Rachel Hatzipanagos, Washington Post, August 28, 2020
When Janel Martinez started seeing the “Latinos for Black Lives Matter” hashtag trending, she saw it as the latest example of a long history of slights.
“It was extremely problematic simply because it’s erasing Blackness,” Martinez said. “But was I shocked? No, this is something that is definitely on brand for the Latinx community.”
Martinez is a Black Honduran-American and the founder of Ain’t I Latina?, an online destination for Afro-Latinos. She started the site in 2013, after a lifetime of noticing a void of people who look like her in television and magazines.
“The problem that I saw very frequently throughout media, in both Spanish-language media and media targeted at Latinx people in the U.S., was that Black stories, Black people were not valued,” Martinez said.
About 1 in 4 U.S. Latinos identify as Afro-Latino, according to a 2014 Pew Research Center survey. Yet Univisión only hired its first Afro-Latina to anchor an evening news show, Ilia Calderón, in 2017.
While the United States tends to flatten Latinos as a vaguely Brown racial mass, Latino is an ethnicity. Those with roots in Latin America and the Caribbean can belong to any race. But the misconception about Latino identity is a common one.
Expressions like “Latinos for Black Lives,” or another iteration, “Brown Lives Matter” are, therefore, illogical, said Paul Joseph López Oro, an assistant professor in the department of Africana studies at Smith College.
“The phrase makes you first immediately think there are no Black people in the Latinx community,” said López Oro, who is a Black Honduran of Garifuna descent and was born in Brooklyn. “So even though that slogan most likely doesn’t come from a place of hatred or supporting racism against Black people, it comes from a place of marking Latinx people as non-Black, and the dangers of that is that it’s not true.”
In reality, there are significant Black populations in Latin America. According to the Slave Voyages website, of the 10.7 million Africans taken to the New World who survived the Middle Passage, just 388,000 landed in what became the United States. Brazil received 4.86 million Africans alone, and others were taken to the Caribbean and to the rest of North, Central and South America. An additional 52,000 people arrived to what became the United States from slave routes internal to the Americas.
Jonathan Rosa, an associate professor of education, anthropology, linguistics, and comparative race and ethnic studies at Stanford University, said discerning the motivations behind “Latinos for Black Lives” is complex.
“For some people, it’s a slogan that corresponds to an investment in solidarity. From another perspective, it’s an appropriation of ‘Black Lives Matter,’ ” Rosa said. “And so it’s that tension that can be really challenging.”
D.C.-based graphic designer Steve Alfaro ran into this issue himself. Alfaro, who runs his own creative studio, created a T-shirt design after the police killing of George Floyd that read, “Latinos in solidarity with you! Black Vidas Matter.” He posted an image of his design on Instagram.
“I had a friend that had reached out to me, and she felt that the Afro-Latinx community was not included in the phrase that I had used,” Alfaro said. “And I was sort of caught off guard, as I didn’t have that awareness that [Afro Latinos] felt that way.”
“We need to figure out how to have these conversations,” said Alfaro, who identifies as Latinx. “I haven’t had a conversation with my family about Afro-Latinx people and anti-Blackness in my community. … I’m glad people are telling their stories and talking about it because it’s real and it should be addressed.”
One moderator of the Facebook group Latinos for Black Lives Matter sees it differently. Sandra Lemus, a founder of the 600-plus member community, said that it’s open to everyone and that it includes Afro-Latinos.
“I can see where sometimes the phrase ‘Latinos for Black Lives Matter’ maybe excludes certain people, but it’s definitely welcome for everyone to participate,” Lemus said.
While Black Latinx people, non-Black Latinx people and Black Americans have historically worked together to advance civil rights in the United States, Rosa, the associate professor, said the concern is that by putting the focus on Brown lives, Black experiences will be silenced.