By Marjua Estevez
Vibe, November 1, 2016 —
The reason why people don’t understand why you can be both black and Latino at the same time is because the media doesn’t present it that way and we don’t see it, and I think we really do truly get our representation of who people are from the media…
The aforementioned is a quote pulled from a video TheRoot.com published in mid-October, right before the end of Hispanic Heritage Month 2016. It’s not the first of its kind, and it will not be the last. After all, forums surrounding Afrolatinidad are not a new concept. The ones being had, however, as far as popular culture is concerned, only cover the surface. Not only are black Latinos not represented in the media as pointed out in the video (below), our voices are also not present in academia, which is to say the classroom and its history books.
Blackness in the United States is typically reserved for the African-American experience. So videos like these—ones that celebrate blackness beyond borders, the joys of being descendants of Africa and all the cultural links in our food and music and religion—are brilliant and necessary in many respects, but simultaneously do a disservice to the conversation and movement surrounding Afro-Latinos.
(It must be noted that the term Afro-Latino, though a purposeful political act for many who have been stripped of their identity and denied their own blackness, can be viewed as divisive. But for layman’s terms, we’ll stick to this now-popular phrase.)
Being Afro-Latino is more than just a source of pride, it’s more than just embracing your natural hair, owning the skin you’re in and throwing up the blackest fist in solidarity. It is also about accountability and decolonization and facing a historical trauma. As children of the diaspora in the era of neo-colonialism, how do we begin to elevate that conversation, continue to propel the Afro-Latino movement beyond the “I’m black, too” rhetoric? What are we doing with the power behind reclaiming our blackness? How do we galvanize in the name of the oppressed back home?
We asked writer and social critic César Vargas about his thoughts on the current state of Afro-Latinos. As far as he’s concerned, the movement has grown terribly sluggish, and videos like the one in question do not help expand the imperative dialogue.
“It’s been the same narrative for years about identity, acceptance, and the arts. I’d like to see more confrontational work, such as the one Dorothy Bell Ferrer writes,” he said. “I’d like to hear about the political and financial situation of Black Latinos. I don’t want to knock down the folks on the video. Their understanding and realities of Afrolatinidad are valid, but I believe we need to move to the next step and discuss deeper things such as racism, colorism, power structures, gender dynamics, housing, education, and the financial situation of Black Latinos. I don’t want our folks to be woke and broke. We need to move beyond that by being politically and financially literate. We won’t get that from videos such as these because they are safe.”
And while safe spaces for the systemically oppressed and marginalized are also necessary, the greater thing at stake here is education, which should not have to be safe, something Bell Ferrer, the writer and activist Vargas referred to, equally rails against.
“Many of these cases nowadays use culture and “happiness” as a way to keep their oppression as powerful as it is. In no way am I saying that joy is negative because it’s not. We need joy [and], in this case, we need to love and adore and celebrate our blackness, but we also need to interrupt white supremacy,” she said emphatically. “I always say, if you ever want to heal you have to look trauma in the face. The dances, the drums, the “I love my blackness” is for us, not “them”—the capitalist white bourgeoisie and/or racists. The [Afro-Latino] movement, like many others, hasn’t allowed for us to dig deeply and deal with our trauma in ways that puts the responsibility of racism and other oppressions we face on the aforementioned group.”