“Las Vidas de la Gente Negra Importan,” The Lives of Black People Matter, as it translates, is a common phrase that has been trending since the uprising of #BlackLivesMatter after the brutal murders of Ahmad Arbury, George Floyd, and Breonna Taylor. However, the Vidas Negra (Black Lives) is controversial in Latin America and the American Latinx community. For many, disassociating themselves from the movement because they are not black is undeniably an erasure of Latin American history.
Our history is intermingled with perseverance, resiliency, and independence from colonialism and imperialism. Within this Hispanic Heritage Month, from September 15th to October 15th, we celebrate our roots, culture, contributions of Hispanic Americans, and our identity including, our brothers and sisters, despite the skin tone. This is a time we can recognize our diverse culture, stand in solidarity, and speak up against racism and discrimination.
Although many are victims of anti-blackness and self-hate, the racial divide further hinders the unity within the Latinx community and our ability to apply pressure for justice reform. Central Americans crossing the Mexican-U.S. border is no different from Haitians fleeing a natural disaster, poverty, and political instability, seeking refuge in the U.S. However, seeking refuge is a complex system. These systems are rooted in racism and make it harder for Latinx and other people of color to seek quality education, employment, food security, housing, and healthcare, also known as a deprivation of our human rights.
Although there are other citizens from several Hispanic countries in migrant camps including Dominicans, Venezuelans, and Cubans, Haitians are also Latinx. Despite the different languages, we share a brutal history of oppression. Hispanics and Latinx are often interchangeable, yet Hispanic refers to people who speak Spanish, meanwhile, Latinx refers to people who are descended from Latin America including the Caribbean and non-Spanish speaking countries, like Haiti for example. What is the best way to seek justice reform? How stable can a political system be if citizens are marginalized and discriminated against in all public and private sectors of society?
What is the system of oppression? According to Iris Marion Young, a political scientist and social feminist, there are five phases of oppression: exploitation, marginalization, powerlessness, cultural imperialism, and violence. Marginalization is oppression that often occurs when individuals are not represented in the public domain. Minority groups are not represented and cared for by those in power and are often neglected. Oppression raises the issues of injustice; for minority groups, it is not exclusive. Black and LatinX alike are consequently exempt from participation in social life.
We see this rise in Brazil, with the largest Afro-descendants in South America; they consider themselves Latinx but not Hispanic since Brazilians speak Portuguese and not Spanish. Afro-Brazilian’s black activists have strategically highlighted their commitment to environmental conservation, combined with cultural and political activism, to empower black activist to retaliate against racist political agendas and in support of #BlackLivesMatter.
Furthermore, colorism is discrimination based on skin color. It privileges lighter-skinned people while disempowering darker-skinned people. Ultimately, being of Latin origin already includes European, Indigenous, and African ancestry. Thus, the term Afro-Latino has been popular over recent decades to empower further African ancestry, especially the Hispanics of the Caribbean like Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Dominican Republic, and those not from the Caribbean like Afro-Mexicans, Colombians, and the West Indies in South America.
As identity is ingrained in society and pop culture, we identify ourselves by our location, heritage, fashion style, and lifestyle. However, concerning is the racial identity, 1 in 4 U.S. Latinos identify as Afro-Latino, according to a 2014 Pew Research Center survey. While the United States tends to place Latinx as a Brown racial mass, Latinx is an ethnicity. There are common misconceptions about the Latinx identity, as those with roots in Latin America and the Caribbean can belong to any race. Although being Black and African American depends on the culture, black is often equated with African American. Therefore, many U.S. Latinx do not classify themselves as black.
Nevertheless, having also experienced the anti-blackness within my community and family, being a Dominican woman has given me the privilege to see things from different perspectives. Growing up watching the Eurocentric news hosts and actors/actresses on Univision sent a message ingrained in us to look more like our colonizers for approval then accept the neighbors that resemble us. For example, in the Dominican Republic, we often separate ourselves from Haitians and calling ourselves Dominican when asked if we are black. Our identity is tied to our culture and not our ancestry. By accepting the hard fact that this is what the truth is, instead of repainting an image, what is needed is accepting our identity.
When supporting the #BlackLivesMatter movement and standing against racism and inequality, uplifting the most disenfranchised and marginalized population also uplifts other minority communities. Black resistance would excel if more of a realization of the Black ancestry from Latinx and the systemic racial disparities. That is how power dynamics work. The power of reclamation propels one to empower their existence, leading to their race, culture, and identity.
With Afro-Latinos reclaiming their identity in the U.S., it has also led to Latin American movements that challenge the elites’ social and political power. Under such conditions, blacks and Latinx perceive a presence of oppression and discrimination and will probably view the other as confronting tantamount exploitation. One can imagine that pushing to reform the justice system’s discrimination would require a multicultural coalition of African Americans and Latinx. One where Latinx accept that their future is also at stake because of Vidas Negras matter especially within this Hispanic Heritage Month.
About the author:
Jila Matos received her Master’s degree relating to international law, negotiation, and conflict management. She has honed her studies and work on feminist approaches across foreign policy, peace and security, humanitarian aid, and development assistance as there are economic disparities amongst genders. Jila is passionate about ensuring individuals have the freedom to access their rights against inequality and how global events affect foreign policy.