Nicole Acevedo, NBC News, February 24, 2021
When Smalls was growing up in an interracial family in Puerto Rico, her mother was called derogatory terms and her father was treated unfairly at work because of the color of his skin. Smalls has been upfront about confronting the “beast of racism” within the fashion industry.
The Floyd protests last summer mobilized Latinos to confront racism and anti-blackness within their own communities. The challenge, as Smalls and others said, is how to keep the focus on racial equity — and how to keep it constant.
Leading up to the election after the summer’s protests, some conservatives and Republican candidates and lawmakers repeatedly misrepresented the movement as an extremist, violent faction tied to anarchists. Some of the messaging was aimed at Latino voters. False narratives about the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol blamed Black Lives Matter protesters or equated the deadly siege with marches for racial justice.
Part of Latinos’ racial reckoning is shedding the idea that “blackness is something else that is U.S.-based” and “doesn’t directly affect our Afro-Latino brothers and sisters,” said Fordham University law professor Tanya Hernandez, author of the coming book “On Latino Anti-Black Bias: ‘Racial Innocence’ & The Struggle for Equality.”
Latinos “need to stop acting as if our ethnicity shields us from any implications in regard to racial issues,” Hernandez said. “An ethnic group is not impervious to issues of racism simply because they, too, are victims of racialization.”
Latinos attended the “Unite The Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017 to defend white nationalism. They included Enrique Tarrio, chairman of the far-right white nationalist extremist group the Proud Boys, who identifies as Afro-Cuban. The Proud Boys were found to have been involved in the Capitol riot.
A misconception among Latinos and others is that Black Lives Matter is “about trying to put Black people first, as supposed to looking at Black Lives Matter as a human rights platform,” Hernandez said.
A quarter of all U.S. Latinos identified as Afro-Latino, Afro-Caribbean or as being of African descent with roots in Latin America, according to a 2016 Pew Research Center survey.
Yet many Afro-Latinos still struggle with identifying as Black. In Pew’s survey, only 18 percent of Afro-Latinos said they were Black, compared to 39 percent who identified as white. Almost a quarter (24 percent) said their race was “Hispanic” — which is an ethnicity, not a race.
Regardless of how Latinos see themselves, assumptions are made, especially toward those who are deemed to be Latino because of the way they look or the language they speak.
“Every community is not monolithic,” Velez said. “But we have to understand that the way this country talks about Latinos is also very xenophobic.”
Latinos face overt and subtle racism and discrimination, whether they were born in the U.S. or not. Hate crimes against them are on the rise, and many Latinos are harassed and even arrested for speaking Spanish in public. While Black people are overwhelmingly most likely to die at the hands of police, Latinos are killed by police at nearly twice the rate of white people, according to a database compiled by The Washington Post. Many Latinos face roadblocks to gain access to health care and economic and educational opportunities.