White-Passing Latinxs & The “Brown Girl” Phenomenon

Now that I’m a mom, I’ve noticed (even more than usual) how obsessed people are with putting everyone into boxes. Whether they are boxes of gender, race, class, or education — people here in good ol’ ‘Merikkka REALLY want everyone to fit into them.

This is super applicable when it comes to race and skin color, maybe more than anything else. My son is CLEARLY my son. We have pretty much the same face, but he’s lighter skinned than me. I’d say if we were using Crayola colors to describe skin tone, mine would be like burnt sienna and his would be like caramel.

People have asked me if I’m his nanny when I’ve taken him to the park. No, I didn’t punch them in the face, I just gently said, “No, he’s my son. We have the same face.” And let them wallow in their discomfort as I refuse to walk away and continue to push him on the swings like “What? Am I making you uncomfortable by taking up space now that you said something super stupid?”

So it REALLY bugs me when people say they are color-blind. Because it’s:

A) Not fucking true

B) Another way to erase the gorgeous multitude of skin tones that make us diverse

C) Is a coded way to tell a POC, “You don’t matter to me”

I want you to notice my color. It’s beautiful. My ancestors have passed down my brown skin through generations. I’m a beautiful brown woman.

This is also why it pisses me off when white-passing Latinxs try to claim “brown” as an identity because, well, NOPE. Have you ever been stopped by the cops because of the color of your skin? Have you ever been denied service in establishments across Latin America because of the color of your skin? Has your suegra ever been asked why she would let her son date you because of the color of your skin?

I DIDN’T THINK SO.

There is a way to acknowledge the differences between our skin tones with love and understanding without fetishizing it. Yes, I know it’s pretty hot to be a “Brown Girl” right now. We can probably thank the wonderful, beautiful, and talented Prisca Mojica Rodriguez for that (luh ya girl). But that doesn’t mean that you just get to jump on the bandwagon to commercialize our identity and try to make money off of it.

It’s another insidious form of cultural appropriation in a way. You get to try on this identity for social media, or for your blog, or podcast, or whatever it is you’re schilling that day, and then at the end of the day, you get to take it right back off. Maybe you were even one of those Latinxs who grew up checking “white” as your race your whole life. So, no, now that we are “trendy” you do not get to hop on the bandwagon of being a brown girl. A lot of blood, sweat, and tears have gone into fighting for our own identities. For making spaces for ourselves. For forcing our ways into places where you could just sashay right through the door.

So please, take all the seats.

We need to figure out ways to acknowledge and uphold our multiple and various identities without commodifying them or using them to label people on a spectrum of good to bad, or worthy to unworthy. Yeah, it’s annoying that folks want to be able to put everyone into boxes, but in recognizing that tendency in our society, we can begin to address ways to dismantle it, without losing ourselves and all the rich complexity of our identities at the same time.

Claiming ones that do not belong to us just because they are trendy is not the way to go about it. So, unless you have lived the struggle of a brown girl, then don’t call yourself one. Be an ally, be a sister, be a friend, be an amplifier, just don’t try to be something that you’re not.

 

 

Being Black & Latinx in the United States

When I was a little girl, my grandmother used to fret about me staying out in the sun for too long. “Te vas a poner prieta,” (“You’re going to turn black”) she would cluck at me, clearly wanting to prevent this horrible thing from happening.

I was always super confused about this cause I was born with chocolate brown skin. I’m darker than some of my black girlfriends. There was no going back to some lighter-skinned fairytale version of myself that never existed. No matter how much I avoided the sun, my skin was going to be “prieta.” The funny thing about this is that the very same word used to denote unwanted blackness is also used as a loving nickname. Calling someone prieta or prieto in Puerto Rico (where my family is from) can be a term of endearment.

We have a complicated relationship with race and colorism all across Latin America.

All across Latin America, the black populations are often the poorest, most marginalized communities. It’s also REALLY hard to get some AfroLatinos to admit that they are black. I’m pretty sure if you ask the Dominicans born of Haitian ancestry currently being deported back to a country they have never called home what they think about that, you’ll get some interesting answers.

Here in the United States, it also very complicated when you ask Latinxs to self-identify race. Though about 25% of Latinxs surveyed here in the U.S. say they are “AfroLatino” only 18% of them denoted their race or at least one of their races as black. Say WHAT?

Part of the problem is a fundamental misunderstanding of what the words Latinx and Hispanic connote. Neither are indicators of race, you can be Latinx and be black, white, indigenous, Asian, etc. It just basically means that you’re ancestors come from any country in Latin America or the Spanish Caribbean, including Brazil. Though this is often used interchangeably with the term “Hispanic,” they are not the same. Hispanic just generally refers to those who come from countries of origin where the Spanish language is spoken. So this term would encompass those from Spain, while the term Latinx would not.

What makes my brain hurt is the fact that there is a large community here in the U.S. willing to identify as AfroLatino while simultaneously refusing to accept their blackness. There is an intense anti-blackness drummed into Latinxs. The colorism is so deeply ingrained in Latin America that if you ask someone who looks like me what their race is they will go down a list of everything from “India” to “Mestiza” to “Mulatta” just to avoid saying black.

Once you add the basic human desire to always see another group as less than — no matter where in the hierarchy of oppression you stand — you can understand why some U.S. Latinxs may be comfortable embracing their AfroLatino heritage, but not their blackness.

Black people are subject to unrelenting systematic racism. Demonized by both mainstream media and the criminal justice system. the U.S. black community is more marginalized than most any other minority group. Who would want to identify with that history of hatred and abuse?

But we have to align ourselves. And we should want to. Because the black community here in the U.S.A. and those of African heritage all across the globe have been standing up to the kind of fascism we’re currently dealing with for hundreds and thousands of years. People like Donald Trump think there is a difference between calling for the registration of Muslims, mass deportations and policies like Stop & Frisk but there is not. It’s an attempt to make us all less human and to make our civil rights less important than theirs.

It took me a long time to self-identify as black but it wasn’t a case of self-denial. My parents did a really good job of explaining the African ancestry of Puerto Ricans to me and I was well-educated and proud of that aspect of my history. I just always felt “not enough.” When I with my black girlfriends, it was clear to me that I was most definitely not one of them and that I could in no way understand their struggle. Which is 100% true. It’s a different experience. When I hung out with Latinas, it was made clear to me that even though I had dark skin, I was lucky because I had “good hair,” and and other phenotypical attributes that they blatantly pointed out kept me from the “black” designation. Now I know I am enough, but it was confusing and apparently, I’m not the only one.

What finally crystalized my identity for me was a couple of horrible racist experiences I had as a young adult. First, I was denied service in a bar in Latin America because I was black and told the only reason they let me in was because I was with a bunch of “gringas.” Then I experienced NYC housing discrimination at its finest when I showed up with a deposit check to pick up keys to a new apartment that reached full capacity the second the management saw my face (even though it had just been built and about 50% of the apartments were empty that very morning). Racists don’t see any difference between me or a black woman or a lighter-skinned Latina. They just see a woman who is NOT white.

The only way we can force racists to acknowledge our humanity and basic rights is to do it together. Instead of denying our blackness, let’s embrace and uplift it and work together to bring the most vilified, the most oppressed, the most marginalized communities real justice. Desmond Tutu said it best:

If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.

All lives won’t matter until #BlackLivesMatter.

Lena Dunham, Megan Rapinoe & White Feminism

I mentioned in my last post that I was a big football fan. Well, I’m a HUGE football fan. Like a two-time Fantasy Football champ level football fan. The NY Giants are my team and Odell Beckham Jr. is my man. I drafted him FIRST this year and I had the FIRST pick. Much faith has been placed in his beautiful, magical hands.

So, when Lena Dunham came out her neck talking about him like he was somehow in the wrong for daring to NOT hit on her at the Met Gala this year I was PISSED. It actually kind of shocked me how mad I was. It’s not because I’m a OBJ fan (I’m not down with the ODB nickname because it makes no sense, sorry Wu-Tang), it was because her statements smacked of so much entitlement and the very WORST form of white feminism it was hard for me to even stomach the interview. Here’s what she said word-for-word:

I was sitting next to Odell Beckham Jr., and it was so amazing because it was like he looked at me and he determined I was not the shape of a woman by his standards. He was like, “That’s a marshmallow. That’s a child. That’s a dog.” It wasn’t mean — he just seemed confused.

The vibe was very much like, “Do I want to fuck it? Is it wearing a … yep, it’s wearing a tuxedo. I’m going to go back to my cell phone.” It was like we were forced to be together, and he literally was scrolling Instagram rather than have to look at a woman in a bow tie. I was like, “This should be called the Metropolitan Museum of Getting Rejected by Athletes.”

Sigh. There is so much to unpack here. Let’s start with the fact that Beckham Jr. didn’t actually SAY anything to her at all. So basically, here she is, a white, incredibly privileged woman putting words in the mouth of a black man. Secondly, she is basically whining that he didn’t think she was hot enough to look at. Which is so annoying because when she wore that tuxedo to the Met Gala I was like, “FUCK YEAH! Take THAT patriarchy!” And she managed to just undo it all in two seconds by complaining to her friend that a man wouldn’t talk to her because she was wearing a tuxedo. I’m no even going to get into all the over-sexualization of black bodies or the fact that she actually felt like she was OWED a come-on by the wide receiver. Cause, no.

Right when I was kind of, sort of, reveling in all the mean shit Twitter was saying while they savagely dragged Lena (while also feeling bad for her because, damn, the internet is mean) the amazing Megan Rapinoe went and changed the whole convo by kneeling  during the national anthem before the National Women’s Soccer League Seattle Reign vs. Chicago Red Stars match.

Rapinoe stated point blank that she was standing in solidarity with Colin Kaepernick and that she felt like the convo about his protest had been skewed:

“It was very intentional,” Rapinoe told American Soccer Now after the game. “It was a little nod to Kaepernick and everything that he’s standing for right now. I think it’s actually pretty disgusting the way he was treated and the way that a lot of the media has covered it and made it about something that it absolutely isn’t. We need to have a more thoughtful, two-sided conversation about racial issues in this country.”

And there it is. The difference between intersectional feminism and white feminism in two simple acts. White feminism embraces and gives voice to the struggle of white women, while ignoring their very real place of privilege in our society. For example, 61 years ago (almost to the day), OBJ very well could have been lynched if he had the balls to approach a white woman like Lena Dunham and make any sort of even remotely flirtatious gesture. Just ask Emmet Till’s mom.

Intersectional feminism recognizes the links between all struggles for equality and acknowledges the fact that until we are ALL free, none of us are. Anyone who considers themselves a feminist, which Dunham surely does, should know enough to realize that the women’s rights are related to racial oppression are connected to class and gender policing etc. If you’re going to be a public figure loudly upholding a “feminist” ideal then do your damn homework and think, for just one second, before you say some stupid shit to your friend during an interview or before you tweet out blatantly ridiculous shit like:

It’s not that hard. Rapinoe proved it. Right after she correctly pointed out that the media BS over Kaepernick’s protest was completely misdirected, she also connected it to her own experience. Sure, as a white women, she has privilege in America, but as a GAY white women, she’s facing her own struggles:

“Being a gay American, I know what it means to look at the flag and not have it protect all of your liberties. It was something small that I could do and something that I plan to keep doing in the future and hopefully spark some meaningful conversation around it. It’s important to have white people stand in support of people of color on this. We don’t need to be the leading voice, of course, but standing in support of them is something that’s really powerful.”

It’s really not that hard Lena, and no, an apology is not enough. There are only so many times you can say “I’m sorry” before you need to start thinking about what you say BEFORE it comes out of your mouth. Give Megan a call, she can probably teach you at thing or two. If not, just take a moment to really think about this brilliant tweet: