Navigating Anti-Blackness and Perceptions of Beauty as an Afrolatina

by Sharlia LeBreton-Gulley “So… You KNOW you’re Latina, right?” That was a legitimate assertion ...

by Sharlia LeBreton-Gulley

“So… You KNOW you’re Latina, right?”

That was a legitimate assertion once made to me by a proud Latino brother while I stood behind the counter at the Vitamin Shoppe in Pasadena California bagging his protein, testosterone booster and multivitamins.

“Actually, I’m African.”

My mom suggested me a few years ago that when prompted, I should respond that I am definitively “African” to inquisitions of my racial, cultural and/or ethnic background. Typically most people don’t even understand the difference between the three “distinctions,” so this wouldn’t be a problem if I began simply responding “African,” when asked my background, right? What I found though, was that most people simply could not accept that by me claiming an African identity , that I could look the way I do. I’ve gotten everything from, “But you’re so pretty,” to “ No, your grandparents or somebody must be mixed or something.”  One of my sisters once told me her response to these intrusive questions was to reply that she is mixed, “[w]ith slavery and oppression.”

Blackness is ubiquitously positioned to be the consistent antithesis of all that is good and valuable as it relates to beauty, intelligence and other characteristics of prestige or merit. With an indoctrinated ideology of anti-blackness, it is almost impossible for people to accept black as being beautiful in and of itself and so people dig to justify black beauty with a connection to any racial or ethnic “other.” We are taught and encouraged to disassociate from blackness.

With over 180 million people of African descent living throughout the America’s, it is crucial to honor the unique experiences of the African peoples and their places of geographic displacement caused by the period of enslavement and colonization which by and large has helped to create the Latino/a identity. We are all well aware of the atrocities of these periods of history; the raping, mutilations, separation, religious perversions and the like, but for my original point, let’s just reexamine something to make it very palpable.

“I would never claim my rapist.”

This was a sentiment expressed in a lecture by Rosa Clemente (2008 Green Party Presidential candidate, Community organizer, Hip-Hop activist and Independent journalist) in a talk on the ”AfroLatina Identity and Critical Approaches to Blackness.”

Enslaved African and indigenous women were exploited for their reproductive potential for centuries, giving rise to the various “mulatto/a, morienho, mestizo” etc, variations of African descending children. These children, though (sometimes) ethnically categorized into a different race or ethnicity, than their mothers would typically still be in the same social position as their black mothers with some social privileges. Why then are we in such a hurry to turn our backs on our mothers, both literally and in the sense of Mother Africa, in an attempt to yet again reach and aspire to “whiteness?”

“Black is beautiful,” but what is “black” and whose standard of “beautiful” are we using? The approach to blackness and concepts of beauty need to be critically analyzed and re-imagined further than a simplistic assertion. We need to look deeply into the identification and lack of identification with blackness and beauty especially within our Diaspora and our AfroLatino/a global community.

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