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The conversation about erasure in the Latinx community cannot be centered on white Latinx voices.

By Mariana Viera Latina magazine recently published an article titled “Here’s Why You Shouldn’t Question My Latina Culture.” The piece details the frustrations of Alexis, a U.S. born-Latina woman who feels that her light skin robs her of Latinx authenticity in the eyes of the Latinx community. She claims that white Americans exoticize and tokenize her, while other Latinxs see her as “just una blanca.” In a world where white Latinxs are already overrepresented in Latinx media and white Latinx voices are magnified at the cost of black and brown Latinxs, Alexis feels it is critical that her “struggles” as a white Latina woman be given a major platform. She begins, “What you don’t understand about being a light-skinned Latina is that my ‘legitimacy’ is always being questioned by both sides.” In some ways, white Latinxs’ frustrations with having their identity “denied” do speak to an important issue. There is such a thing as white Latinxs. Latin America is not a racial monolith, and there needs to be discussion around that. It is not the racially homogenous, post-race society that people like to imagine it as (nobody knows this better than black and indigenous Latinxs). But if there is a proper way to discuss this issue from the perspective of a white Latinx, this isn’t it. For reasons beyond the scope of this piece, mixing between black, indigenous, and white groups did occur in Latin American countries more than in the United States. But by no means did this result in the expiration of a racial hierarchy that continues to place white Latinxs like Alexis at the very top and black and indigenous Latinxs at the very bottom. “Latinx” is not a race, and Latinxs are not a unified group. White Latinxs exist. Indigenous Latinxs exist. Black Latinxs exist. The racial makeup of countries like Brazil, which has one of the largest afro-descendant populations in the world, and Argentina, a 90% white country, speak to this reality. At one point, the article boldly remonstrates, “When people give me a skeptical look when I say ‘person of color’ or puertorriqueña in reference to myself I want to be able to hand them a pre-made list of all the things I know and do that ensure my acceptance into this culture — my culture.” Alexis can claim Latinxness, but she is gravely mistaken in her claim to a “person of color” identity. To equate being Latinx with being a person of color is to erase the centuries-long, unabated violent oppression experienced by black and indigenous people at the hands of white Latinxs in Latin America.
Related: THE UNBEARABLE WHITENESS OF TELENOVELAS

Colonization is the act of forcefully stripping sovereignty of a country through acquisition of land, resources, raw material, and governmental structures.

My turn to state an equation: colonization = “thing-ification.” - Aimé Césaire
The use of social media as a powerful tool for free education on various topics continually rises, with definitions, experiential narratives, and resources being shared through Twitter threads, short videos, Facebook statuses, and even memes. And while this is a mostly positive phenomena, there seems to be a trend of words, and thus words’ associated theories, being used misguidedly. Often, this is a simple case of fighting character limits and the loss of nuance that occurs through online mediums, and other times it seems a phenomena of genuine miseducation and confusion. Words like intersectionality, decolonize, imperialism, socialism, and other loaded terms that come with decades of jargon are at times applied to everything, and their actual meaning is lost. Observing this pattern is what lead me to the idea of an article series titled “Words Mean Things,” wherein each month I choose a different word and discuss the theories, uses, theorists, examples, applications, and praxis surrounding it. The goal is to do this as concisely as possible and, understanding these will never be wholly conclusive of all definitions, applications, and examples of certain words, to deliver small primers that exist as resources to lead readers to study deeper. I often say that words mean everything, and then anything, just before meaning nothing.

Colonialism

Colonialism is a system of land occupation and theft, labor exploitation, and/or resource dependency that is to blame for much of our modern concepts of racialization. It is an act of dominance in which a forceful state overtakes a “weaker” state; this means that colonization is the act of forcefully stripping sovereignty of a country through acquisition of land, resources, raw material, and governmental structures. Systems of colonialism are based in notions of racial inferiority, as they as they perpetuate white/European domination over non-white colonial subjects. The most obvious (and broad) example of colonialism is the expansion of Europe into Africa, Asia, and Latin America, and the subsequent creation of colonies. Through violence and manipulation, a relationship of control and influence was exerted economically, socially, politically, religiously, and culturally. In Jamaica, for example, the British empire invaded and colonized the island in the mid-17th Century, and subsequently established British colonial school systems, laws and regulations creating dependency on Britain, and pushed European gender, religious, and wardrobe norms onto the society. There are various forms of colonialism and colonial projects, but all involve some form of domination, control, and/or influence on an indigenous population through violence and/or manipulation. It is also important to note that these various forms of colonialism often intersect and overlap, too. In his 1972 essay “Discourse On Colonialism,” one of the most important pieces of writing I have ever read, writer Aimé Césaire states: “Between colonizer and colonized there is room only for forced labor, intimidation, pressure, the police, taxation, theft, rape, compulsory crops, contempt, mistrust, arrogance, self-complacency, swinishness, brainless elites, degraded masses. No human contact, but relations of domination and submission which turn the colonizing man into a class-room monitor, an army sergeant, a prison guard, a slave driver, and the indigenous man into an instrument of production.”
Related: THE LASTING, RACIST LEGACY OF COLONIALISM ON THE ENVIRONMENT

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