Being Afro-Anything Is Not About Your Right to Say the N-Word
A few days ago, Jane the Virgin star and Latina actress Gina Rodriguez came under fire for singing along with a line in the Fugees' "Ready or Not" that included the n-word.
After people justifiably called Rodriguez out for her use of the word she somewhat apologized ("IF" she had offended anyone), but the social media backlash had already started. This is not the first time Gina has come under fire for disrespect toward Black people; she's been known for trying to center and shift focus back to the Latino community in conversations about Blackness and especially Black women.
The backlash also comes from a decades-long debate over the n-word and who actually should be able to say it. Yesterday I asked my Instagram followers about their feelings regarding the word and who should be able to say it. It turns out, everyone feels differently depending on what side of this conversation they're standing on. Some folks don't think anyone should say it at all considering its origins as a slur and the hatred connected to its history. Others think that the word is reserved for Black people who have taken ownership over the word and use it in dialogue not as a slur but as a term of endearment and power. The conversations this week have gone even deeper to include Afro-Latinos (Black members of the Latinx community) and whether they are even included in the realm of Black people who are allowed to use the word.
I believe that Black people have the right to take the language and hatred used against them for so many years and flip it into a term that they have ownership over. I also believe that Black people who choose not to use the word are well within their right to do so, but when it comes to the Afro-Latinx community I have strong feelings about what being Afro-Latinx seems to mean to some people, and what it SHOULD actually mean.
I'm seeing people choose to defend Gina Rodriguez and her use of the n-word in that video by labeling her as Afro-Latina because of her Puerto Rican heritage and yes, she has stated that her father identifies as Afro-Latino. Rodriguez herself however, has again been KNOWN to purposely attempt to redirect conversations about Black women to "all women." She's also come under fire before for hosting a "Latina Power" event where almost every single woman in the picture was a White Latina (sans Rosario Dawson who is an Afro-Latina woman.) While Rodriguez may very well be genetically Afro-Latinx, she's never gone out of her way to speak on behalf of women who are. She hasn't worked to center them in any of the spaces where she's worked to center Latina women in general. And just like Gina, the Latinx community as a whole still has a ton of work to do when it comes to eradicating anti-Blackness that has lead to the erasure of THOUSANDS of Afro-Latinx people in their communities.
So no, the reward for identifying as Afro-Latinx isn't a free pass say the n-word.
In a Pew Research Survey, only 18% of Afro-Latinos identified as "Black" when asked about their race. The same survey stated that 39% of respondents identified as either White alone or White in combination with another race. 24% stated their race as Hispanic and 9% identified as mixed race. Many of us know people in our own communities who might be Afro-Latinx and refuse to be labeled as Black because they associate Blackness with negative stereotypes. People who love to say that they're mixed and "Boricua" before they'd ever use the term Black. People who spew racism and hatred toward Black people; ESPECIALLY Black women. So why are we so ready and willing to excuse Latinx people who have given us multiple examples of anti-Blackness just because we think they MIGHT be Afro-Latinx?
So yes, some people do believe that because Afro-Latinx people are Black that they should be able to use the n-word. I believe that Afro-Latinx people should be concerned with actually accepting their Blackness FIRST before they worry about whether or not they can sing along with Gina and the Fugees.
Being Afro-Latinx means being a part of an incredibly underrepresented community that has gone unacknowledged within many Latin countries across the world because of anti-Blackness. Being Afro-Latinx means centering and celebrating Black people in direct relation to ourselves. It means seeing our Blackness and our Latin culture simultaneously without needing to establish ourselves as some kind of exotic and fetishized mix of both. As a community we need to be ready and willing to do the work that other Black people have already been doing as well as to center their voices. It's a beautiful thing that more of us are getting to learn about and finally (publicly) accept who we are in terms of genetics and history, but we need to focus more on everything else that comes with it.
Being Afro-anything is not about your RIGHT to claim Black culture. It's about your responsibility to own your Blackness and call out the people around you who refuse to.