Amid national dialogue about racism after the recent killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor at the hands of police, many non-Black Latinos and Afro-Latinos have seized this moment in history to call out the anti-Blackness rhetoric rooted in our own communities — in order to truly stand in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement.
In a comprehensive conversation on racism within the Latin space, it’s important to understand that Latinos are hardly monolithic and represent a culturally, demographically and geographically diverse group. According to a 2014 survey by the Pew Research Center, 24 percent of the roughly 54 million Hispanics living in the United States at the time self-identified as Afro-Latino.
For Afro-Latinx, the Black Lives Matter movement is personal and parcel to their struggles in the U.S., says Yvonne Rodríguez, who co-founded Afro-Latino Professionals of Miami. “When I walk into a room, my Blackness walks in before my Latinism,” she explains. “When it comes to Black Lives Matter, I can’t say, ‘let me go help them’ because ‘them’ is me. I am Black. It’s our call too.”
Since the killing of Floyd on May 25 in Minnesota, peaceful demonstrations have taken place across the nation, with protestors holding signs that read “Black Lives Matter” and “No Justice, No Peace.”A go-to protest sign for Latin self-described allies reads: “Latinx for Black Lives Matter.”
We often hear that the “Black and brown alliance” — a phrase coined back in the ’60s in the U.S. by progressive activists in an effort to emphasize the similar forms of oppression Black and brown people confront under white supremacy — should be stronger now more than ever.
But in order to have a strong alliance, and for non-Black Latinx to really show up for BLM, “we first have to recognize our plurality,” says multifaceted Afro-Latinx artist Omilani Alarcón who in 2018 released her empowering film Latinegras: The Journey of Self Love through an AfroLatina Lens. “Being Latinx also means recognizing that we have Black people and this is part of our movement as well. We’re trying to bring visibility to the fact that we exist and these issues also affect us.”
In an effort to provide a platform for dialogue, the recently launched Conciencia Collective alliance against racial and social injustice aims to change the derogatory narratives towards people of color within the Latin space via “Conciencia Talks,” virtual conversations on race and intersectionality featuring non-Black and Afro-Latinx artists.
“We commit to leading with acknowledgement in solidarity with the Black community to enable the rise of leaders in our respective communities,” said a press release from the collective, which is made up of more than 35 Latinx artists, managers, publicists, among others. “Our ongoing initiatives also focus on the many issues affecting our Latin community.”
Becky G was among those artists who added her name to the long list of allies. In an interview with Billboard, the Mexican-American singer-songwriter expands on the importance of speaking out against racism and colorism, and having offline conversations with family and friends on confronting anti-Black racism among their close circle.
“It comes from a place in my heart that has always known deep down inside about that responsibility that comes with the platform. It’s a bigger responsibility than to just shut up and sing,” she says. “Talking about these things shouldn’t be controversial, these are our realities.”
The longtime hitmaker does not shy away from politics, and in the past has been vocal about immigrant rights. “This isn’t just, ‘Oh only if you’re Black this affects you,’” she offers. “This affects all of us and it should outrage you even if you’re not Black. By speaking up, I hope it inspires conversations that we should be having amongst ourselves, with friends in the workplace. Without them, nothing will change.”
Having uncomfortable conversations with family members and friends is important, says Brenda Castillo, president and CEO of the National Hispanic Media Coalition. “Our job is to shut down the hate within our own families and calling people out, which can be difficult because it can be your own mother. [But] it’s gonna take the whole Latinx village to destroy the anti-black mentality in our own community as well as the country as a whole.”
Activist Carmen Perez-Jordan adds that conversations have to come from a place of knowing older generations of Latinx have had different life experiences. “It’s not going to be [just] one conversation,” says Perez-Jordan, president and CEO of The Gathering for Justice, founder of Justice League CA and co-founder of Justice League NYC. “Our parents may have not been exposed to the diverse community we now live in… It’s OK to help our parents become open-minded and unlearn what they’ve learned.”
Rodríguez hopes that these long overdue conversations within our four walls will open dialogue — but realistically, worries they might be a little too late. “You’re saying that you want to change the way your 60-year-old mother speaks or thinks? Good luck,” says Rodríguez. “I guess better late than never, right? But these derogatory comments are rooted in our core. It’s very hard to change mentality or ideology. It won’t be that easy.”
Aware that it’ll take more than protesting, posting a black square in solidarity on Instagram and having conversations, rising singer-songwriter Tatiana Hazel — born and raised in Chicago — is solely focused on using her platform to amplify Black voices. Her recently released Duality EP launched along with a campaign in support of Black trans women. Additionally, the Mexican-American artist will be donating all profits of the EP and her merch to the Chicago-based organization Brave Space Alliance, a non-profit organization that provides housing, food and other resources to Black trans women in the South and West sides of Chicago.
“A lot of my nightlife was spent in the Black queer/gay community. It was an amazing experience to see everyone uplift each other — but I did notice that there wasn’t any help from the outside world,” she says. “It’s a tight knit community that needs more resources. If we want to see real change in a system that oppresses the Black and brown community, it’s going to take everyone.”
The joining of forces between the Black and brown communities should be a no-brainer, says Castillo. “Unfortunately, we have a similar history when it comes to violence, mass incarceration and aggressive policing. There are more similarities of what we have gone through in the past than what we are going through now in the future. It’s just so natural that we would come in solidarity.”
Latinx and African Americans are disproportionately represented in the prison industrial complex and have been greatly affected by mass incarceration in the U.S., according to the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC). Meanwhile, Black Americans are killed by police at more than twice the rate of white Americans. Hispanic Americans are also killed by police at a disproportionate rate, according to a report by The Washington Post.
And that’s just in the criminal justice system. Elsewhere, like when it comes to environmental and health issues, the racial inequity and disparities are blatantly apparent. Such has been the case in the coronavirus pandemic — with federal data revealing that Black and Latino people were being impacted by the virus at higher rates.
“Tu lucha es mi lucha. Your fight is our fight,” says Castillo, who adds that Latinx not born in the U.S. might have a more difficult time understanding the Black Lives Matter movement and other racial inequities specific to American-born Latinos. “They have not experienced the Chicano movement, the racism and discrimination that we have witnessed and experienced being here in America — where they constantly tell us ‘go back to your country.’ They have never experienced the American discrimination against Latinos from the U.S. And I think it’s our job to educate them.”
Dominican-American singer and actress Jackie Cruz, who has been protesting in New York since the death of George Floyd, thinks that coming together as one, “we would take over because we are strong. We have to work three times as hard, even as brown people, to be considered ‘good.’ If Black and brown would be united, it would be our world. [Systemic oppression] happens to us brown folks too, and we have to fight for each other,” adds Cruz,
Becky G echoes Cruz. “It’s time to unite because I truly believe that’s how the system thrives, because they divide us. And that’s why we’re considered minorities but together, we will no longer be minorities, we will be the majority. That’s what scares those in power.”
Griselda Flores is Billboard’s senior Latin writer and has a master’s in social justice journalism from Northwestern University.