White Latino Racism on the Rise: It’s Time for a Serious Conversation on Euro-Diasporic Whiteness

A common misconnection that exists today rests on the notion that there are no racial hierarchies in Latin American countries or within the Latino communities in the United States. In other words, Latino (or Hispanic) is itself a race. For many, this conversation is a pointless squabble that halts the true need for unity amongst marginalized groups in the United States. Unfortunately, overlooking the importance of this issue has in fact delineated separation and a lack of interest in each other’s problems.

The shooting of unarmed African-American teenager Trayvon Martin by a half-Peruvian and half-White man named George Zimmerman, the rise of so-called Hispanic conservatives like Ted Cruz, Al Cardenas and Marco Rubio, and the examples of racist comments by Latinos in the media like Rodner Figueroa, have made it impossible to have a conversation of Latinos and race. It is becoming clear that Whites from Latin America, although marginalized by Anglo-Whites, have been able to pass as honorary Whites and benefit from the inequalities formed by White Supremacy. This is not new, and it has a history.

Many people who neglect to explore the history of Latin Americans in the United Sates fail to analyze people like the famous white Cuban Ricky Ricardo (Desi Arnaz), who penetrated the American television series “I Love Lucy” (1951) at a time when Black people were not even allowed to perform next to White actors. Lucy (Lucille Ball) was Arnaz’ real wife, and both enjoyed a long and prosperous career in the film industry. In 1954 Arnaz was even able to get a role as the famous Don Juan.

During this time, White Latin Americans were seen as foreign, inferior and exotic and yet many passed and enjoyed White Privilege. Even all three of John Wayne’s wives were from Latin America at a time when anti-Black and anti-immigrant sentiments were powerful hateful discourses. Less mentioned is the famous Afro-Puerto Rican actor Juano Hernández, who to date is considered was one of the most successful pioneering Black actors of the African-American film industry. Despite Hernández being from Latin America, he had to take Black roles precisely because he was Black and experienced the same segregation as other Blacks in the United States. This was also common in Latin America, where Blacks were not allowed to be actors while Whites enjoyed wearing blackface and dehumanized black people.


Juano Hernández (left) and Desi Arnaz with his wife Lucille Ball (right). Although they were both actors from the Hispanic Caribbean, Hernández and Arnaz were separated by race during the development of the United States film industry.

According to Jill Lane, blackface was used as a way to create a Cuban identity independent from Spain. However, one can argue that Blackness was seen as a proxy for national discourse and not for racial democracy. Anti-Blackness was occurring transnationally between the United States and Latin America. A Euro-diasporic anti-Black establishment was taking place, a cruel phenomenon, which can be traced back to colonialism and African slavery. Arnaz was able to perform White roles and even marry an Anglo-white actress, but the same could not be remotely fathomed for Hernández.

While many invoke the idea of mestizaje (racial mixing) and the one-drop rule, it did not determine Latin American identity racially. The false idea that you were non-White if any of your ancestors was not White has been a common belief that undergirded racial categories and Whiteness as passing in the United States. Regardless if Arnaz was considered White or not, his Whiteness allowed him to pass and have access to Hollywood. Arnaz benefited from the system of White Supremacy. While Arnaz was able to remain Cuban (while also being marginalized), Hernández was not able to be Puerto Rican because he was Black.

The impossibility of Afro descendants from Latin America being able to play Latin American (or Latino) roles would be further marked after the Civil Rights Movement. Black people from Latin America were segregated and became part of Black communities in the United Sates. Eminent figures like Arturo Alfonso Schomburg, Carlos Cooks, Chano Pozo and Mario Bauza among others formed part of the Harlem Renaissance. From the 1950s through the 1970s, there was a rise and fall of an uneasy coalition between Latinos and African-Americans. A part from the internal conflicts and White backlash that resulted from the Civil Rights Movement, the most salient aftermath was the cementing of racial essentialisms. Blackness was seen solely as African-American and Latinos became “Brown” while Whiteness became Anglo-whites. These political and racial constructions remained unquestioned until recently.


The rainbow coalition was an active coalition which consisted of many members such as Fred Hampton from the Black Panthers, William “Preacherman” Fesperan, Hy Thurman from the Young Patriots Organization, Jack (Junebug) Boykin, Jose Cha Cha Jimenez, the Puerto Rican founder of the Young Lords Party, among others.

The discussion of Latino Whiteness was rarely brought up and instead focused minimally on Latino Blackness. For example, Felipe Luciano’s “Jíbaro My Pretty Nigger” encouraged his Blackness and Puertoricaness.

It appears there was a time where you could be both Black and Latino but not White and Latino. The Nuyorican movement was occurring while the Black Arts Movements was taking place as well.

So the question remains: do Latinos “Brown” themselves to create Latino as a race because the racial discourse in the United States does not allow them to be a part of it? Another more important question is this: what occurred as a result of Latinos becoming one Brown (mixed) race and Blackness exclusive to African-Americans? As a result, Latin American markets and elites were able to carry out their anti-Black agendas, which led to the rise of all-White soap operas protected under the construction of mestizaje or Brownness. Afro-Latinos and Indigenous peoples were made either made invisible or reduced to adopting roles as musicians and sports athletes. This benefitted African-Americans tremendously because it allowed them to fully immerse themselves within American nationalism, which required separating their history from Latinos and Afro-Latinos while envisioning Latinos in the United States as people who were never part of the nation to begin with.

As Wilson Jeremiah Moses states in his book Black Messiahs and Uncle Toms (1982): “Black messianism is the point in our cultural mythology where nationalism and assimilationism come together most strikingly” (viii). African-American sitcoms resulted in Black essentialistist and racial hierarchies that excluded Afro-Latinos in the U.S and forced other Black migrants to assimilate to African Americanism. African-American sitcoms like “The Jeffersons,” “Sanford and Son” and “Good Times” were mostly Christian, monolingual and family-based. Latino sitcoms like  “¿Qué Pasa USA?”, “Chico and the Man” and “A.E.S Hudson Street” were white, Christian, bilingual and also family-based.


These racially and ethnically constructed divisions not only excluded the larger diverse Black communities in the U.S., but it also formed a Blackness antithetical to Latino identity. While Latin American markets created all-White soap operas (which has become ever more transnational) the U.S media also created these divisions. In Christina Saenz-Alcántara’s article Who and What the Hell Is a White Hispanic?, one of the many arguments presented is that Latino Whiteness is not possible because of the myths of mestizaje in some way makes Latinos all equal:

For example, in the U.S., there is the one-drop rule. If you have even one ancestor who is African, Asian, or indigenous, you’re automatically non-white. In Puerto Rico, the one-drop rule is that you are considered white if you have even one white ancestor in the previous four generations (known as the Regla del Sacar or Gracias al Sacar laws). In the U.S., a Latino historically is not white since Latinos by definition are a mixture of Spanish, indigenous, African and Asian blood.

However, according to the New York Times (see a counterargument here), in 2000 over 2.5 million Americans (numbers are more than likely higher now) changed their race from “some other race” to “White.”In the recent 2010 census, 75.8 % identified as White and 12.4 % identified as Black. Recently, because the Census Bureau finally realized that Latino is not a race, it is considering changing the ethno-racial category of “Hispanic” by allowing Latinos to choose a race for 2020. A recent document from the United States Census Bureau states that 1) three-fourths of growth in the White population was due to growing numbers of Hispanic Whites and, 2) Hispanic Whites comprised a larger proportion of the multiple White race population than the White-alone population.

So where does this leave us?

Today We are Paying the Price

The killing of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman caused many to revisit the notion of Latino Whiteness. The article published by Latino Rebels, The White Hispanic” Label: Yes, People, Racism is a Latino Thing, Too, actually made some good points at the need to revisit race and Latino identity, while Cesar Vargas’ The Privilege of the White Hispanic: Leaving Out the Rest caused, to my amazement, a stir from White Latinos. Nonetheless, we also need African-Americans to begin embracing Afro-Latinos among other Black communities who do not conform to an African American nomenclature. Unfortunately, as I had predicted, anti-Black racism has reached their doorstep. Rodner Figueroa compared Michelle Obama to a simian from the Planet of the Apes and was fired from Univision.


Figueroa’s excuse was that he was “mixed.” However, Univision, one of the most anti-Black television channels I’ve ever seen, made firing Figueroa seem like an oxymoron.

This Saturday, the Miss Puerto Rico winner for the Miss America pageant was suspended for anti-Muslim tweets.

Last night, the African-American actor Steve Harvey was attacked on Twitter from racist White Latinos (and other Latinos as well and Anglo-whites) who wanted Miss Colombia to win the Miss Universe contest. These profile used abhorrent language, as the tweets below show. All this hatred came as a result of Harvey mistakenly naming Miss Colombia the winner instead of Miss Philippines, the real winner.

TweetsThis is why we need to have a serious conversation about Latino Whiteness. But for that to happen, we need to have a serious conversation on Euro-diasporic identity and anti-Blackness. We need to have conversations on the Casta systems that are still more powerful than ever and are the permanent results of the hundreds of years of African slavery in the Americas.

White Latinos need to own up to their Whiteness because we just can’t continue to afford this to continue any further. We also need African-Americans to understand that Latin America has over 200 million Afro-descendants and that going to Africa also entails going to Colombia, Brazil, Cuba and Puerto Rico, among other countries. Blackness does not have to solely mean African-American and Whiteness does not have to solely mean Anglo-white.

African-American academics need to stop erasing Afro-Latinos from African-American history.

They also have to become more open with Blackness.

They can’t wrap their Blackness with the American flag, exclude other Black people in the U.S and then say that they are all about Black unity.

History has made identity constructions that are reversible. We just have to work together and be honest about where we stand in the world.


William García is an Afro-Nuyorican raised between New York and Puerto Rico. He has a BA and an MA in history from the University of Puerto Rico-Rio Piedras. His research interests include Afro-Latino history, hip-hop and reggaetón in the Caribbean and Puerto Rican diaspora. He is currently an MA student in curriculum and teaching at the Teachers College at Columbia University in New York City. You can follow him on Twitter @webdubois2014.

EDITOR’S NOTE: An original version of this op-ed said that Zimmerman was of Jewish descent. He is not. A correction was made to one sentence.

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Yep, it is truly sad to have read the racist rant against Steve Harvey by so called white latinos.   Three years ago, I taught French and Spanish at a high school that has 95% Mexicans, and most of them are illegals. I swear, I never experienced  such hatred. Some of the students made my life very difficult.  I will not mention here the things they said about me. Truly sad, that kind of behavior is encouraged at home by a group who  should be thankful to have come to the United States, in search of a better life. At the end of the day we all have the same blood running through our veins. There's no black, white, or brown blood!


It's sad to see people arguing whether they are white or black.  The fact is that there are only 4 races: white, black, red and yellow.  In which category do you fall into?  Whether  you are dark or light has to do with the environment you move in.  You adapt to the environment to survive.  The colder the environment, the more white the pigment and the warmer the environment the darker the pigment.  Your blood is still red no matter the color.  Go back and study the Nomads, the Moors, etc. Today you have a mix everywhere because for survival we rely on man's numerous inventions.  What makes it bad for each race is temper, attitude and inferior complex.  Each one is an example of who you are as an individual.  Each one can progress or digress as an individual.  Get rid of your fears, work hard and persevere with good intentions.


As an example look at the butterfly.  A green butterfly lives within the green plants.  The dark and grey on barks of trees and the more colorful shades are from the colorful flowers.  Nature is the best example.


What are you saying here?  Do you think that Latinos who are racist against blacks or Indians or whoever do so because they identify as white?  Do you think that identifying as non-white is some kind of antidote to racism?

The Indian Escape Hatch

By William Javier Nelson



I agree with much of what the author says... but I also think it falls far short in analysis because 75% of all "Hispanics/Latinos" in the U.S. are either Mexican or Central American... and the way this is framed, it is about a black-white society. Mexicans, Central Americans and people from the Andes are primarily Indigenous or Indigenous-based mestizos. De-Indigenization that more properly belongs in this discussion, especially when talking aboput the United States. Btw: the migra knows how to distinguish us, primarily due to our skin color... so to speak of whiteness for most of us, through a black-white prism, makes little sense. But I will stop here because this is what dissertations are about, not something that can be debated in a few hundred characters... but still, I do agree that the racism of this society infects everyone. No one is immune. And yes, much of it is distilled by White univision and telemundo -- neither of which projects brown characters, just like they do not project black characters, except as the help, etc.


mestizo is a broad and undefined term which needs a lot of discussion because it simply means European and indigenous. Many mestizos can pass for white while many appear as indigenous. However, while many white mestizos who benefit White privilege can claim indigeneity, darker indigenous mestizos on the other hand, cannot benefit from white privilege. If Ricky Ricardo would've been mestizo it wouldn't change anything. If anything mentioning, mestizos would've utterly strengthened my argument. I will next time. I've seen white Latinos who like like Paulina Rubio claim mestizo. Whe that is fine we need to examine how darker mestizo indigenous with stronger indigenous traits don't benefit from such claim. If you want to contribute in order to understand mestizo hierarchies please do.


I'm not as interested in defining terms as I am in investigating who benefits from white privilege by passing. That has nothing to do with black-white binaries as your rationalization is clinging too. You sound smart and everything but it does very little to question my argument. Your giving a specific migra explanation, which is interesting but I'm obviously referring to racial hierarchies how's in general. Not to mention that my argument is exploring racial hierarchies, white privilege and race theory from Latinos in the U.S. Latino is a made up term but race has played a crucial role since before that term or Hispanic came into play, hence my op Ed. Just because analyzing this in the U.S. And focusing on blackness and whiteness doesn't make it "incompatible". Mestizos enjoy white privilege wether their in DF or in LA. Mestizo is not a monolithic term and not all mestizos look alike. Some can pass and hence we have to mention HOW their bodies occupies space in the U.S. Your arguments are weak with all due respect.


@Williamgarcia1987 I on the other hand don't think your argument is weak at all.. I noted that I generally agree with your larger point - that there is definite racism amongst Latinos. what I am arguing is that mestizo is a colonially constructed term... One that de-indigenizes... And if you are talking about the entire continent or world, you make a better case... But in the u.s. , you argue through a black\white prism... which somewhat makes sense, but is incomplete. My argument is simple: a black\white prism is not the only way to view the world. And you mention that you are not interested in defining terms... well, how can you argue anything if the terms are undefined. For example, since when were Mexicans/Central Americans put into the government imposed: Hispanic category? The term itself de-Indigenizes and also, negates the African presence. The reason terms matter is because with it go many assumptions... btw... I am chocolate brown, with Afro-Indigenous background. I will stop there because I think writing here barely scratches... and it doesn't stop the targeting of brown peoples by law enforcement, including the migra.


@Williamgarcia1987 This is not necessarily about or strictly about appearances... that's why I mentioned the migra... they do not target black or white peoples. they target brown-skinned individuals... but this is beyond appearances. it is beyond black-white. Mestizo as you say is an imprecise term...it is not Indigenous-Spanish or Indigenous-European. More Blacks migrated to Mexico than Europeans. But again, your use of a black-white framework is inapplicable for most of us. Many of us are Indigenous or de-Indigenized Indigenous peoples. The black-whiteprism  invisibilizes and silences most of us. Mexicans/Central Americans and peoples from the Andes in the U.S.... prob 80% of so-called Hispanics. The white Latinos are generally not coming from those countries... Part of the problem is that Hispanic//Latino is an artificial category. etc etc...