Quantcast

Her Voice: Latina Is Not The New Black...

Her Voice

With Black History Month coming to an end, I got to thinking more and more about my own blackness and how often it is questioned. Challenged even.


Everything from my being asked overtly offensive questions like, "What makes you think you're Black?" to the subtle ways that popular television often pits "Latinas" and "Black Girls" against one another as if we cannot be one in the same. It's upsetting.

Even now, when we are seeing an increase of Afro-Latinx representation out there, it somehow still confuses and/or surprises folks. So, I'm hoping to clear some of this up, once and for all:

Latina is not the new Black. We've been here… AND… we've been Black!

To better understand this position, there are a few things we should discuss upfront.

First, Latinidad is not a race.

It is an ethnicity, a pan-ethnicity at that. This means that it is an umbrella under which other ethnic groups are lumped together (some of whom don't have much more in common with one another than who their colonizer was… but that's a point I'll come back to later). In the United States, at least for the purpose of Census identification, Latinos can identify as ethnically Latino, but are still required to choose a race. In fact, the U.S. Census website clearly states that, "People who identify their origin as Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish may be of any race."

The racial categories that they offer for choice are as follows: White; Black or African American; American Indian or Alaska Native; Asian; Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander.

So, why choose Black, you ask?

Well, it might help you to understand that I am 38 years of age, born in 1980. So, just think, two years after my birth, the nation dealt with the complicated race questions raised by Susie Guillory Phipps, a self-identified White woman who was told that she was Black because she had 3/32 Negro blood and, well, we know how the U.S. feels about that one-drop rule! In fact, the New York Times article that chronicled the conundrum explained that "the state has traced her geneology back 222 years, to a black slave named Margarita, Mrs. Phipps's great-great-great-great grandmother. The great-great-great-great grandfather was a white planter named John Gregoire Guillory. Louisiana law since 1970 has held that if a person has one thirty-second 'Negro blood,' the person is black. Before 1970, 'a trace' of Negro ancestry made a person black in the eyes of the state."

And, since race tends not to be looked at as state-specific, you can imagine that the same ideology extends across the nation. So, given the mix of European, African, and indigenous blood that makes up Latinos, one might say that the nation chose for me.

Still, if that combined with a picture of my very dark complected Puerto Rican grandmother wasn't enough to give me some clue as to where I came from, I ran my DNA and got the following breakdown: 5% Middle Eastern, 10% Native American, 26% European/Caucasian, 28% Iberian (a descendant of what they once considered Southern Spain and Northern Africa), and 31% African. That means that approximately one-third of my personage is of African descent, far outweighing the Phipps rule.

It's so logically my truth, that I'm almost embarrassed to admit that I didn't always know it.

I mean, let's face it, growing up in NY public schools in the 1980s meant that "people of color" were mentioned almost exclusively in talks of the Civil Rights Movement, MLK, and Jim Crow. There was no mention of Latinos, the African diaspora, or slaughtered indigenous populations. The whole year was largely about European "discoveries" and "Conquistadors," until February came. Then it was Black History, which was basically made synonymous with African American history, with little explanation of who that included, for a short month (with a winter recess in the middle).

Looking back now at pictures of the Jim Crow era, I'm reminded that the signs most often divided the country into "White" and "Colored" or "White" and anyone else. So, I guess it was always pretty clear where we fell. But given how infrequently Latinos were encouraged to embrace their Blackness, I felt almost like I had no right to claim that as my history. So I struggled.

It makes sense when you think of the complicated racial confusion faced by the people of this pan-ethnic group.

Even our description is Eurocentric as illustrated by the creation of the Spanish-influenced "Hispanic" category in the 1970s and now the popular use of the Italian-influenced term "Latino." And, if the verbiage isn't enough to leave you stumped, the category itself encompasses groups from dozens of different countries made up of many different types of people and few scholars can even agree on an exhaustive list of who and where. As previously mentioned, we are united mostly by the fact that we were all, at one time, colonized by Spain. This gives us a common language and the African/Indigenous/Spanish trifecta that has come to define us (though to a differing degree depending on the region).

media1.tenor.com

Isn't that interesting and unique, when you think about it?

Consider Jamaicans and Haitians for a minute. Jamaicans were colonized by the British but we would probably never lump them with the Welsh or the Irish simply because they were all at one time colonies of England, anymore than we would lump Haitians in with French Indonesians, because they once "belonged" to France. Yet, somehow, it made sense for Latinos to be lumped together under the umbrella of who colonized our islands and countries. I'm not complaining about it, but it is certainly curious, don't you think?

Add to that the complexity of my parents, in particular, being from Puerto Rico. PR is a commonwealth, as are Kentucky, Virginia, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania. However, in exchange for a few tax breaks, Puerto Rico was kept from the right to vote for president and is not considered a state but its people are citizens. Okay, I admit that this is a bit of an oversimplification, but you have to admit that this whole thing is also just a bit of a mess. Puerto Ricans are Americans with African ancestry but not African Americans? Right, because we speak Spanish so we are Latinos which somehow makes more sense. Got it (sarcasm).

Now please, don't get me wrong. Just because I know that race and ethnicity are somewhat messy, socially constructed labels do not mean that I don't wear each of mine with pride. I am so very proud of being a Latina in the same way that I am proud to be a woman while fully recognizing that gender is another messy, socially constructed label with many limitations that don't make a lot of sense. I embrace them all because there is a pride that comes from the culture and triumphs of the groups through which we identify. And the hormones and genes that we carry and share and the legacy and unity of strength with which they infuse me.

I just refuse to subscribe to the idea that my claiming my Blackness is somehow synonymous with my denouncing my Latinidad.

I will feel free to celebrate every aspect of me in all of its glory. I am a spiritual and creative manifestation of God, incarnated as a strong, Black Latina, a Nuyorican woman proud of every piece of who she is and what she brings.

*Article originally published on Life Coach Dr. Dee

xoNecole is always looking for new voices and empowering stories to add to our platform. If you have an interesting story or personal essay that you'd love to share, we'd love to hear from you. Contact us at submissons@xonecole.com

We all know what it is to love, be loved, or be in love – or at least we think we do. But what would you say if I were to tell you that so much of the love that you thought you’d been in was actually a little thing called limerence? No, it doesn’t sound as romantic – and it’s not – unless you’re into the whole Obsessed-type of love. But one might say at least one side of that dynamic might be…thrilling.

Keep reading...Show less
The daily empowerment fix you need.
Make things inbox official.

Idris Elba and Sabrina Dhowre Elba are gearing up for the second season of their podcast Coupledom where they interview partners in business and/or romance. The stunning couple has been married for three years but they have been together for a total of six years. During that time, they have developed many partnerships but quickly learned that working together isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be.

Keep reading...Show less

Before she was Amira Unplugged, rapper, singer, and a Becoming a Popstar contestant on MTV, she was Amira Daughtery, a twenty-five year-old Georgian, with aspirations of becoming a lawyer. “I thought my career path was going to lead me to law because that’s the way I thought I would help people,” Amira tells xoNecole. “[But] I always came back to music.”

A music lover since childhood, Amira grew up in an artistic household where passion for music was emphasized. “My dad has always been my huge inspiration for music because he’s a musician himself and is so passionate about the history of music.” Amira’s also dealt with deafness in one ear since she was a toddler, a condition which she says only makes her more “intentional” about the music she makes, to ensure that what she hears inside her head can translate the way she wants it to for audiences.

“The loss of hearing means a person can’t experience music in the conventional way,” she says. “I’ve always responded to bigger, bolder anthemic songs because I can feel them [the vibrations] in my body, and I want to be sure my music does this for deaf/HOH people and everyone.”

A Black woman wearing a black hijab and black and gold dress stands in between two men who are both wearing black pants and colorful jackets and necklaces

Amira Unplugged and other contestants on Becoming a Popstar

Amira Unplugged / MTV

In order to lift people’s spirits at the beginning of the pandemic, Amira began posting videos on TikTok of herself singing and using sign language so her music could reach her deaf fans as well. She was surprised by how quickly she was able to amass a large audience. It was through her videos that she caught the attention of a talent scout for MTV’s new music competition show for rising TikTok singers, Becoming a Popstar. After a three-month process, Amira was one of those picked to be a contestant on the show.

Becoming a Popstar, as Amira describes, is different from other music competition shows we’ve all come to know over the years. “Well, first of all, it’s all original music. There’s not a single cover,” she says. “We have to write these songs in like a day or two and then meet with our producers, meet with our directors. Every week, we are producing a full project for people to vote on and decide if they’d listen to it on the radio.”

To make sure her deaf/HOH audiences can feel her songs, she makes sure to “add more bass, guitar, and violin in unique patterns.” She also incorporates “higher pitch sounds with like chimes, bells, and piccolo,” because, she says, they’re easier to feel. “But it’s less about the kind of instrument and more about how I arrange the pattern of the song. Everything I do is to create an atmosphere, a sensation, to make my music a multi-sensory experience.”

She says that working alongside the judges–pop stars Joe Jonas and Becky G, and choreographer Sean Bankhead – has helped expand her artistry. “Joe was really more about the vocal quality and the timber and Becky was really about the passion of [the song] and being convinced this was something you believed in,” she says. “And what was really great about [our choreographer] Sean is that obviously he’s a choreographer to the stars – Lil Nas X, Normani – but he didn’t only focus on choreo, he focused on stage presence, he focused on the overall message of the song. And I think all those critiques week to week helped us hone in on what we wanted to be saying with our next song.”

As her star rises, it’s been both her Muslim faith and her friends, whom she calls “The Glasses Gang” (“because none of us can see!”), that continue to ground her. “The Muslim and the Muslima community have really gone hard [supporting me] and all these people have come together and I truly appreciate them,” Amira says. “I have just been flooded with DMs and emails and texts from [young muslim kids] people who have just been so inspired,” she says. “People who have said they have never seen anything like this, that I embody a lot of the style that they wanted to see and that the message hit them, which is really the most important thing to me.”

A Black woman wears a long, salmon pink hijab, black outfit and pink boots, smiling down at the camera with her arm outstretched to it.

Amira Unplugged

Amira Unplugged / MTV

Throughout the show’s production, she was able to continue to uphold her faith practices with the help of the crew, such as making sure her food was halal, having time to pray, dressing modestly, and working with female choreographers. “If people can accept this, can learn, and can grow, and bring more people into the fold of this industry, then I’m making a real difference,” she says.

Though she didn’t win the competition, this is only the beginning for Amira. Whether it’s on Becoming a Popstar or her videos online, Amira has made it clear she has no plans on going anywhere but up. “I’m so excited that I’ve gotten this opportunity because this is really, truly what I think I’m meant to do.”

Today is Malcolm X’s birthday. As an icon of Black liberation movements, his words are often rallying cries and guideposts in struggle. In 2020, after the officers who executed Breonna Taylor were not charged with her murder, my timeline was flooded with people reposting Malcolm’s famous quote: “The most disrespected person in America is the Black woman. The most unprotected person in America is the Black woman. The most neglected person in America is the Black woman.”

Keep reading...Show less

As her fame continues to rise, Tiffany Haddish has remained a positive light for her fans with her infectious smile and relatable story. Since Girls Trip, fans have witnessed the comedian become a modern-day Cinderella due to the many opportunities that have come her way and the recognition she began to receive.

Keep reading...Show less
Exclusive Interviews

Exclusive: Jay Ellis Shares ‘Full-Circle’ Moment With His Parents & His Self-Care Ritual

Staying grounded is one of the actor's biggest priorities.

Latest Posts