Calling all Africans in the black diaspora: Do you hear the voices of Afrolatinos?
In the UK, I found a safer space within the black British community than I did in Latin American society. Not only did the discovery of jollof rice completely change my life, I also noticed similarities between physical gestures, views on community and life experiences that were amazing to me. Overall, being with black people from all over the globe and somehow managing to still feel at home was a beautiful sensation. Everywhere I got the classic "Where are you from?" question when I said 'Colombia' I got the classic, " Wow! I didn't know there were black people in Colombia!" sentence. Not only did I realise that Black "Latinos'' (or Afrolatinos) aren't very well-known, but also that people forget an important part of the history of colonization: the Spanish empire in the Americas. It’s not for nothing that Spanish is the second most spoken language in the world.
Let me start by clarifying a few things: Firstly, "Hispanic" or "Latin" is not a race. Secondly, there are a lot of black people in Latin America. Finally, the anti-black attitudes and behaviours of white Latinos and mestizos (Latinos of mixed white European and indigenous ancestry) in our society and institutions have led to the erasure of black and indigenous faces from our history. Our voices have been so far silenced that the world continues to believe that we’re non-existent, while white Latinos and mestizos either consciously or unconsciously uphold white supremacy by claiming and benefiting from a culture that has been almost entirely shaped by the African diaspora and native indigenous people. From the strategically planned genocide of Afrolatinos in Argentina, to the police’s racial profiling and excessive policing of black youth and black neighborhoods in Colombia and Brazil. From the only very recent acknowledgment of black citizens in the national census of both Chile and Mexico, to the daily racist micro and macro aggressions that Afrolatinos experience in Latin America. Essentially, black communities in Latin American countries experience the same kind of anti-black hatred and oppression at the hands of white Latino and mestizo society that black communities face in the US and Europe. Therefore, it can be extremely uncomfortable to see how white Latinos and mestizos conveniently assume the ‘POC’ (person of colour) label outside Latin America, when they replicate classic, racist forms of whiteness in their home countries, and shamelessly appropriate black and native American cultural expressions. Quite frankly, it’s absurd how they pretend that anti-black racism amongst Latin Americans is a non-existent issue, or choose to remain oblivious to the issue just because they experience xenophobia or classist hate beyond Latin America.
Talking about blackness in Latin America remains tricky because a lot of Afrolatinos still have internalised self-hatred, so they don't want to identify as black. Nevertheless, it is evident that African heritage is present within us, and our culture, creations and expressions are an extension of the African diasporic identity.
Upon moving to the UK, I realised that the language barrier between black Latin Americans and other communities across the black diaspora poses a huge challenge, because blackness is often viewed and validated through North American, European, Caribbean, and continental African lenses and voices, which tend to be in English or French. So, for individuals like me, there is a responsibility to share and amplify our voices, and to make black people around the globe curious enough to expand their view on what blackness and community mean. We must also make white people (especially white Latinos and mestizos) uncomfortable enough to start abandoning the notion of ‘Latinx’ as one singular race, erasing and dehumanising the black presence in Latin America.
My time in the UK was also my first visit to Europe, and I had the opportunity to travel around England, Scotland and France. Getting a chance to see famous monuments, buildings and statues was a nice reminder of how Eurocentrism romanticises the idea and history of white supremacy and European colonialism. However, people forget how proud these countries are of their violent, genocidal past, their imperialistic ways, and neo-colonial present, to the point where a proximity to Europe and the industrialised world is valued as something to strive towards in Latin America. We need to get rid of our internalised imperialist mentality and start appreciating and acknowledging the history, culture, and experiences of black and indigenous people in Latin America and the Caribbean.
Blackness doesn't only manifest itself in Africa, North America, and Europe. Developing a truly Pan-African and Afro-diasporic approach to life requires acknowledging the immense cultural richness and diversity across all versions of the black experience globally. Blackness isn’t a monolith, and black people aren’t homogenous, therefore Black Latin America needs to be part of the conversation on global anti-blackness. As Afrolatinos, we need to network even more to overcome the language barrier and strive for interconnectivity that could bring healing to our community, and better equip us to fight against the effects of white supremacy in our lives. For those outside Latin America, why not get to know another part of the African diaspora? Hear our voices, and include them in the dicussion, and you will realise that: 1) Most of the things you like about ‘Latinx’ culture are really just appropriated expressions of black culture, and 2) Black communities in the Western world aren’t always the ‘minority’. Now, use this knowledge to go ahead and unsettle all systems of white supremacy (including whitewashed ‘Latinx’ society) and challenge anti-blackness all over the world. Make me proud.
Laura is a 26-year-old doctor from Colombia who is currently completing a Master’s degree in MSc Health Data Analytics at the University of Leeds. She identifies as a Pan-African, and is interested in Afrodiasporic studies. She is also a low-key nerd who is obsessed with music and plantain. Her Instagram handle is @lauraxpri.