Pew Report on Race and Ethnicity Describes The Significance of Colorism to Latinx Communities

Afro-Latina dark skin Pew Latina Belatina

The latest survey from the Pew Research Center confirms that Latinos with darker skin tones are more likely than those with lighter skin to encounter discrimination, racial slurs, and wariness or suspicion from others. The data for this survey was collected earlier this year and included thousands of respondents.

This colorism applies within the Latinx community, as well. Leyda Diaz, a Puerto Rican Afro-Latina, shared in a segment of NPR’s “All Things Considered” that her brothers, who have darker skin tones than she does, aren’t immediately recognized as Latino by people who are Latinx; even more, they end up being classified as miscreants because of their skin. “[When] you go to a bodega — ‘Oh, watch that moreno. He might steal.’”

Juliana Horowitz, a co-author of the Pew race report, told the radio, “The idea of colorism is something academics talk about, but it hasn’t really necessarily been part of the more public debate about race and experiences with racial discrimination in the U.S.” Reports like this help to bridge that gap and make dialogue of Latinx colorism possible at the community and national level.

It wasn’t even until 2016 that Pew gave its survey respondents the option of identifying as Afro-Latino. At that time, the survey found that about a quarter of Latinos in the United States described themselves as Afro-Latino, Afro-Caribbean, or as being of African descent with Latin American roots. Racial identity was more fraught, which shouldn’t be too much of a surprise considering the fact that race is a highly subjective social construct. When the survey asked whether its respondents considered themselves to be white, black, or mixed, less than 1 in 5 Afro-Latinos racially identified as black. Even fewer identified as mixed race. Comparatively, nearly 40 percent of Afro-Latinos identified with whiteness.

In response to confusion over how these kinds of reports expect or encourage people to identify, the Census Bureau will be adding the Afro-Latino designation into its 2020 report. “What we hear from the community is that it’s somehow a little bit harder for them to find themselves [in the race question], but it really comes down to self-reporting and to how they want to identify,” Merarys Rios told the Dallas Morning News. Rios is the chief of the Census Bureau’s ethnicity and ancestry branch.

The new pool of data will expand the presence and understanding of a group that has been marginalized and underserved. “If a person were to report Afro-Latino under the Hispanic question, we are now able to have numbers on that population,” said Rios. “So it would potentially be a special tabulation in the future, but having this unique code will help us understand the ways in which Latinos identify in the census.”