The advent of Amara La Negra and Cardi B, two Black Dominican women catapulted to fame after their appearances on VH1s Love and Hip Hop, has brought with it a contentious conversation about Blackness, namely: who gets to be Black and who does not?
For the non-Black onlooker this may sound like a trivial question. “Can’t you tell by just looking at them?” they might ask.
The answer, it appears, is no.
The drama surrounding this conversation, fueled by think pieces and social media posts that range from celebrating the increased visibility of Latino Blackness to calling out Cardi B for “unjustly benefiting from the work of Black people,” implying she isn’t Black herself, is particularly ironic.
Since I can remember, my Black American peers have been telling Dominican people, myself included, that we are self-hating for denying our Blackness. Examples like Sammy Sosa, the Afro-Dominican baseball player who bleached his skin so much he now has a ghost-like complexion, have been used to publicly ridicule and shame us as self-loathing Black people, and to remind us that no matter what we do, we’re Black.
Whether we like it or not.
I’ve lost count of the many times my Dominican identity was marginalized —by Black Americans, White Americans and White Latinos alike — and my Blackness centered as the prevailing and most important part of who I am. It happened so often that at a very young age I had to reckon with a racial identity that everyone else saw, but that I didn’t understand.
See in my household, like many Dominican households, my ethnicity, nationality, and race were all wrapped in one word: Dominican.
I had no grasp of the nuances between ethnicity, nationality, and race until much later when I went to majority White schools, and grew to embrace the Blackness I now recognize and claim.
Yet it appears that now, there is still a problem.
Those of us who claim our Blackness are increasingly told that our Blackness is somehow less legitimate, less valuable and less real than that of Black Americans and non-Latino Black islanders. But why? How can the same folks who once so vehemently claimed us as fellow Black people, now so easily discard us?
The answer, I believe, is twofold.
First, there’s the idea that Latinidad is by definition “impure” and a result of racial mixing that goes back to colonial times. Second, there’s the lack of Black Latino representation in the media, which exacerbates the idea that we don’t exist at all, much less in as many variations and shades of Black as Black Americans.
This is why Angela Rye is unquestionably Black, while Amara La Negra who is several shades darker, is not.
This is all further complicated by history and context, because Blackness in America is about more than race. It encapsulates the Black American struggle, culture, hip hop and rock n’ roll, and the fact that the only country Black Americans can call home has never rightfully claimed or recognized them for being the very heartbeat of American culture.
Beyond their contributions to music, food and art, Black American people have invented everything from the stop light to the home security system, and their forced labor etched the foundation of the entire U.S. economy—but you still won’t learn any of that in school.
So for many Black Americans, Latino claims to Blackness sound like a claim to a history and struggle that is invariably not our own.
And I get that.
Yet the truth is Black Latino history shares many of the same themes of dehumanization, exploitation, and erasure that Black American history does. Our erasure in Latin America has also been systemic, and because Black people are the largest demographic in countries like the D.R., we were strategically taught to hate ourselves and fear our Blackness, and like Sammy Sosa, some of us go leaps and bounds to hide all traces of it.
It is not by chance but by design that in a land where over 70% of the people are Black, tourism ads and beauty pageants are filled with White women that do not represent the vast majority of the population. Blanqueamiento and the movement to “mejorar la raza” that began in the 1930s, was as much an affirmation of the prevalence of Blackness in the Dominican Republic as it was an effort to erode it.
And it persists.
While Haitians are still persecuted and villainized for immigrating to the D.R. by the Dominican government, White Venezuelans fleeing the chaos in their country are continuously welcomed with open arms, so much so that the Dominican “wedding of the year” was of a White Venezuelan man to a Black Dominican woman.
So where does that leave us?
With a choice.
We can choose to fight over who is at the bottom of the barrel, or we can choose to take control over the narratives of Blackness and race to which limited White imaginations have bound us. It’s time that we lean in to difficult conversations and ask ourselves why Latino Blacks are not Black enough, but Jamaicans and Trinidadians, who also have a different history and are from the same Caribbean as Dominicans and Puerto Ricans, are.
We must build solidarity by being vulnerable and engaging to understand, rather than to respond.
Because what I do know is that being Black is hard, no matter where you are, or come from, in the world. And in the same America that holds Amara La Negra’s hometown of Miami and Cardi B’s hometown of The Bronx, when it comes to Blackness, the One-Drop Rule is very much still king.
Jaynice Del Rosario was born in the Dominican Republic and raised in The Bronx. She is a graduate student at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA), pursuing a Master’s Degree in Public Administration and concentrating in Economic and Political Development. She is a scholar, a published writer, a gender specialist and an anti-racist feminist. She writes about love through a gendered lens and seeks to inspire women to be their full authentic selves. She shares her world on Instagram @jaynicedel. More about Jaynice here.