Latinxs & Colorism: A Guide To Dismantling Societal Racism

In between the Black Mirror-style reality that we currently live in, I saw some posts on social media that deeply confounded me. In regards to the Black Lives Matter movement, a fellow queer Mexican noted, “they want our support now, but where were they when the kids were being put in cages?” Another user posted a video where a Black police officer brutally attacked a Latin immigrant allegedly for not speaking English. The caption on that video? “They act like the victims when they are the racist ones.” My initial response was demanding accountability for the abuse of power by the police officer. But as I kept stumbling upon posts where fellow Latinxs kept questioning the BLM movement, I realized that the issue is bigger than the posts being shared. Many Latinxs are taking the conversation away from the Black Lives Matter movement and reeling it back to the struggles Latinx communities face. Being a marginalized group doesn’t exempt us from being racist. By shifting focus from the crisis the Black community is going through, Latinxs are showing the deep-rooted racism that has been ingrained in our community for generations.

I was born and raised in Juarez, Chihuahua, Mexico until I was a teenager. I inadvertently learned about racism when I was in elementary school. There was not a lot of diversity in my school, about 98% of the students’ skin tones ranged from beige to medium brown with the occasional white-presenting student. There was only one black student, an Afro Latina who became one of my best friends. She was a force. Taller than everyone in her grade, smart as a whip, friendly, and confident. She was frequently bullied but she was always unfazed. She had a comeback for every insult, which usually was about her skin color. I’ll never forget the last day of fifth grade, we had a potluck where everyone brought dishes from home. I don’t remember what I took, but I remember that my friend brought a cheesy, spaghetti dish that had ham in it. It looked good, she was very proud of it. My mom had her own variation of the dish but I’ve never tried it with ham before. It was so delicious that I wish others would’ve experienced it. No one tried her dish. As everyone’s casseroles kept running out, I kept trying to persuade people to come and get some of her dish. But everyone was actively avoiding her food. At the end of the day, she had her pot almost full, sans the seconds and thirds I ate. We were cracking awkward jokes but I could see sadness in her eyes. “Do you want to take some so that my mom thinks people liked her dish?” I poured about half of it on my empty Tupperware. I took it home and told my mom that my friend made it. “La negrita?” My mom asked as if that had anything to do with getting free food.

In fifth grade, I should’ve known more about racism. I should’ve done more for my friend, I should have lifted her up along the way. I am confident that she grew up to be a confident, vibrant woman, but I still think about how I was just used to her being bullied or being mistreated because of the color of her skin. As I grew up I began examining the role skin color had in the media of my country. I often wondered how people who have historically been oppressed and discriminated, would do the same to members of their same group, that’s when I learned about colorism.

Colorism is a form of discrimination, often from people in the same race, where people are treated differently based on the societal implications their skin tone has. Mexican society often assimilates wealth with the fairer skin tones. When growing up in Mexico, I never saw a leading lady with skin tone past olive. I never saw Black people on Mexican television unless they were playing an exaggerated version of themselves for comedy. And don’t even get me started about the often-degrading dubbing of African American characters on TV. Beauty brands used skin lightening as a selling point. There is a very popular Mexican shampoo that gradually lightens your kids’ hair. It was clear to me that Mexico valued light-skinned people more than darker complexions. The same can be said for many other countries in Latin America.

In the United States we have lived in a reality where Black people have been oppressed, marginalized, and even killed on the basis of their skin color, for ages. The only difference between this and any other year is that people are fed up. We are tired of the ever-growing list of Black people taken at the hands of police brutality. People are using their voices to amplify the movement. We as Latinxs have to acknowledge that in order to serve as allies in this fight, we have to dismantle the societal colorism and racism that has been a part of our culture for so long.

It all starts within ourselves. We have to free ourselves of the idea that westernized standards of beauty are what we should strive for. We have to educate ourselves on civil rights and the struggles of other cultures, not just our own. We have to acknowledge that we are not the only ones being marginalized. We have to understand that it’s not about who has it worse, it’s about helping each other thrive and rebuilding the systems of oppression. The fight continues with our families. We need to confront our family members when saying anything derogatory. Let’s not give them a pass for their age or the way they were brought up. Uncomfortable conversations need to be had in order to stop the cycle of oppression. After that we continue with our friend groups. Educate, but learn when to let go. Explaining why Black Lives Matter should not be a feisty back-and-forth. We need to stop compromising our morals and ideals and creating excuses for the people around us. “He might think that All Lives Matter, but he has been my friend for over 15 years, I can’t let a disagreement ruin our friendship.” You can disagree on salad dressings, Netflix shows, or what to wear, but not on basic human rights. And to my white-presenting Latinxs, it is important to be aware of the privilege you were inadvertently born with. When white Latinxs use their culture only in convenient situations rather than to educate and challenge antiquated ideologies, they become part of the oppressive systems.

While there is a vast history of discrimination and hate against Latinx communities in this country, right now we are fighting for all the members of the Black community who are being murdered solely for existing. We are fighting against the systems of oppression that fixate on punishment based on skin tone. As Latinxs, we have the power of being one of the fastest growing minorities in the United States. Once we realize the consequences of colorism and racism within our communities, we will be able to use our power to amplify the Black Lives Matter movement. We can post our black square pictures on Instagram all we want, but there will not be true allyship until a change is done from within.

Art by Brilloboi
Follow him on Instagram @brilloboi

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