Take Cardi B's name out your can't-tell race-from-culture mouth
*I will be speaking in general terms throughout this article, so please no 'not all' comments
Author's Note: This post is for persons who have an intermediate understanding of critical race and gender 101.
One of the few things in the world that irritate me is the white washing of Latin American and Caribbean history, the other is people who don't understand that race != nationality != ethnicity != religion.
There has been a lot of furor online over whether or not Cardi B is Black. Cardi has parents from Trinidad and Tobago, and the Dominican Republic, so her parents' cultures are West Indian and Lati-Caribbean. She identifies as being a person from both West Indian and Lati-Caribbean cultures who grew up in the Bronx.
Quite often the perception of persons of the Caribbean islands is that we are united by race, but for people from the Caribbean islands, we see ourselves as being united by a common culture first and not by race or ethnicity.
Cardi B self-identifies as Black, and she's also very obviously an Afro-descendant person. Quite a lot of the persons who seek to deny her, her blackness do so by saying she's Latin. So non-English speaking Black people stop being Black? You're telling me that if someone who looked like Tracee Ellis Ross spoke Spanish she'd stop being Black and start being 'Spanish'? I am confusion, America.
To say she can't be Black because one of her parents is from a Latinx culture is to erase the existence of millions of Afro-descendant persons in Latin America and the Caribbean, and to further white-wash Latinx identity.
Furthermore, why are you identifying her by Lantinx culture and not West Indian? Is it because she's a light-skin black girl? She speaks both English creole and Spanish, there is no reason to deny her either one. I've heard her rap, sing and speak English creole far more than I've heard her speak Spanish, so what gives? She's proud of both, she is both as well as American. Yo dun kno, let that girl be #BlackGirlMagic on her own terms, Ya tu sabes!
In case anyone is wondering why we discuss Blackness differently, I shall do my best to summarise and generalise about 400 years of history.
1. Who is Black?
Within my experience persons from the USA do a lot of things differently; they drive on the wrong side of the road, don't use the metric system, use the one drop rule for Black people and take away vowels in their spelling only to over emphasize the pronunciation of vowels. It's fairly easy to google conversion metrics in order to help Americans figure out what the rest of the world is talking about when it comes to temperature, distance, weight, why not to elect a Nazi but discussing race and ethnicity is a bit harder. I'll do my very best to simplify a complicated topic, and hope that the world can be a better, less personally irritating place.
Historically, blackness in the USA was defined by the one drop rule i.e. once you have a drop of African blood you are Black. boom,done.
Overwhelmingly racial miscegenation was pushed in Latin America and the Caribbean, but mainly towards non-white groups to mix with white persons. The reason behind this was to dilute/whiten the population of these countries (you can look up the massive 'immigration' of Portuguese, Germans, etc).
There are many ways to describe being mixed according to the combination of African, European, Indigenous and Asian ancestry. SO many definitions, so much to keep track of. It's almost as if it's a science, what's that called again, eugenics? If you were mixed, you then fell into a new category, which I will be referring to as a social race. What these social races are named vary within Latin America and the Caribbean according to the country. (I will be using the term 'social race' to differentiate from what we generally understand to be race.)
The main difference is in the USA if there is a person with one white and one black parent, their social race is black. In Latin America and the Caribbean, that person's social race becomes 'mixed' (varying cultures use different words e.g. mestizo), fitting neither into the social race of white nor black. This person is Afro-descendant in both regions despite having a different social race. I will be using the term Afro-descendant to define all persons of African ancestry in both the USA and Latin America and the Caribbean. (Sorry Canada)
Particularly, in the Caribbean and Brazil, social race is used to identify physical characteristics and do not necessarily indicate socio-economic class. However, your social race can be softened/modified by your socio-economic class. If you're black and have enough money, you're still black but maybe some people will call you brown, to be nice. Eurgh
Even though the definition of social race differs between both regions, there is a marked similarity with the effect of racism and colourism on both societies. There is no point in persons from the USA saying that racial miscegenation will 'fix' racism, it doesn't, look at Latin America and the Caribbean for proof.
In my opinion, we in Latin America and the Caribbean have to discuss that it was racism that influenced miscegenation practices and unravel the impact it has on our society today. The major problem here is there is an 'invisibility' to Black issues, despite having a majority Afro-descendant population. That however is a longer discussion for another day.
2. Being white
On the other hand, it is remarkably easy to define whiteness as it does not change between the two regions.
White people in Latin America and the Caribbean do NOT let you (non-white persons) forget for a second that they are of European descent.
It always comes as a shock to me when American media starts describing the same people that bragged about coming from an unbroken line off the Nina, the Pinta and the Santa Maria as being 'exotic' and 'spicy'. They're not 'exotic' USA, they just have black hair. Is the word you're looking for Iberian?
I'm mainly irritated because it's a conflation of race and culture. The majority of the enslaved persons to the new world went to Latin America and the Caribbean. What we think of as 'Latin culture' is often conflated with Afro-Latinx culture e.g. the Salsa, the Tango, etc were all developed in the slave quarters in Latin America and the Caribbean. It really had nothing to do with the Spanish slave-owners and everything to do with the enslaved and oppressed populations. It really bothers me to see the great-grandchildren of the slave owners parade in the culture of those they tried to kill and act as though that culture is what makes them special. While simultaneously continuing in oppressing the great-grandchildren of the enslaved and oppressed people.
3. Defining post-colonial identity in L.A. and the Caribbean
I'm about to summarize a whole continent's history into about three paragraphs and I would highly recommend reading Born in Blood and Fire by John Charles Chasteen to get a better understanding of the socio-political history in the region.
Basically, after the European crowns left Latin America there was a bit of a political vacuum . No-one wanted re-colonisation, so Nationalism became the political rallying cry for those who aspired to leadership. Place of birth became a very important cornerstone, and it was important to foster a national identity that everyone (especially the majority non-white groups) could rally behind. What's the difference between a white 'us' and a white 'them' if it's generations of the same people separated only by place of birth? Enter, Transculturation, the creation of a new Latin American culture in order for post-colonial identity. The folk dances of the mestizos, the indigenous and enslaved Africans previously seen as inappropriate for anyone were put on national stages to drum up feelings of national spirit and solidarity.
However there was still the fact that the white minority in Latin America enjoyed cultural hegemony and held power, even in post colonial Latin America, civilisation meant Europe.
The USA signed the Monroe Doctrine in 1823 (it asked that Europeans not increase their influence or recolonize any part of the Western Hemisphere). England and France didn't care, because the USA could not compete culturally with Europe, and the British Navy was still a formidable power. There was trade, some harassment of Latin American and the Caribbean via 'gunboat diplomacy' by England, France and the US.
1836-1848 however the US waged war against Mexico and took over Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, Colorado and Utah.
1880-1930: The Neo-colonial period of Latin America, also a period of an export boom. The bulk of the wealth of the 'gente decente'* / 'decent people' came from trade to the US or European markets. Their social pretensions came from their European complexions, and their familiarity with Europe be it through education or travel.
Skipping past the cold war and other internal wars in South and Central America, the hegemony of European culture remains in tact, but due to nationalism there is more recognition in the public sphere of Indigenous and African heritage.
In my personal opinion, it's more of an exploitation of African and Indigenous heritage by the white ruling class to maintain a facade of national identity.
4. Historical view of how the US views Latin America and the Caribbean:
A combination of racist ideas as to the racial inferiority of indigenous, mestizo and black Latin Americans with Protestant prejudices against Catholic Spain helped shape much of how the U.S. viewed Latin America.
The victory in the war against indigenous and Mexican claims to western North America was seen by many as preordained by racial and cultural superiority. In the U.S., visions of a 'Manifest Destiny' into Latin America had been in the imagination of some people for generations. The U.S. would gradually overtake Britain's influence in the Americas by the end of World War I.
'In February 1899, British novelist and poet Rudyard Kipling wrote a poem entitled “The White Man’s Burden: The United States and The Philippine Islands.” In this poem, Kipling urged the U.S. to take up the “burden” of empire, as had Britain and other European nations. Published in the February, 1899 issue of McClure’s Magazine, the poem coincided with the beginning of the Philippine-American War and U.S. Senate ratification of the treaty that placed Puerto Rico, Guam, Cuba, and the Philippines under American control. Theodore Roosevelt, soon to become vice-president and then president, copied the poem and sent it to his friend, Senator Henry Cabot Lodge, commenting that it was “rather poor poetry, but good sense from the expansion point of view.” Not everyone was as favourably impressed as Roosevelt. The racialized notion of the “White Man’s burden” became a euphemism for imperialism, and many anti-imperialists couched their opposition in reaction to the phrase.'
"The Mexican is an indigenous aborigine, and he must share the fate of his race", US senator in the 1840s.
"This powerful [white U.S.] race will move down Central and South America"- U.S. Protestant visionary Reverend Josiah Strong.
"God has marked the American people as His chosen nation to finally lead to the regeneration of the world." Senator Alfred J. Beveridge, key architect of U.S. foreign policy.
In 1905, Theodore Roosevelt provided the Monroe doctrine with a corollary**. Roosevelt thought that the U.S. should not tolerate European interventions, yet, incompetent Latin American governments would need correction 'by some civilised nation'. It became U.S. policy to administer this discipline when 'required' by international trade and finance. By the end of 1929, 40% of all U.S. international investments were in Latin America.
During this time there were cartoons in U.S. newspapers showing Uncle Sam dealing with Cuba, Puerto Rico, Nicaragua and other countries depicted as 'little black Sambos'.
Keep in mind that it was racist dehumanising imagery of Black persons that defined the representation of Latin America and the Caribbean as well as Hawaii.
5. Present day definition of Latinx and Caribbean identity
The export of Latin American and Caribbean culture often sees Afro-Latinx and Afro-Caribbean culture 'sanitised' by using white bodies or very light-skinned racially ambiguous Afro-descendant bodies (Mulatta Temptress). While there has been a lot of work done by many pro-black,and pro-indigenous organisations who have been working tirelessly since thy kingdom come, there is still a lot of work to be done. We need to admit that even in our rainbow nations, racism exists and will not go away. We cannot continue to hide it in the way that many who have 'advanced the race' hide their black grandmothers. i'm just saying
It is very bothering to hear 'You are pretty, you must be from the Islands.', or 'You have pretty skin, are you Spanish?'. What exactly is wrong with being African American, African Americans? It really comes across that many persons particularly in the U.S. exotify Latin American and Caribbean culture in order to distance themselves from African American Blackness. A point that Malcolm Gladwell sums up in his essay, Black Like Them. We are not all light skinned Mulatta temptresses, our accents, dances and cultures to be treated as added garnish to make us special vaginas for you to buss in while you denigrate the black women from your cultures that look like us. If you think that, you need to carry your cunny and gwey.
We need to update the terms we use to refer to varying racial and cultural groups. The effects of nationalisation mean that most persons from Latin America and the Caribbean identify as their nationality first, with culture and race being a secondary identifier.
I nominate broader usage of terms such as Afro-Dominican, Mestizo-Dominican, Mestizo-Ecuadorian, White-Mexican etc. to allow better expression of self-indentity of social race and culture. Many persons who are white in Latin America and the Caribbean never really have to address their whiteness, I implore you to do so, so that there can be more honest discussion in terms of national identity, and culture.
*'Decent people' used in the 1800s to separate rich families of European blood and culture from the poor majority of indigenous, African or mixed heritage (pueblo in Spanish America or povo in Brazil).
**"The Roosevelt Corollary of December 1904 stated that the United States would intervene as a last resort to ensure that other nations in the Western Hemisphere fulfilled their obligations to international creditors, and did not violate the rights of the United States or invite “foreign aggression to the detriment of the entire body of American nations.” As the corollary worked out in practice, the United States increasingly used military force to restore internal stability to nations in the region. Roosevelt declared that the United States might “exercise international police power in ‘flagrant cases of such wrongdoing or impotence.’” Over the long term the corollary had little to do with relations between the Western Hemisphere and Europe, but it did serve as justification for U.S. intervention in Cuba, Nicaragua, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic." - Office of the Historian