I wrote this article in college and it was published in Hispanic Magazine in 1999–before blogs, before Facebook, before Twitter. Even still, it was widely circulated online, cited in several research papers and was even reprinted in a sociology textbook reader. I found it on someone’s website today and thought I’d share and preserve it on my blog.
By Delina D. Pryce
I always thought of former major-league baseball player Ruben Sierra as the sexiest man in the world. His dark, chocolaty skin, spicy Puerto Rican accent, and cocky attitude–together with his home runs and $6 million contract–always made for an enjoyable day at the ballpark.
But during my monologue of praise, nothing dampened my mood quicker than hearing, “Ruben’s not black; he’s Puerto Rican.” It was a grim reminder of the ignorance that I’ve had to deal with ever since I was old enough to fully understand the truth.
If I received a dollar for every time I heard ” You’re not black you’re Hispanic” or “You’re not Hispanic your black.” I’d be well on my way to equaling Ruben’s small fortune. To a lot of people, and to the majority of the people I’ve met, “black” and “Latino” are mutually exclusive terms.
Reality couldn’t be further from the truth.
Many people don’t realize that slave ships dropped Africans off not only in the United States but also in the Caribbean, Mexico, Central America, and South America. Blacks in this country share a common history with those in the Caribbean and Latin America. Yet, because historical circumstances have created a variety of cultures within the black community in the Americas, people, including blacks themselves, are quick to make distinctions.
It saddens me that those with an obviously African ancestry refuse to acknowledge it, clinging instead to a lone term, “Hispanic” or “Latino”.
Being labeled “black” in the United States carries a heavy burden of stereotypes that many black Latinos would rather not deal with. In my view, if you’re being followed in a store or beaten by the police, it doesn’t really matter what you check on a census form. To a racist you’re still a nigger.
Because I was born in Costa Rica, people want me to choose. “What are you?” they ask. When I was growing up, sometimes I’d check “Hispanic” sometimes I’d check “black” sometimes I’d check both. Administrators at my school I was told, didn’t like that. It made their statistics a little less scientific.
I was born in Costa Rica, moved to Mexico when I was two years old, and have been living in Texas for almost fourteen years. Yes, my upbringing was unlike most of my black friends in the States. Still, I am more like them than I’m like my Hispanic friends from various countries. We listen to the same music, enjoy the same churches, use the same hair stylists, and experience the same strain of racism. In a lot of ways it’s easier for my black friends to comprehend that there is an African Diaspora. They see the fact that I speak Spanish as an asset (“Can you help me with my Spanish homework?”). If anything has been harder for me to explain to them, it’s that I’m not “mixed with Hispanic.”
On the other hand, my Latino friends see my race as a liability. “You’re not black, like the African Americans in the United States,” one told me recently. It bothers me that to accept me they want to distance me from being black, which carries negative connotations in the Americas. Some even have the audacity to tell me why they despise “those black people.”
They even wait for me to agree.
In Peru, blacks are still being used as ornamental images–chauffeurs, pallbearers, valets, and servants. In Brazil, blacks are considered marginal members of society. In countless other Latin American countries, blacks are shut out of government and positions of power. Television shows, news programs, and beauty magazines omit dark faces. The denial of racial diversity in the media, government and business is much like what the United States faced 30 years ago. “We are looking for ways to improve our self-esteem because the society conveys to blacks that we are nothing We want to let people know that we are not only there to cook and play football “[soccer]” said Piedad Cordoba de Castro, the first black woman to become senator in Colombia, in a 1995 Dallas Morning News article.
This is why I think it is foolish for black Latinos to overlook their blackness and believe they are Hispanic like their countrymen of European ancestry.” The effort to build a black consciousness movement in Latin America has been hobbled by the low level of racial identification among blacks,” Cordoba de Castro said. A hierarchy exists within Latin American countries. Those of European ancestry are at the top and those of African heritage are at the bottom, one notch below indigenous people. Those of mixed race-mestizos (indigenous and Caucasian) and mulattos (indigenous and Negroid)–fall some where in between. Many blacks are eager to point out their Indian blood thus elevating themselves above black.
I realize the inaccuracy and silliness of racial and ethnic categories in this day and age. Contrary to neo-Nazi belief, no one is really any one thing anymore. What still remains, inequality and power, all over the world, is defined and determined in racial terms. For this reason, racial identification should be used to unite and struggle together for equality.
The stupidity of useless racial identification stems from the ignorance of racism. Black Latinos, who don’t identify themselves as such, try to be exceptions to the rules and stereotypes that govern blacks. But racists don’t care if you’re bilingual and international. The very nature of prejudice does not allow for exceptions; it looks at group traits, not at individuals. Racism is prejudice combined with power. Until black Hispanics believe this, they will continue to be happily oppressed, and not even realize it (and even deny it).
It’s time to know and celebrate who you really are. I know black culture in Costa Rica. I know black culture in the United States. I also know they both stem from the same place. Being Latina and black are not mutually exclusive, but mutually complementary. Being black and Latina has influenced and shaped my views, my thoughts, my experiences–who I am.
Never would I deny either because they’re both me. And I like me.
Why don’t others agree?
Copyright (c) 1999 HISPANIC Magazine. All rights reserved.