Being black is dope but navigating blackness can be difficult. Colorism and anti-blackness are alive and well in 2017 and a recent article on Sammy Sosa gave me pause. It’s no secret that Sosa has been bleaching his skin. He spoke about it on Primer Impacto – a Spanish-language news magazine television show on Univision in 2009.
His photo resurfaced and heads went in. Previously, I was guilty of laughing at the ridiculousness of his new skin color. This time- the images saddened me. I’ve been in a pensive mood lately. The crux of the matter is that colorism was birthed from white supremacy. As black diasporans, we have all been affected by it in some way. However, colorism is inherently different depending on from which country we originate.
In contrast, Princess Ariana Austin (Makonnen), a sister from DC, married Prince Joel Makonnen of Ethiopia. He is the great-grandson of Haile Selassie. That’s a big fucking deal but there was virtually no online mention let alone any social media fanfare about the fairytale nuptials.
We will give a number of excuses of why Cardi and Meghan deserve our best wishes but will fail to be honest about Princess Ariana’s and Banks’ exclusion from the black joy party here in these United States of America.
But that’s what colorism looks like here.
*Note: I use the terms “regular black” and “exotic black” to establish an aesthetic for blackness which we know already exists*
In the 7th grade, a group of her classmates or “friends” were taking photos and when she tried to join in, she was told that this was a “darkie only” picture. Her peers excluded her because she didn’t pass their complexion test. Needless to say, she was pissed and understandably so. She hadn’t ever experienced this in any other place.
And as her mother, I couldn’t relate. Among U.S. blacks, I fall smack dab in the middle. I’m literally on the bottom rung of light-skinned and at the top rung of brown on down. Hell, even my dark-skinned sister has not been affected by colorism here because she has long hair, a fine nose and slanted eyes. All I could do was expound on the effects of white supremacy in this country. Oh- and I told her to find new “friends”. I’m not about to tolerate other folks’ chirren mistreating mine. Sounds shitty but it is what it is.
Colorism among black diasporans outside of North America looks completely different.
Unlike the US, where black people and our various complexions are still seen and heard; there is a complete erasure of blackness primarily in Spanish-speaking Caribbean countries and Latin America and each country has its own color caste system. Countries like Cuba, Colombia, Dominican Republic and Brazil ,which has THE highest population of black folks in this hemisphere, house the largest number of Africans brought here for slave labor. Yet in almost every outlet la gente negra is nowhere to be found. Although these cultures are steeped in blackness in almost every aspect including music, language, religion and food, you will rarely see a black face in the spotlight.
Considering Brazil was the last country in the “New World” to end slavery in 1888 and Puerto Rico had its first black person hit the island in 1509, you’d think these ignorant fucks would stop acting brand new when they see black folks speak Spanish or Portuguese.
Even the faces and voices of the “black struggle” among us are “black lite”. Latinos who have half a black great-grandparent and maybe a slight curl can co-opt blackness and be “afrolatino” and these payasos will eat it up. It’s the reason why “Latina Magazine” features Rosario Dawson and Mariah Carey as afrolatinas.
And these same latinas will be the most racist and anti-black ass people walking.
Based on representation in the media and entertainment, people would think that black people didn’t exist. And in the minds of the whites in these countries- we don’t. It has caused a generational, deep seated self-hatred among black citizens in these places. It’s why many of us marry white to “mejorar la raza” or to better/ improve the race. Blackness- PERIOD is not desirable.
I consider myself reasonably attractive in any place. Where as heads may flip for me in the States, I’m not the boogie this way. Literally, if there was an average white, dumpy rubia (blonde) and me on a dating show, I would not be selected. Not only would I not be selected but my negrura (blackness) would be watered down as fuck. I’m not a passable negra. I have very defined African features. Even with that said, I am a “trigueña” in Cuba and an “india oscura” in DR. Triguena is an olive-skinned person usually of indigenous descent. India oscura is a dark indigenous person. Clearly, I’m neither.
SOY NEGRA. I’m black. In fact, I don’t have ANY indigenous blood at all. Not even a little bit. So the whole myth about all of us being a perfect trifecta of African, European, and Indigenous ancestry is complete bullshit.
Even when I refer to myself as “negra”, I am told that I’m not that dark. It’s anti-black as hell. Even prietos (super dark-skinned black folks) will cop to being “indios”.
My daughter is a light-skinned black girl in the States. In Cuba, she’s considered a mulata. A mulata has one black parent and one white parent. Both of her parents are BLACK and she has 3 black grandparents and a mixed abuelo por el lado de su papi.
In DR, mi negrita is called “jabaita” which means light with “pelo malo” and African features. Still not black though. It’s as if it’s a mystery from where her nappy hair and full lips came. And if you put her up against that same dumpy, white rubia, she will be sola. Because God forbid your children have any remnants of Africa in them.
This brings me back to Sammy Sosa. Now imagine a handsome, black Dominican man of Haitian-descent hating everything that made him dope. Think of the number of years he must have endured such cruel hatred and anti-black critiques. He married a white Dominican woman hoping to lighten up his children and they are still very much black. Sammy is even risking cancer to erase any trace of blackness he ever had. He doesn’t deserve to be dragged or ridiculed. He’s gotten that most of his life.
You see blackness is only a social construct when you are on the favorable end of the oppression or privilege. And in order to fight colorism and anti-blackness, we should know what we are up against on ALL sides. We need to become better at being more cognizant of the reasons why we are here in the first place- white supremacy. Keeping that in forefront of our minds will ensure that we won’t laugh at our brother’s self-hatred and we’ll be accountable for contributing further to the devastating effects of colonization and anti-blackness in our collective and separate communities.