I'm Not Black. Why Do You Care?

5 years ago

Racial identity is a personal issue that is currently hot topic within the Latino and African-American (Black, depends on with whom one is speaking and how he or she chooses to identify) communities. PBS aired a popular documentary called "Black in Latin America" which explores the "influence of African descent on Latin America". There is tension among Latinos and African-Americans. Some say Latinos deny their roots and true heritage when they deny being Black and choose to classify themselves as Latino instead. 

My parents were born in the Dominican Republic and my mother is half Chinese. I identify as Latina and Asian.  This isn't an intentional slight to the African-American community. I promise. I am a first generation American whose first language is Spanish. I am the daughter of immigrants. My cuisine, traditions, and language are Dominican. I identify with the Dominican community. Why would I call myself Black?


Image Credit: gadl via Flickr


I make a conscious effort to stay well informed and am aware of the slave trade history on the island of Hispaniola. I know why my skin is brown and why my hair is curly. I am fully aware that some of my ancestors were African. I also have some that were from Spain. I do not understand why I am expected to identify with people I have never met and whose culture I am not a part of in an effort to not offend. It doesn't work that way.

Racists have called me Black in feeble attempts to hurt me. When I corrected a bigot on Twitter recently a friend of mine assumed that by correcting the woman by stating my true ethnicity I was implying that there is something wrong with being Black or being perceived as Black. There isn't. My point was if you're going to spout racial epithets at me at least choose the right ones. They're all equally offensive but I'm fiercely Latina and don't let anyone forget it. Not even a random Twitter racist. 

The Latino experience is very different from the African-American one. There is obviously an overlap and we share similarities but it is not the same. My half Black husband had racial identity issues of his own as the son of a single white mother growing up in rural New York but he wasn't placed in a class for developmentally disabled (I wasn't) children because he couldn't speak English and he has never been spat at and told to go back to Puerto Rico (I've never been but that random racist made it sound like a great idea). Our experiences are  polar opposites. 

I wish people would stop imposing their racial identity on me based on the genetic makeup of my ancestors. Our identities are more than color and country of origin. I understand there are technical definitions and I do check the correct boxes on my taxes and such. but there are plenty of African-Americans that do not consider Latinos as one of their own. My mother's experiences as a Latina growing up in the 70s in predominately Black Boston, Massachusetts are difficult to hear. She was viewed as an outsider and an enemy and was most certainly not welcome among her Black classmates.

Girls tried to cut off her hair and constantly picked fights with her. Imagine the unfriendly reception she would have received when she suddenly declared herself Black. She certainly did not belong however it goes both ways. The Latino community itself has some shameful racial identity issues. Ever watch Telemundo? You'll see nothing but light-skinned faces. The darker skinned Latinos are relegated to the violent, poor, and demeaning roles. It is disgusting and another issue all together.

No one is perfect but I often hear African-American women lauding women like Zoe Saldana and LaLa Vasquez for publicly identifying with their Black heritage. Um, obviously. They are business women and entertainers. Which market is larger in America? The Black or Hispanic market alone or both together? It is common sense for these women to appeal the widest audiences possible. They have products to sell and millions at stake. Please stop offering them up as some sort of  shining example of perfect racial identity. Maybe they do choose to identify as Black because of their personal experiences but it doesn't mean all Latinas should.

I am an educated woman and well aware of the history of the Dominican Republic. African-American blood runs through my veins (and those of my husband and children) and I do not find it shameful in any form. My racial identity is formed by my personal experiences, traditions, familial bonds, and the birth place of my parents.

I am not Black, I am Latina. I am a Dominican American and I do not intend to offend you by proudly stating so.

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