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Afro-latina scholars talk about the controversy surrounding the recent use of the term ‘negrita’ (roughly translated as “little black”) by jennifer lopez, in a song with colombian artist maluma, and the wider use of the phrase within latin american culture
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It was one line in a song, but it gave a lot of people pause online. Murray professor of law at Fordham University School of Law, where she teaches anti-discrimination law and critical race theory, among other courses.
These interviews have been edited for length and clarity. When you heard the song, or learned of this line from the song, how did it come across to you? What was your reaction to her use of this term? Tanya K. At no other time has Lopez personally identified herself with Blackness. Dating Black people does not make you Black. Dancing with Black people does not make you Black.
Being part of the urban popular culture and aesthetic, again, does not make you Black. Even more troubling, is that Lopez has a whole history of whitening her appearance and hair to pursue her Hollywood ambitions. Certainly, those are her choices to make, but it should then not be a surprise that her sudden gesture toward Blackness, from her perch of White privilege, would be received poorly by me and many others.
I am not surprised at this latest lapse because, time and again, J. Lo has reminded us that she seems to have lost touch with the social, cultural and political realities facing minoritized people in the Bronx and other barrios throughout the United States, and in the Americas more broadly. For instance, if J.
Lo or her production team would have registered that Black, Afro-Latinxs, Latinxs and Indigenous populations are over-represented in the U. That it can be used to describe someone who is the most tanned in a group or family, someone with the darkest hair or eyes, or someone with dark skin who would be seen as Black.
Can you help us understand the origins of this term and how it was used early on in Latin culture? What was the term rooted in? And how has the use of the term evolved into one of endearment? Yet, that affection does not in any way mitigate how it is racially problematic.
The term has its origins in the colonial slave societies of Latin America and the Caribbean. It is important to note that the vast majority of African slaves were forcibly brought to Latin America and the Caribbean, while what is now the United States only received approximately 3 percent of enslaved Africans. The story of slavery, then, is primarily a Latin American one, rather than a U. Given the huge imprint that slavery made across Las Americas, the racial pathologies that formed still exist today.
Because White Europeans were often outed, the threat of Blackness was managed in several ways. Extending the phrase to those who do not phenotypically look Black occurred with the Latin American refusal to build racially inclusive democracies and economies. Rather than acknowledge the legacies of slavery and continued racism, Latin American countries deflected with the premise that widespread racial mixture made racial categorization too imprecise for true racism to exist.
And so, the roughest equivalent translation to the U. This meaning still circulates, even when free Black populations were ed for a larger segment of the population than the enslaved did. Though there is still much work to be done to end anti-Black racism in Latin America and among Latinxs in the U. Q: Others have offered that the way race is understood in Latin America is different from how Americans have come to understand and define it. That, specifically in regard to Puerto Rico Lopez is of Puerto Rican descentpeople understand and are proud of the mixture of African, Indigenous and European in their ancestry.
While there has certainly been a longstanding rhetoric about racial mixture in the region, Whiteness is the preferred currency. Moreover, Black social justice movement activists in Latin America have been doing the work of documenting how anti-Blackness exists and systematically excludes Afro-Latinos from socio-economic opportunities. In other words, anti-Black racism exists and is alive and well, throughout Latin America. Many in Latin America and the Caribbean tout racial mixture as a source of pride, and as a reason why they cannot be called racist, even as they perpetrate anti-Black micro-aggressions and racism.
What is important to understand is that racial mixture is seen positively as long as people fit the light skin, classic Latinx look. Recently, Black-Latinxs have been vocal about the ways in which, as a descriptive category, Latinidad perpetuates the erasure and the marginalization of Black-Latinx individuals.
As it currently stands, Latinidad is experienced as a category that excludes Black Latinxsand so when Latinidad is invoked or imagined, a person like J. In Latin America, claims of racial mixture have worked in tandem with the myth of the racial democracy to disenfranchise activists and movements seeking to eradicate anti-Black racism.
Does the concept of colorism play into this at all? And if so, how? Amara is affirming her direct association with Blackness, while Lopez is seemingly using it as a sword to ward off any accusations of exercising her light skin privilege. And so, if she referred to herself using this diminutive it would be acceptable, though infantilizing.
On the other hand, if J. Lo has Black ancestry, it is not apparent in her typically Latinx appearance, and more importantly, Black-Latinxs find her use of this descriptor offensive. Lo has managed crossover mainstream success.
If this were untrue, ask yourself: Why are there so few dark-skin Black Latinas actresses and singers succeeding in both the Latinx global media industry and in Hollywood? It certainly is not for a lack of Black Latinx talent. Q: Do you think this latest criticism of Lopez on this topic is unwarranted? In all instances, Black people in the American Hemisphere and beyondare asking for an end to anti-Black racism, police brutality, environmental injustice, and for their human right to healthy food, education, health, affordable housing and employment.
There are at least two ways we can think about what J. Lo claim Blackness, it feels as though she is appropriating an identity without having to live the systemic, structural, and interpersonal racism that Black-Latinxs experience; and two, Black-Latinxs have been living with and resisting anti-Black racism for centuries and this continues today, and they are asking non-Black Latinxs to stop using racist and appropriating language.
Lo is the non-racist person she purports to be, then she will heed this demand. Talking about mental health in sports is a reminder that athletes are more than just top physical performers. Creating a safe space for kids to make connections through creative expression.
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