Student Arianna McCullough draws on the experience of artist Amara La Negra to open up a conversation on colourism in this latest post.
Y de qué color! NEGRO. Y qué lindo suena! NEGRO. Negro Soy!
If you have any kind of social media account, its highly likely you’ve come across the name Amara La Negra over the past few months. She’s most famously known for being a cast member on Love And Hip Hop Miami (LAHHM), from which she landed an album deal, following in the footsteps of past LAHHM star Cardi B. Whilst both Amara and Cardi are Afro-Latina music artists, their experiences in the music industry have been quite different, due to something we’re all too familiar with – colourism.
Image credit: (Javier Sánchez Salcedo CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
This is also something too intrinsic within the Latin community, which, along with most topics of racism/slavery/colonialism etc., is not part of the common education system in most countries and gets hardly any widespread media attention. So here I am taking King MJ’s advice and spreading my much yearned-for awareness of it.
Amara was born in 1990 in Miami, and raised by her single Dominican mother. She began performing from as young as one years old, so music was an integral part of her childhood. Twenty-seven years on, Amara is dealing with attitudes and ignorance – within her own communities – that many young artists never have to go through, simply because of the colour of her skin.
When being interviewed on the radio by Charlamagne Tha God and DJ Evy (both African-American btw), Amara was trying to explain the basic concept of colourism in context of the Latin community, stating that “they’ll always pick the lighter – the ones who look like J.Lo, Cardi B, Sofia Vegara – before they look at us” – to which Charlamagne replied (prepare yourself), “you sure it’s not in your mind?”. Lol. Clearly, Charlamagne needs a new glasses prescription along with a trip to the courthouse for a new name, because he seemed to have the missed the very obvious point that Cardi’s skin is much lighter than Amara’s. *Facepalm* Apparently he is omniscient (I guess why he calls himself ‘God’) regarding racism in America as he argued that Amara was wrong, because he doesn’t “see it” in neighbourhoods he’s in.
Cardi B herself had touched upon what of colourism she had seen, saying that in many clubs in NYC, darker skinned dancers and bartenders make less money than those with lighter skin or they aren’t hired at all. Yet, her sister Hennessy was not happy at all with Amara’s point, taking to Instagram to shout that, “People fuck with Cardi because of who she is, not because she’s light skinned”, and that whilst she acknowledges Amara’s argument, her sister has not benefited from such light-skinned benefits.
Here’s the thing right. Being a bi-racial, Afro-Latina myself, I can see which angle Hennessy is coming from, in terms of directing all of one’s success simply to the colour of one’s skin, and not because one has worked hard/is talented. It’s the same in the dating world: guys have somehow thought it a compliment to tell me they moved to me because I’m a ‘lighty’ – not seeing how a) I would find this grossly offensive against all my dark-skinned family, friends, community etc., and b) this is not the same as saying “you’re pretty”. Someone can be light skinned and clapped you know. The two do not correlate. HOWEVER. This is very different to not acknowledging privilege. Amara was not saying Cardi is not a talented rapper, or that she hasn’t worked hard, or isn’t a likeable person. She was simply saying that as a light-skinned Latina, she will always get further than someone exactly the same as her, only dark skinned. Amara as a dark skinned Latina, despite being very talented, likeable, beautiful, even being super curvy – having the whole aesthetic but also having dark skin, means it will always been ten times harder for her to get opportunities. And when she does, she is given stereotypical roles. She’s offered roles for the “slave, drug addict, gangster, or murderer”.
Other frustratingly blind people within the industry have given Amara grief for how she looks; she was told to make her hair “a little more Beyoncé” and less ‘fro, and when a child star on Sábado Gigante, as the only black child, she was told she needed a perm because her hair was too difficult for the stylists to manage. Geisha Montes de Oca, the 2008 Miss World Dominican Republic winner, dressed up as Amara on Aqui Se Habla Español and committed black face, put on an afro wig and added butt-pads to complete the impersonation.
And this is why social issues such as colourism are so difficult to uproot and eradicate, because of their intricacies within our very own black community. We can’t possibly hope to address white on black racism, when black on black racism perpetuates our own spaces. This is why Amara La Negra’s presence on popular media is so necessarily important. The fact that knowledge of her activism has reached the UK is shocking in itself. The lack of awareness of Afro-Latinx’s in the media and popular culture in general is beyond appalling – having been met with countless comments like, “but there’s no black people in Brazil/Latin America”, “how can you be black and Latina?” and “but you’re really African then” (*eye-roll emoji). And this is within the black community! Yet, it seems to go far beyond an innocent ignorance caused by lack of education. Even when poached to learn more or become more exposed to the culture, often times I’ve experienced no less resistance from black people as I have from white people. I’m not sure if it’s because it feels like a taking away from African heritage, or the fact that Afro-Latinx’s of course originate from Africa, and so are seen as denying this?
The worst part of it is, people are very happy to sing Despacito, La Modelo and make comments about how sexy the Spanish language is, how objectifyingly pretty Latina’s are and all the rest of it – but confront them with the reality of the racism in and African heritage of Latin America, and this is rejected. I thought Black Lives Mattered?
I’m so happy, therefore, to see Amara using her platform – unlike so many – to address the deep-seated complications within the Latin and Black communities. The need is clear to start looking within: within our own black communities and social groups to fix these bigger issues from the ground up. For the rest of the world to exercise equality and destroy their racism, we have to fix ourselves first, we have to support our own before anyone else will.
Arianna McCullough is a student on the BSc Sociology programme.