The Afro-Latino Story of Latino Anti-Blackness
How Latino racial attitudes facilitate the erasure of Afro-Latinos.
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“Even before I understood the word ‘nigger,’ I heard ‘negro’ in Spanish.” Those are the words of Afro-Latino educator José Luis Vilson, in a July 2017 Medium.Com essay he wrote entitled, “My Skin is Black, My Name is Latino. That Shouldn’t Surprise You.” The existence of Afro-Latinos and the discrimination they face in the United States can be mystifying for many people. This is in part because U.S. Blackness is primarily conceived of as embodied solely by English-speaking African Americans. In turn, anti-Blackness is popularly understood as a uniquely U.S. phenomenon affecting those English-speaking African Americans (with occasional recognition of the racialized struggles of Africans and others in the African diaspora).
However, the societal befuddlement about who Afro-Latinos are does not change the fact that Latino life circumstances are influenced not only by the social meaning of being of Hispanic ethnic origin but, in addition, by how facial connections to Africa racialize a Latino as also Black. “Afro-Latino” may be a contested term for some, but it hits upon an important aspect of Latino racialized realities. Studies suggest that the constrained socioeconomic status of Afro-Latinos in the United States is more akin to that of African Americans than to other Latinos or White Americans. Latinos who identify themselves as "Black" have lower incomes, higher unemployment rates, higher rates of poverty, less education, fewer opportunities and are more likely to reside in segregated neighborhoods than those who identify themselves as "White" or "other."
In addition, despite the fact that Afro-Latino health behaviors are similar to the Latino ethnic groups they pertain to culturally, Afro-Latino health outcomes in high blood pressure, and meager access to health insurance and health service,s are racially distinctive and more in line with the racially disparate health outcomes of African Americans. Nevertheless, despite the mounting evidence that there are distinct social outcomes for Afro-Latinos, their unequal treatment is invisible in our public discourse.
Latino racial attitudes facilitate the erasure of Afro-Latinos. Under the homogenizing banner of “we Latinos are a syncretic racially mixed single people” known as “mestizaje” (racial mixture celebration), this attitude imagines Latinos as a mixed-race population without “true” Black people and in turn without anti-Black racism. However, this mythological tale of Latino racial tolerance gets disrupted when we listen to the narratives of Afro-Latinos who have been the victims of Latino discrimination.
My own research is uncovering stories of Afro-Latino school children being harassed in school by Latino classmates denigrating their dark skin color, along with their African features and hair, to such an extent that their access to education is impaired. Stories of harm also emanate from unfair treatment in the workplace at the hands of Latino supervisors who privilege their fair-skinned Latino employees, and from Latino property owners who exclude Afro-Latino renters and home purchasers. Even places of recreation have been experienced as sites of exclusion for Afro-Latinos barred entry to restaurants and clubs.
In short, discrimination stories help to illuminate the contours of Latino anti-Blackness because it is the public space dedicated to exposing and naming the harms of racism. Given the state of denial and confusion about the existence of Latino anti-Black bias and Afro-Latinos amidst demonstrable harms to Black bodies caused by Latinos, it is more important than ever to take notice of Afro-Latino voices.