Colorism in the Hispanic/Latinx Community


Yamilka Moreno, Assistant Editor-in-Chief

Colorism is described as “prejudice or discrimination against individuals with a dark skin tone, typically among people of the same ethnic or racial group.” It is a conversation, as well as a reality that is not mentioned as much as it should be, and when it is, the voice of those who are affected by it the most are invalidated and silenced. It is a conversation especially crucial within the Hispanic community, as it is important to note that we are not a monolithic group, therefore we do not all share the same experiences. Yet, as widespread as the issue is, we as a community do not talk about it nearly enough as we should, and fail dark skinned individuals in our community every time it goes unspoken. 

According to a new Pew Research Center study, Hispanics of darker skin reported less access to opportunities, as well as more discrimination in comparison to those with a lighter skin complexions. This is one of the ways in which us lighter skinned people gain unfair advantages from the discriminaton of another group. In order to dismantle colorism, it is important for those with this advantage to listen to dark skin voices, experiences, and emotions. To do this, it is first necessary to understand what colorism is. 

Although heavily intertwined, racism and colorism are not the same, instead, colorism is a branch attached to the tree of racism. Racism is described as “prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against a person or people on the basis of their membership in a particular racial or ethnic group, typically one that is a minority or marginalized.” Colorism, on the other hand, adds onto the discrimination that dark skinned people apart of a certain marginalized group face. Like many forms of discrimination, colorism stems from the treasuring of western European phenotypes. The closer someone is to “whiteness,” the more advantages they possess. In many Latin American countries, historical societal structures exist where ingrained notions of white supremacy make it so that one’s proximity to said notion determines the way in which they are treated. Of course, this also means that the farther one is from this notion, the more unfair treatment they receive. Also intertwined with racism is texturism, stemming from the appreciation of hair types that adhere to common European phenotypes (straight hair), and dislike for curler or kinkier hair types. Alongside colorism, it is also a large problem within the Hispanic community, one so old that it is understood as the norm. 

The same Pew study finds that 62 percent of Hispanic individuals say that having darker complexion makes it harder for Hispanics to thrive in the United States, while about 59 percent say having lighter skin has acted as an advantage to their prosperity in the United States. In the study, almost 57 percent of Hispanics claimed their skin tone influences their everyday lives “a lot or some,” and 64 percent of Hispanics with darker complexion said they personally encountered prejudice in the year prior to the survey. It is not difficult to observe the existence of colorism within our community. It is obvious in Hispanic TV shows, movies, novellas, magazines, and music. It also exists in language, an example being phrases like “mejorar la raza,” or “better the race.” The quote promotes racial mixing, so that generations to come have a closer proximity to whiteness instead of blackness and indigeneity. It is believed that this will overall benefit an ethnic group, as skin color has created a historical social hierarchy in Hispanic countries and therefore determine ones social status and worth. The colorism we see today in the Caribbean and Americas goes back to the ideologies of colonizers during colonialism, where the look of enslaved Black people or Indigenous people lessened their opportunities and wealth. 

Although I am someone who spends a lot of time learning and teaching Black & Latinx history as an Afro-Latina, the conversation surrounding colorism is still one I have to listen to and educate myself in, being that colorism is something I benefit from as a lighter skinned individual. It is impossible to bring awareness to colorism without including the experiences of dark skinned people, which is why I brought this conversation to my mother, a dark skinned woman from a country in Latin America.  Prior to this interview, she was unaware of what colorism even was, but most definitely had experiences with it.

This interview was translated into English. 

Q: Where are you from? 


A: Dominican Republic, Sabana Grade De Boya. 


Q: Growing up,  were you ever spoken to about colorism? Was it a conversation at home?


A: Nobody talked to me about colorism, it was not talked about at home unless colorism was being directed towards me.


Q: What was it like growing up as a darkskin girl in the Dominican Republic?


A: It was bad. I would always get discriminated against in school, at home, in the church, at stores, and at my friends house. They would always make me feel bad. I would be made fun of, calling me “Black girl,” and I wouldn’t be able to participate. It wasn’t only friends, but it was also from my siblings. I would be called Haitian as an insult. I don’t know why, of course I am darker skinned than most, but in my school, at church, or anywhere with friends, they were not white themselves. It was a skin color issue. But I’m not sad about it anymore, I know that they are in the wrong, it was never me. There is absolutely nothing wrong with being Haitian, so I didn’t understand why it was being used against me. I come from a dark skinned father, and a dark skinned grandfather, that doesn’t make me any different from my siblings. They came from the same people. I would try to bleach my skin I was little, I would put it in the water when showering because I felt isolated. The colorism didn’t hurt as much as not being believed that I was being bullied.


Q: When was the first time you´ve experienced colorism?


A: In a church reunion for the baptization of kids. The nuns were baptizing us, there was like 5 lightskin wealthy girls. They told me I could not get baptized because I was Haitian, so I should get baptized in Haiti. I wasn’t defended by my sisters, they actually pretended that they did not know me. It did me damage. They would call me black as an insult, and that bad things should happen to me because of my race. I also had racist teachers. It was a small group of students, so, it being a small group, I was the only dark skinned one. They would talk to me differently, they would put me in a corner, ignore when I raised my hand. One feels bad, you know? Because I wanted to participate. She would put people in groups and leave me working individually. My mom changed me from school to school, because they said I was the problem. But I knew I wasn’t. 

Q: Have you had any other experiences with colorism as an adult?


A:  In this country! It was 17 years ago when I worked in this country for the first time. There were these ladies, 2 Dominicans and two Polish women, when it was their time to use the machines, they would disinfect them after I used them, because “Black people carry diseases.” I didn’t know English, so I couldn’t say anything. I couldn’t defend myself. 


Q: Do you know anyone else who has had experiences with colorism, perhaps in your family? 


A: My dad had bad experiences with it. They would also call him Haitian. One time they were gathering Haitians in my town. If the didn’t know how to pronounce ‘perejil’ a word that supposedly Dominicans knew how to say, they would mount them onto a truck if they didn’t. I was little. People would joke on him by asking him to say it, to poke fun at the fact that he “looked Haitian.” He knew how to pronounce it, yeah he’s Black, but he’s not Haitian. Like, a lot of Dominicans have Haitian in them anyways. My grandfather would go through the same bullying. They would make him work without pay, because “Haitians had to work for free.” They didn’t give them human decency, you know? 


The dictatorship of Trujillo in 1930 shows blatant colorism and overall anti-blackness in DR, the dictatorship of someone who actively supported Haitian ethnic cleansing and promoted the “whitening of generations” by removing Haitians & Black Dominicans. We can see the effects of his dictatorship as well as overall white supremacy today, as DR systematically refuses to grant birth certificates to Haitians/ people of Haitian descent and several lynchings of Haitians have been reported in DR. There was also the Parsley Massacre in 1937, where  troops who found people suspected to be Haitian would be forced to pronounce “perejil” (parsley in Spanish) with a properly rolled “r.” Those who couldn’t were presumed to be speakers of Haitian Creole, and therefore were killed. The removal of Haitians from DR is still well and alive today, it being the reason she was able to see it take place. 


Q: Do you believe colorism is a problem within the hispanic community?


A: Of course. 100%. It’s what I’m telling you. We’re all Latino. Me being Black and with darker skin doesn’t make me any less Latino. The Dominican attacks the next Dominican the most. I mean, teachers were out here isolating dark skin children. They isolate dark skinned students to advantage lighter skinned students. 


Q: Where do you believe colorism in the hispanic community comes from? 


A: From history. From people who are ignorant and think that one has to be dark skin to come from Haiti. There are still racist people there. It comes from people not knowing history, exactly. There is nobody to help you, because like I said, even the teachers were racist. 


Q: What do you believe are the effects of colorism?


A: Ends of friendships, family separation, death, or suicide, death because of race differences, massacres, low self esteem, sadness, and brutality. 


Q: What do you think should be done about colorism in the Hispanic/Latinx community?


A: Talk more about history, tell them that color doesn’t have anything to do with love, teach children that race is insignificant, color is a color, like my dad said, everyone has the same blood. When my grandfather endured racism, he would ask, “Is your blood white?” “is my blood black?” Educate kids especially, color also has nothing to do with race. I say it because Latinos of lighter skin can also be Afro-Latinos. Are you gonna tell kids not to tell kids to play with other kids because of their color? Adults are the first that should be educated. You can’t teach those that come after you if you don’t orient yourself. 


It does not suffice for our community to underestimate these issues by saying common phrases such as, “we are all one race,” “Hispanics don’t see color,” or “we are all a mix,” simply because these things are not true or applicable for all Latinos. I ask for us to see color, as being colorblind will only worsen discrimination, as all discrimination as been able to prevail because of closed mouths and blind eyes. Even though such conversations may be uncomfortable for many, the fact that they are categorized as such demonstrate how little we actually talk about them. Colorism is one issue in a pool of social issues left behind by colonization, brutality, and forced assimilation. It is essential for us to acknowledge the privileges some of us have, even as people of color, because this identity does not mean we cannot be the distributors of unjust treatment. 

More importantly, we must revisit the pedestal on which we place whiteness on, and where exactly these values come from. We must eradicate this Eurocentric way of thinking, as it only strengthens the systemic failings that disenfranchise those of darker skin within our community. As said by American novelist and social activist Alice Walker, “We cannot, as a people, progress. For colorism, like colonialism, sexism, and racism, impedes us.