The Historical Debt of White Latinos to the Anti-Racist Movement in America

White Latino BELatina Latinx
Photo Credit Logan Weaver/Unsplash

When journalist Omar Jimenez was arrested and handcuffed live in Minneapolis while covering the protests over the death of George Floyd, another layer of endogenous racism became horribly visible.

For Jimenez, the color of his skin was again a more powerful determinant than his profession, his ethnicity, or his right to be a free man.

This profound separation of color is a visible, palpable, and victimizing reality for much of the Latino population, not only in the United States but throughout the world, where Hispanics themselves have embraced white supremacist standards in a historical denial of the colonial tragedy.

“Café con leche”, “marrón,” and other nicknames have emerged as a mechanism to separate white Latinos from their Afro-Caribbean brethren, fueling the racist condition of our society for centuries.

In Latin America, for example, classism is superimposed on the separation of races, in an attempt to distinguish those who have a direct line to the Spanish or Portuguese conqueror.

During the 16th century, and in the midst of the slave-owning glare, “more than ten times the number of enslaved Africans were sent to Latin America than to the United States,” Valentina Cano explains in her analysis of the complexities of Afro-Latinity.

It was then that the germ of the stereotype imposed on the black man as a “beast of burden” emerged, eliminating the condition of humanity of a large part of the population.

Despite the prevalence of the phenomenon of mestizaje between whites, blacks, and Indians, Latinos have always insisted on relegating the community of color to other lower spheres of social organization.

“Given the view of Latinos as mixed and ‘brown,’ the idea that racism was never a problem became the common discourse,” Cano adds.

In the 21st century, this mindset is more present than ever.

In the United States, for example, Hispanics represent the largest demographic minority in the country. But among them, 65 percent identify themselves not only as Latino but also as white, according to Census figures.

In self-representation and introduction into society, Latinos have been obsessed for decades with the pattern of straight hair, light eyes, and flatness, trying to boycott features that would approximate the genetic heritage of the black African.

Meanwhile, the victims of institutionalized racism were adding up to silent numbers.

George Floyd’s death below the knee of a white policeman was the last straw for the evidence of a video that was spread by social networks, but it is only a small sample of what black men and women around the world are going through, day by day.

In the United States, segregation rates are radically different between the “white” Hispanic community and black people. According to Adolfo Cuevas, community psychologist and assistant professor at Tufts University’s Department of Community Health, this is what is known as the Hispanic Paradox.

“Afro-Latinos share similar sociodemographic characteristics with that of non-Hispanic black Americans, including high poverty rates, disproportionately low incomes and highly segregated neighborhoods,” explains Cuevas, highlighting the demographic changes in Dominican and Puerto Rican communities in the country, and asserting the importance of the active participation of “white” Latinos in the fight against inequality.

“We must be self-reflective and take a look at how our actions contribute to these social and health inequities,” he concludes. “We are not independent of the system that created these issues. We all contribute to today’s injustices. We must check our own biases and speak up when we feel certain issues are not being adequately addressed.”

While the civil rights movement saw the merging of forces between movements like the Black Panther Party and United Farm Workers, or the emergence of phenomena like the Brown Berets in Los Angeles, white Hispanics have relegated their privilege to other kinds of struggles, and have long remained silent in the face of American racism.

“Even before I understood the word ‘nig*er,’ I heard ‘negro’ in Spanish. I’m still negro,” Afro-Latinx José Vilson wrote in his column for Medium.” Those of us who call ourselves Afro Latinx don’t do it for the express purpose of getting farther away from what makes us Black. We’re saying that we carried this DNA over generations and over multiple bodies of water and land to arrive in this space. We were Black over ‘there,’ and we’re still Black over ‘here’ in America.”