Afro-Latina Representation is Increasing, But Not For Dark-Skinned Black Women

“You are a safe Black person,” my friend and colleague, Belinda, said to me one day. I took a sip of my coffee while everything inside me cringed. I had spent 10 minutes venting to her because I was frustrated with constantly being The One to speak up about racial biases during our school’s professional developments, and she reminded me that my proximity to whiteness was why people at the very least pretended to listen and didn’t call me “aggressive” when I spoke up.
We were both English language arts teachers in a school that prided itself on being social justice centered. Yet, Black students, the minority student population, were spending more time outside classrooms than any other group. Black girls were constantly being discarded, pushed out to the point that many of the educators in the school had stories about Black girls disappearing from school as they waited for an expulsion hearing or another school or district to take them in. Meanwhile, many Latine students, specifically newcomers to the school, were struggling academically and socially, and it was evident that their classroom learning experiences were part of the reason. When I spoke up about what I observed at this school, there was always a tense silence in which most non-Black people of color sat back — mainly men — and white folks stuck to their guilt as if it absolved them of their constant benefiting. 
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Belinda’s statement stunned me because it was true. Since 2015, there has been, supposedly, a movement worldwide to uplift and center Afro-descendants. In response, many Afro-descendants in Latin American communities have since reclaimed their own Blackness. According to Al Día, “Afro-Latino self-identification has increased 11.6% over the last decade, representing more than 14 million nationwide.” While representation is necessary, many of those who have capitalized off of Afro-Latine identity have been light-skinned Black Latines who have been given space to be the face of all Black Latines. And some of us believe that representation to be enough. It’s not. Dark-skinned Black folks have seldom been centered in conversations about Negritude in Latin America and the diaspora. So the fact is: the needle has barely moved.

"Many of those who have capitalized off of Afro-Latine identity have been light-skinned Black Latines who have been given space to be the face of all Black Latines. And some of us believe that representation to be enough. It’s not."

lorraine avila
This doesn’t negate our Blackness or our experience with anti-Black racism. Throughout my life, I’ve experienced my share of anti-Blackness, first at home when I internalized racism due to always being compared to my lighter-skinned sister. But, most prominently, it was felt when I left the East Coast to live in the Bay Area, where non-Black Latines referred to me as “la Maestra Negrita,” turned down my translation services despite me being a native speaker, and mocked my accent and declared Caribbean Spanish as ugly but sang every dembow and reggaeton song they knew. When I tried to teach my non-Black Latine students about Blackness in Latin America, they denied it aggressively — speaking to the ignorance, yes, but mainly to the straight-up denial of Black experiences in their native countries. 
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All these experiences, and others I do not have the time and space to name here, have shaped my understanding of anti-Blackness and colorism within Latine communities. The access I gain through my light-skinned privilege doesn’t invalidate my experiences as a Black woman, but I must also hold how I benefit from it. Most importantly, I hold that my experiences as a light-skinned Black woman should never be the only narrative, period. 
So I am sharing this space with five Black women with roots in Latin America who represent a range of backgrounds and journeys. Here, they open up about their experiences with colorism and anti-Blackness within Black and Brown spaces. The hope is that these vulnerable accounts push us to collectively confront and combat the pervasiveness of internal and external colorism and anti-Blackness.

Angelica Machado, Colombian, Psychiatrist, Artist, & CEO of Africania

I'm from Chocó, Colombia. Here, we are mainly Black people, like 80% to 90% of us are Black Afro-descendants; the rest are Indigenous and mestizo people. However, I went to study in Cali, a bigger city where most people are mestizo or lighter-skinned Black women who often do not claim their Blackness because being Black comes with a lot of weight. Going from Chocó, where I was one of many, to Cali, where I was one of one or two, was a huge shift. 
The most racist experience I had in college was from an Afro-descendant man who was light-skinned and often made fun of my accent. He was like a lot of light-skinned Afro-descendant people who get to walk around without Black consciousness because, in many ways, the world doesn't demand it of them. If you are a light-skinned Black person, being aware of your Blackness is optional. 
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"If you are a light-skinned Black person, being aware of your Blackness is optional." 

Angelica Machado
I have had conversations about being a Black girl with friends who are from the Atlantic Coast, women from Cartagena, Barranquilla, the Caribbean side, and we all shared similar experiences, like remembering how lighter-skinned Black women are the object of Black men’s desires. It’s hard not to internalize that as an adolescent. And it still happens. I went to a party in Medellín in 2021, and I watched as a group of Black men only asked mestiza women to dance. These were racially conscious men. One of them was a lawyer who defends the rights of Black people and the other had a shirt that said “Black History.” Watching this unfold so loudly is very complicated. 
Now as a Black migrant woman in Argentina, this experience is compounded. Here, I’ve met Black women who've told me that they wouldn't support my business because I’m a foreigner. I’ve met light-skinned Black women who've said that Colombian and Venezuelan women are invading Argentina. As a psychiatrist, I try to understand that level of inconsistency from a point of mental health and psychiatry.

Naya, Honduran-American, CEO and Founder of Amor J’chelle Cosmetics 

I’m blown — but not surprised — by how light-skinned Afro-Latines heard that designation and ran with it. Most of the time, when I see people talking about being proud of their African roots, they’re light-skinned women with curly hair. They are racially ambiguous. They are not people who look like I do. And this is why I'm really big on educating my TikTok audience on Blackness. There are Afro-Latines who are legitimately, like, Black. 
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When I tell people I'm Afro-Latina, they ask me what I'm mixed with. I'm not mixed with anything. My parents are Black, dark-skinned Black people, and we just so happen to come from Honduras, which makes us Latine. But even with more Afro-Latine representation, we’re still not given the representation we deserve. It's annoying and frustrating because it erases us, and this erasure makes it easier for people to claim what is ours. Take Garifuna culture. The Garínagu can be found in five Central America countries, not just Honduras. But now, all of Honduras wants to take ownership over one specific thing of our culture: Punta. This is what I mean when I say they take our stuff and run. 

"Most of the time, when I see people talking about being proud of their African roots, they’re light-skinned women with curly hair. They are racially ambiguous. They are not people who look like I do."

Naya
But they only mine the creative magic that we produce. They don’t want anything else. When I’m back in Honduras, the only time I see Black people is in the Black villages I go to. It's like the U.S., where we are all segregated. There are a lot of non-Black Honduran people that have never seen Black people because we’re in the villages. And we're being killed. In March, three Garifuna leaders were killed. Non-Black Hondurans are trying to kick us out, and we’re defending our lands. I have an uncle who tried to run for political office in Honduras, and he had to flee to the States because they were trying to kill him. 
They don't like us for real, and people don't talk about that. People make it seem like, “Latines, we’re just one big, happy, mixed family.” And we're not. They don't like us. They don't want us there. They don't like Black people. A lot of them are really racist, and it's ingrained in the community, but people don't want to talk about it.
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Dr. Aisha Cort, Cuban-Guyanese-American, Professor & Founder of Vela Negra

When it comes to Blackness, there’s a hierarchy; there always has been. It even exists in the university setting, especially when you talk about modern language departments and the hierarchy of the Spanish language. I’m a lecturer of Spanish at an HBCU, and even in this setting, white Spanish professors believe they’re at the top, looking down at people from Latin America, who themselves look down at Black Caribbean Spanish. Still, I’ve had students come to me and say, “I want to take your class because I want to learn Spanish from a native speaker who looks like me.” I have had to turn down so many students because I can only fit so many students in my classroom. What kills me is that I know they are safe in my Spanish class, but what if they got into this other classroom with the Spaniard or with the white Latine who looks at them and brings their biases into the classroom? Even though it’s an HBCU, they’re already looking at you in a certain way. If you are an Afro-Latine who is not used to speaking Spanish or who heard it at home and your accent is not so great, then you’re getting shut down by someone who doesn’t even have respect for your dialect. It’s complicated and compounded because you must add the language. 

"There’s the hierarchy of skin complexion, the hierarchy of race, and the hierarchy of language."

Dr. Aisha Cort
There’s the hierarchy of skin complexion, the hierarchy of race, and the hierarchy of language and what we think is acceptable Spanish. Even though no one over here can understand what the Spaniards are saying, we still look to them as the standard. I don’t teach certain forms because if you’re over here, you will not understand it. You should recognize it because it’s in literature. But you’re not going to hear that come out my mouth, and you’re not going to hear that if you go down on Georgia Ave. in Washington, D.C. Nobody on our cleaning staff sounds like that, so what are we doing? Why are we making that the standard that’s not even applicable to our lived experience? Instead, you should be learning Dominican-Spanish, Puerto Rican-Spanish, Cuban-Spanish, and Colombian-Spanish. 
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I am often seen as a threat because I know what agendas I want to push forward. We’re at an HBCU. Why are we not talking about Afro-Latine identity and Afro-Latine expression? Why are we talking about the Golden Age in Spain? I taught a class last semester that took me three years to get approved. It was a contemporary Afro-Cuban expression course; it took me four years to get it put on the books and taught. That class was full, packed. When I taught at UCLA for less than a year, the second semester, they let me teach my own class on Afro Latinidades. I’m not saying a PWI (predominantly white institution) is better, but it’s like, if our students are interested, then why isn’t the institution?

Agatha J Brooks, Dominican-Bahamian, Poet and Activist

A white mestizo, someone of mixed European and Indigenous ancestry, is given more opportunities compared to a Black person. This is why you often see a white mestizx, the gender-neutral term, speaking for the Black community — because they are given that space more easily because of their proximity to whiteness. 
If they are a Black mestizx, things change. They are not even seen as a mestizx; they are seen as Black, period. But that doesn’t stop light-skinned Black people from using that language. Depending on how light your skin is as a Black person, people usually say mestizx to look for that whitening, to run away from their Blackness. It is a very complicated situation.

"Depending on how light your skin is as a Black person, people usually say mestizx to look for that whitening, to run away from their Blackness."

Agatha J Brooks
As a Black trans woman, it feels even more complex because I’m often the only one in the activist spaces I occupy. It makes me wonder why. I know that I’m not the only Black trans woman in the Dominican Republic, but I’m the only one that the cis Afro-feminist organizers know and it feels like they don’t want to try to find anyone else. On the other hand, my Black trans friends don’t necessarily want to be in these spaces with me. My education gives me access and comfort that they may not share. I do feel that spaces made by Black cis women are more inclusive than those created by white women for Black trans women, but even so, within these spaces, the focus is often on cis issues. 

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