Six Million U.S. Latinos Identify as Afro-Latinos, Say They Have Experienced Racism in Their Own Community

Afro-Latinos in the US BELatina Latinx
Photo courtesy of BELatina.

It is no secret that structural and systemic racism in the United States is deeply rooted in colonial history. Skin color, as well as hair and other physical traits, have been determinants used by oppressors to perpetuate inequalities — and unfortunately, these inequalities also persist within our communities.

Having darker skin and being born outside the United States is associated with a greater likelihood of experiencing this type of discrimination, according to a March 2021 Pew Research Center survey. At the same time, Latinos say they are just as likely to experience discrimination or unfair treatment by non-Latinos as by other Latinos, regardless of skin color or country of birth.

Latinos experience discrimination in different ways. In 2021, 23 percent of Spanish-speaking Latinos said they had been criticized for speaking Spanish in public, and 20 percent of all Latinos said they had been called offensive names in the past 12 months. Sometimes Latinos themselves discriminate against other Latinos or make racially insensitive comments or jokes about other Latinos.

According to new Pew figures, about four-in-ten darker-skinned Latinos (41 percent) say they have experienced discrimination or unfair treatment by another Latino. In comparison, 25 percent of those with lighter skin color say the same.

Similarly, the research center found that country of origin is also related to the experience of racism.

Latinos born in Puerto Rico or another country are more likely than those born in the 50 U.S. states or the District of Columbia to say they have experienced discrimination or unfair treatment by someone who is also Latino (32 percent vs. 23 percent).

When we talk about the fact that Latino identity is not a monolith, we are also talking about the diversity of experiences and experiences that each Latino has according to the intersection of their origin, language, location, and even skin color.

This awareness is reflected in another Pew Research Center survey conducted between November 2019 and June 2020, which found that nearly 6 million U.S. adults identify as Afro-Latino.

This population represents about 2 percent of the U.S. adult population and 12 percent of the adult Latino population. Similarly, according to Pew, approximately one in seven Afro-Latinos – or 800,000 adults – do not identify as Hispanic.

According to recent estimates by Princeton University’s Project on Ethnicity and Race in Latin America (PERLA), these multiple dimensions of Latino identity reflect colonial history, during which there was intermingling between Native Americans, white Europeans, Asians, and enslaved people from Africa.

“In Latin America’s colonial period, about 15 times as many African slaves were taken to Spanish and Portuguese colonies than to the U.S.,” the Pew Research Center quoted. “About 130 million people of African descent live in Latin America, and they make up roughly a quarter of the region’s total population.”

However, one of the worst legacies of the Colony may be the Latino’s reluctance to embrace their Afro roots.

According to the study, for the most part, the percentages of Afro-Latinos who identify as Hispanic or Latino and other Latinos are similar and say they have experienced at least one incident of discrimination. About six-in-ten Afro-Latinos (61 percent) say they have personally experienced at least one of the eight incidents of discrimination asked about in the March 2021 survey of Latino adults, while 54 percent of Latinos who do not identify as Afro-Latino say the same.

More Afro-Latinos than other Latinos say they have been stopped unfairly by police in the year prior to the survey (22 percent vs. 8 percent). Similarly, about three in ten Afro-Latinos say they have been criticized for speaking Spanish in public, compared with about two in ten Latinos who do not identify as Afro-Latino.

Aside from discrimination, Afro-Latinos are also more likely than other Latinos to have had conversations with family while growing up about potential challenges they might face because of their race or ethnicity. About four in ten Afro-Latinos say their family talked to them about this when they were growing up often (12 percent) or sometimes (27 percent). Meanwhile, about a quarter of Latinos who do not identify as Afro-Latino say they talked about this issue with their families often (7 percent) or sometimes (18 percent).