My life in colorism

col·or·ism
/ˈkələrˌizəm/
noun
prejudice or discrimination against individuals with a dark skin tone, typically among people of the same ethnic or racial group.

The film adaptation of the musical In the Heights has drawn criticism for not featuring Afro-Latino/a performers in prominent roles.

In the Heights, the highly anticipated film adaptation of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s hit musical, is stirring up strong reactions since opening in theaters and hitting HBO Max last week. The movie takes place in New York’s Washington Heights neighborhood and stars Anthony Ramos as Usnavi, a bodega owner dreaming (and singing) about a better life. 

Source: cnet.com

Lin-Manuel wrote the following on Twitter:

This made me think about my own stories and experiences.

Mid-80s

I want to be a ballerina.
My mom takes me to the Palace of Fine Arts in Santo Domingo, to go through the application process.
The professor says that my a$$ is too big so I’m not ballet material.
She suggested I may want to try ethnic dances instead.
Thank you.

Early 2000s

College students ready to party.
It’s Friday night and we are getting ready to hit the bar.
There are 4 of us, all on the darker side of the color spectrum.
The bouncer says the bar is “full” so we can’t go in.
10 seconds later he allows 6 individuals, on the lighter side of the spectrum, to go right in.
From that moment on, I made sure to always have a white friend by my side.
Sigh.

My hair (early 2000s)

I’m now working for a financial institution in Santo Domingo.
Every month, the women get 4 tickets to go to the hair salon.
The company is paying for it as a perk.
There’s no excuse for not having your hair done every week.
And yes, that meant straight.

Moving to the United States

I moved to New York City in September of 2008.
Election year.
The first African-American president is elected.
I was exposed to a new world.
New people.
Different people.
Different cultures.
Different believes.
An educational journey began.
I cut my hair and let my afro grow.
I noticed myself being much more open to ideas and people that I would have automatically dismissed in the past.
My world view was changing.

Yet…

2010

I’m having a baby.
I secretly hope he looks more like his father.
White-passing, easier future.
He never had an issue getting into a bar.

2012

I move to Miami.
Latinx paradise, right?
My hair is straight again.
“Beautiful and classy”
My priorities have changed.

2019

Something shifted.
Again.
A need for freedom.
A need to express myself.
A need to love my actual self.
I cut my hair again.

2020

There’s a pandemic.
And…

On May 25, 2020, George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man, was murdered in Minneapolis, Minnesota, United States, while being arrested on suspicion of using a counterfeit $20 bill. During the arrest, Derek Chauvin, a white police officer with the Minneapolis Police Department, knelt on Floyd’s neck for nine minutes and 29 seconds after he was handcuffed and lying face down. Two other police officers, J. Alexander Kueng and Thomas Lane, assisted Chauvin in restraining Floyd. A fourth police officer, Tou Thao, prevented bystanders from interfering. -Wikipedia

The world is changing.
Our views keep changing.
I keep learning.

2021

Only in the past year I have truly explored my hair and its texture. I realized that I have been using straight hair products my entire life. Because that’s the default setting. So, I have spent some time learning how to treat it, how to wash it, how to use the right products.

I keep learning to love myself fully.
To not conform to the definitions of beauty I was though were acceptable (light skin, straight hair…)
To say I’m beautiful, not just gracious.
To embrace the box in the form that says BLACK when it comes to race, and to mark LATINA when it comes to ethnicity.
To own my afro-latinidad.

Present day reflexion

Although I chose only a handful of examples to share here, I can probably talk about this for hours (podcast anyone?)… not because I’m an expert but because I’m committed to keep learning; to explore my identity with kindness and curiosity and to allow myself to change when/if needed.

(Side note: The only Black character I remember from the maaany novelas I watched growing up, was Cirilo, hopelessly in love with Maria Joaquina). If you know, you know.

About In the Heights and Lin-Manuel Miranda

I loved the movie and I loved Hamilton (the founding fathers were Black and Hispanic!!) AND I do believe we need to continue the conversation about representation and colorism in our Latin American countries.

Even if it feels like discrimination does not affect us, or that oppression has nothing to do with us… it is our responsibility as leaders, as parents, as human beings to have these (uncomfortable) conversations in the spaces where we operate.

We need to keep challenging the ‘default’ setting.

Let me know your thoughts! Let’s continue the conversation here and here.

Mi vida en colorismo con Josybel Martinez