Black in Latin America in Review

 Black in Latin America is a four-part series on the influence of African descent on Latin America produced by Harvard scholar Henry Louis Gates, Jr. He featured six Latin-American countries in the series: Haiti, Dominican Republic, Cuba, Brazil, Mexico, and Peru. Many people don’t know that only 450,000 Africans arrived in the United States. More than 10.5 million were taken to the Caribbean and Latin America. Brazil has the 2nd largest black population in the world.
After watching all four parts of the documentary I am proud of being black and it hurts me to see others have such disdain for their African heritage. But I understand it is the effects of slavery. The documentaries show how the world does not acknowledge certain parts of black history. France, Britain and the Americas refused to recognize Haiti as a free country. Thomas Jefferson referred to Haiti as “cannibals of the terrible republic”. Haitians have a rich history in being the 1stfree black republic. They were originally brought to the DR to work the jobs that Dominicans refused. As a result Dominicans saw themselves as better than Haitians. Growing up in Miami being called a Haitian was an insult.  I believe it is still the slavery mentality that people carry towards Haitians because they are simply Africans, undiluted, with the same blood and same features.
Many Latin Americans sense of self was Spanish, not black or white. They saw Spain as their motherland. The common theme among all the countries was the darkest people; the African-looking people were the poorest. Black Hispanics have encountered a noticeable degree of racial discrimination and prejudice, due to the sociocultural leftovers from colonial times. The black element had been repressed. Elitist set out to whiten their heroes if they were too black and outlaw black practices. President Rafael Trujillo of Dominican Republic, who led an Anti-Haitian regime, was said to have used make-up to whiten his face. He also ordered the killings of over 20,000 Haitians in 1937.  Despite the fact that more slaves went to Mexico and Peru than in the U.S it is very common for Mexicans to “hide their black grandmas in the closet” still to this day. Gates says “you can’t be great if you try to suppress a huge part of your history, your identity.”  There are still many black Latin Americans fighting for equality within government, media, education and public policy.
Ever heard someone say they want to date someone light skin with “good hair” just for the sake of having kids with them? Too many black Americans and Caribbean’s favor light skin, straight hair and light eyes. It seems straightening your hair makes one feel prettier. No one wants to be just black.  Your great-great-great grandmother was a Navajo Indian so you claim “I got some Indian in me” as if being black is negative.  Its almost expected that people are of mixed races. I appreciate all the inter-racial couples that lead to my existence but am I supposed to go around claiming every ethnic ancestor I have? I would be Scottish, French, Syrian Jew, Cuban, Indian, and Chinese Jamaican.  In Latin America the denial of being black is quiet, unspoken but in some places it is very loud and outright. People say “she’s pretty for a dark skin girl” as if being light skin makes one beautiful. But sadly that is how some people feel. Bleaching of the skin is becoming this huge epidemic among Caribbeans and even some Africans. I believe bleaching is a clear sign of self-hatred, the desire to erase how God made you in order to be something else. But can I really blame them? It has been shown that if your light skin or exotic looking you get more attention, respect. Social climbing is based on embracing a white identity. Most, if not all, high-ranking government officials in the Caribbean and Latin Americas have been light skin. Slavery was a powerful thing that worked, it stripped people of their roots, the thing that connects us all. It made us segregate each other instead of building with each other.
I recommend watching the Black in Latin America series and see for yourself. I believe the purposes of these documentaries are to expose the denial of African ancestry as well as showcase how integrated Africa is in Latin America. You will see the many Hispanics still holding on to African roots through food, music, and religion. You will learn of an ignored history. Watch and ask yourself if you still carry the traces of a slave mentality and how your life is influence by Africa?

Black in Latin America, PBS Video– All four parts


About Tarajah

I am a truth-seeker by nature, poet at heart, extremely visual, curious, avid daydreamer...I come alive in the night time.

Posted on May 14, 2011, in Community and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. I feel that being black is seen as the worst thing to be in almost every country around the world. Black is seen as dirty instead of being beautiful. We as a culture try to be so much like the white man; straight hair and lighter skin. I feel that us as black people need to stop seeing black as negative and acknowledge how beautiful we are as a people.

  2. I am very happy to see that the awareness of the identity crisis in Latin America and the caribbean is increasing. When I studied abroad in Dominican Republic in undergrad, I experienced first hand how African heritage is denied and hated on the island of hispaniola. The other students who weren’t as good at speaking spanish were automatically assumed to be haitian and treated differently. Because of my caribbean heritage I looked like “their kind” but I experiendced the most prejudice from people who were my brown skinned complexion or darker.

    In the classes I took, I learned about the lies that are taught from the primary school history books. As children people are taught that their dark complexion comes from their Taino Indian roots, they’re a mixture of Taino and Spaniard, and only haitian people come from African slaves. Many of the students at the university I attended told me that they never knew that they were “black” until they went to the US or Spain and were discriminated against and called black racial slurs. I even witnessed haitian people being kicked off of the public bus for simply for being haitian. When I asked the guy beside me what was going on, he said “Oh, it’s just some haitian niggers.”

    That experience caused me to make it a point to call latin American Black people just what they are BLACK. When they get upset I then proceed to tell them about themselves and I never seem to get a rebuttal. Maybe now that being black is “in” people will start being proud of their rich african heritage in latin America and the Caribbean. The english speaking caribbean issues are a whole other conversation for another time entirely. Just a few thoughts and reflections on the issue.
    -One Love

    • Thanks for sharing and you said it right an “identity crisis” that is perpetuated through out their history.

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