Aranda: Colorism in Latinx communities

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Aranda: Colorism in Latinx communities

Liam Aranda, Columnist

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Colorism is a system in which whiter features and complexions are favored among communities of color. Colorism is a prevalent issue among communities of color as it determines the kind of jobs that are accessible, marriage rates and the likelihood a person of color will go to prison. Colorism is something instilled in children of color before they can even speak.

For Latinxs, a gender-neutral name for the Latin-American community, the system of colorism has roots in the European colonization in the Americas. As soon as the Spanish began mixing with the indigenous people and African slaves — whom they brought over — they began ranking mixed children by the color of their skin. This practice was known as “el sistema de casta,” or the caste system. The colonial society placed the “mestizos,” people of Spanish and indigenous heritage, on top and the “zumbos,” people of black and indigenous heritage, at the bottom. It is obvious what features and heritage take precedence in the hierarchy of society. This system has been passed down to present day and currently plays an integral part in interactions not only between whites and Latinxs, but amongst the Latinx community as a whole. Personally, I am extremely fortunate as a white-skinned Latino; I face less of the brunt of stereotypes associated with being Latinx. Also, due to the color of my skin I’m more likely to earn a larger paycheck, receive a higher quality of education and am at a lower rate of being exposed to diseases such as HIV/AIDS than darker skinned Latinxs.

Though I have no desire to be a part of colorism, I undeniably benefit from this system. It is statistically proven that as a white Latino, the only thing that I have experienced due to the color of my skin is that people, who are generally white, will assume I am not Latino or try to invalidate my identity. That might offend me and bother me; however, that is nothing compared to the heavy stereotyping faced by darker skinned Latinxs. I know the level of invalidation in my identity as a Latino due to my fairness does not compare to that of Afro Latinxs who face invalidation of their Latinidad — Latino identity — and stereotypes associated with their black skin from both the white and Latinx communities.

Colorism is not only a dangerous mindset, but it also poses a severe risk to mental health and self worth. In Latin-American countries and communities, whiteness serves as the standard of beauty and acceptance — the majority of Latin American politicians and celebrities are fairer skinned. The fact that these people serve as the faces of the community affects how Latinxs are perceived both inside and out. To those outside, the fairer appearance reaffirms notions that only lighter skinned people of color can be seen as beautiful or at the same level and worth as white people. The over-representation of light skin is detrimental. Darker people of color in colorist communities are taught to hate their indigenous and/or black features and are ingrained with the notion that these features are inherently inferior and something to be ashamed of. As a result, they will wind up attempting to lighten their features using dangerous things such as “whitening creams.” These creams may lighten their features but generally come with harmful side effects.

While the cream may lighten their skin, it will not diminish the sense of insecurity and self-loathing they have been taught to feel about their bodies and their features. I just want to tell these people that you are enough: Your indigenous and black features make you the beautiful person you are, and you have just as much of a right to be proud of your look as anyone else. Colorism is not something that can be eliminated in one strike; it is something that requires the upheaval of a problematic system and it begins with darker people of color loving themselves.

Liam Aranda is a Weinberg freshman. He can be contacted at liamaranda2019@u.northwestern.edu. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to opinion@dailynorthwestern.com.

The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.

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