There are opportunities for Latinos to be empathetic and mindful of standing by social justice movements as well as opportunities to learn about anti-Black and anti-indigenous racism.
By Angely Mercado
Last Saturday, Heather Heyer was killed by a white supremacist named James Fields Jr. who drove his car into a crowd of counter-protesters. Violence had erupted in Charlottesville, VA and it was hard to absorb. Another counter-protester named Deandre Harris was attacked and beaten by armed white supremacists. One of the people who attacked him was a Puerto Rican man Michael Ramos and according to a post by Remezcla, he claimed that he isn’t a racist.
I’ve heard this argument before and I’ve seen all kinds of non-Black Latinos of color say problematic things about Black folks and other PoC. People I am closely related have told me that I shouldn’t date anyone who is “too dark”; folks at my church have said that they aren’t racist but the “Black guy” in their neighborhood was scary. Comments on social media threads stating that it’s impossible to be a person of color and be anti-Black and that the problem wasn’t their comment or anti-Blackness but rather “esa gente” (those people), are all too common.
Latinos are a diverse group: there are indigenous people, Black Latinos and the descendants of European colonizers. The common misunderstanding is that Latino is a race but it isn’t, it’s an identity that’s mainly tied to the geographic location of south and central America. So within the same immediate family, there can be a range of skin tones, hair textures, and facial features. We need to be mindful of our own history and colorism.
There are opportunities for Latinos to be empathetic and mindful of standing by social justice movements as well as opportunities to learn about anti-Black and anti-indigenous racism. There are Spanish phrases like “cabello bueno” or “cabello malo” which means “good hair” or straight hair and “bad hair” which is kinky hair. BIPOC throughout the Americas have yet to be included in the standard of beauty and are often ostracized in their own countries.
Unfortunately there are even worst phrases like “mejorar la raza” which means to “improve the race” aka to whiten. Older relatives have used to it to warn my siblings and me against dating anyone darker than us. It made me uncomfortable and when I became older and learned more about history, I understood how insidious racism was. The same mentality some Latino cultures have towards darkness has been linked to past atrocities such as the Parsley Massacres where a dictator encouraged the slaughter of Haitians in the Dominican Republic where my mother is from.
Our communities need to pay attention, especially because of our history. When hate groups are being legitimized and their members feel safe enough to hold rallies without donning their hoods, Latinos of all political backgrounds need to denounce anti-Blackness and other forms of hatred. We are a growing presence in the United States and can use our numbers to help progressive causes.
In order to do our part to stop more events like Charlottesville from happening again, we need to make white nationalism unwelcome in our countries, but we should also call out ideals that cater to that supremacy in our own cultures — even if it means doing something taboo like correcting an older relative. We need to tell that aunt/cousin/parent/family friend that they are wrong when they think something derogatory is a fact. Most importantly we need to make sure that members of our communities are stopped before they consider joining a white supremacist rally.
We should advocate for better education that highlights to younger generations that certain issues that Black and brown Latinos face overlap with the Black communities in the United States including a history of segregation, mass-disenfranchisement, forced sterilizations of both groups, and a wage and achievement gap.
The U.S. is slowly reckoning with its history. America is cleaning house, or at least attempting to. It’s about time we did the same and stood up against the ever-vocal Nazis. Many Latino communities are embracing and continuing to learn about their history in a way that doesn’t glorify European colonization. It gives me hope that by learning about how multifaceted we are, we’ll learn to humanize and appreciate all sides of ourselves, not just the one that’s Eurocentric.
Let’s make sure that we’re on the right side of history, for ourselves, and for other marginalized groups as well.
Author Bio: Angely Mercado is a Dominicarican from Queens who writes about Latinidad, NYC news, culture, and more. Her work has appeared in The Lily, Lenny Letter, and Brooklyn Based. Her goal in life is to be draped in gold and to write a novel that’s at least ok. Find her on Twitter @AngelyMercado