Latin Prejudice

Latin Prejudice

By
José-Andrés Alegría

Why is it that as a nation, we see such visceral anger? As Latinos, we need to take a hard look at our community and stand alongside those oppressed. Yes, we are minorities in this country, and we have a history of being mistreated. We are a hurting community like many others, but sadly we are also part of the problem.

We share some history with our oppressed friends. Some scars are the same, but we’ve had an avenue of survival. We assimilated into the culture of those who colonized us. We learned to speak like them, act like them, and dress like them because, for the most part, we looked like them. Some of us could pass as one of them. But the Black community never had such a chance.

Our shared history is a part of our identities. We have learned and have had prejudice, racism, and colorism hardwired into generations of our community. Think about it. Grandparents talk about how marrying a white person is winning the lottery, and how marrying a black person is villainized. In a society where the Latino and Black communities have more in common than differences, some still draw lines of separation.

That’s the definition of privilege. We can choose to stand alongside our Black brothers and sisters, or we can choose to watch this all happen from the comfort of hiding behind our cellphones. We have a choice; they do not. Aside from that choice, we, as a community, need to face the racism we spew in the form of “jokes” and warnings about the black community. So let’s take a moment to do just that.

I have been wracking my brain for two weeks, trying to find a good enough story about racism in the Latin community, but I haven’t been able to find one that I thought was good enough or one that highlights the point I am trying to make. I know that sounds crazy, but I didn’t want to give an example of undeniable racism.

It’s easy to point out how we can be the targets of prejudice like when my Aunt, who works at a predominantly white school, was assumed to be the cleaning lady and not the music teacher and received little to no respect. It had gotten so bad that not only did all of the staff have to get diversity training, but so did the parents of the students at the school.

Instead, I wanted to show the subtle aspects of Latin culture that are inherently racist and never questioned without a second thought. For example, one of my cousins in the Dominican Republic didn’t get a job at a bank where she had applied. The reason? Her hair was too curly, and her skin was too dark for the employer’s taste. She could have gotten the job – with a caveat. All she had to do was straighten her hair and keep it that way. You might think to yourself, “Why wouldn’t she do it? It’s a job, after all.” But that’s the thing; she didn’t get the job not because she wasn’t qualified, but because, in the Latin community’s eyes, she was a little too black looking. It’s a mindset that we need to look at, dissect, and change.

“Mejorar (Arreglar) la Raza” is a commonplace phrase used in the Latin community. The implication is that we should marry white people to “improve the race” so that future generations are more white. Or how some Latinos call Afro-textured hair “pelo malo” because straight hair is more desirable.

My mom has always talked about the beauty standard that Dominicans measure themselves against; lighter skin gets praised, and darker skin shamed. Hair needs to be straight and silky. Facial features like having light eyes or a thin nose are a sought after beauty that many Latinos dream of having.

Look at Sammy Sosa and him openly admitting to bleaching his skin. A brown Dominican who is one of the best sluggers ever to play baseball and even he has some of these notions that looking more white is better, whether he will admit to it or not.

So why is the black community so angry? Why are people making such a big deal about police brutality and the fatal shootings that have come along with it? Because of injustice.

A Black male is 2.5 times more likely to get shot by a cop during an encounter than a white male. The Black population only makes up about 14% of the general population, but they make up 37% of the male prison system. Or maybe it’s because low-income areas are still feeling the effects of Redlining.

You decide, but know that we can talk about one issue without disparaging another. That is what Black Lives Matter is trying to do. It’s drawing attention to a problem. All lives do matter, but no lives matter until Black lives matter.

There are plenty of things wrong with the world. Can we get mad at a community with a history of oppression that is trying to change some of the bad in this world? Instead of thinking ill of the Black community, we need to step up and help them in their time of outcry and frustration because if those of us who can understand some of their pain won’t, then who will?

We are a part of the problem. There are Latino racists, and until we address that, we will not have real change. There is no pass for racism, even if you are a minority.

We need to do the same reflection that we are asking white people to do; they aren’t the only ones with a history of racism.

Let’s call out the hurtful words of some of our relatives. Change starts with accountability. Whether that accountability is calling out a family member for an ignorant statement or educating yourself so you can be a better ally when the time comes.

Let’s look inward.

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