Latinx people need to learn is that growing up in the hood or around Black people does not equate to being Black. Similar experiences are not the same thing and it is important to recognize that. We will never able to fathom what it is like to be like our Black peers. Realizing this does not take away from your experiences either, they are still valid. It is very common for many Latinx people to use their similar experiences and trauma to validate their wrongdoings, it doesn’t.

Another noteworthy lesson is that if you are not black You CAN NOT say the N word. You CAN NOT say the N word. You CAN NOT say the N word. You CAN NOT.

There is no excuse if you are not Black. That does not slide and if you continue to use it, I hope you get your ass beat.

One of the biggest lessons all Non-Black Latinx people need to learn is that growing up in the hood or around Black people does not equate to being Black. Similar experiences are not the same thing and it is important to recognize that. We will never able to fathom what it is like to be like our Black peers.

Being Black is not a role, you can’t pick and choose. Culture appropriation must be stopped. Latinx people must stop being resentful towards the work done by the Black community. Stop the “what about me? Or “what about us” dialogue and begin creating opportunities and spaces for Latinx people. It is disgraceful, the only way we can progress is by doing the work. We must stop with our privilege and entitlement, nobody will do the work for us.

When we contribute to anti-Blackness, we are contributing directly to White Supremacy. There are many Latinx people who will not care for eradicating anti-Blackness because they are more than likely White Llatinx and are happy within that privilege.

I challenge those who feel this way to ask themselves why they believe they have a right to exist comfortably while others continue to live with discrimination and racism towards them?

Being expected to educate somebody else is exhausting, especially in a digital age. That’s what led me to write this article, if we are not educated we cannot learn and they cannot grow.

I write this in hopes of educating PoC who are still perpetuating anti-Blackness and colorism in the spaces they occupy. I believe in allowing PoC space and time to unlearn problematic behavior. It is a process and change doesn’t happen overnight. It also does not happen without teaching oneself or being taught. However, it is almost 2019 and there is no longer a reason for excusing it! Especially, now that there is a link to send to help educate others.

The work towards eradicating anti-Blackness in our communities must be done by each one of us. Now more than ever, we need solidarity and for our privilege to be used in the fight against White Supremacy.

In the words of Angela Davis, “In a racist society, it is not enough to be non-racist, we must be anti-racist.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *