By Neftali Valle
I feel like it is a common understanding that the media is notorious for perpetuating ideals of what it means to be beautiful, white, non-white, gay, male, female etc. However, here is a specific example of just how far they go to reinforce and maintain hierarchies of dominance.
It’s a pretty lengthy video, but I’d like to point out a couple things that some of these actors made. The first one being that they themselves would go up for acting roles that asked for Hispanic/Latino actors, however because they are of Afro-Latino descent and of darker complexion they would be read as being black and therefore could not go up for the roles. In making this observation I think two things: It’s very empowering to be able to claim an identity as your own, embrace the culture and the history of said identity, however, my second point address the unfortunate fact that due to western thought and construction of race many people of color who have multiple histories or identities are going to be read in a particular way (e.g. identifying as Latino, but being read as black).
Another point I’d like to address in terms of this video is how many communities of color have a shared history and we often forget about these shared struggles and histories when it comes to organizing. GRANTED even though we do have shared histories, in a lot of our lived realities the differences that we do possess can result in heavy power dynamics and survival issues. For example, a friend and I could both ID as Latino/Hispanics but my darker complexion means that when I walk into a store, I will most likely be subject to heavier surveillance and speculation. This doesn’t mean it’ll always happen, but institutions, like the media, often criminalize darker tones folks: the jail scene has all people of color, the maid or janitor are darker skinned, etc. In making this point, I hope that I am bringing up conversations and opportunities on how to build coalition among difference student orgs. How can we work together towards a similar goal (ending oppression everywhere) but still be conscious of the differences among us that create power dynamics? We have a shared history, I think that’s a good starting point for similarities and a grounds to work together, but we have some differences that affect how we each live our lives, which is something that can affect power dynamics and what we need to be conscious of.
As a final note, we cannot forget one of the larger claims made in the video which is this idea of “Adelantando la raza,” meaning, “advancing the race.” This is a sad concept for me to accept because I have definitely faced this is my own family: “Don’t be own in the sun too much, you’ll get darker,” “When are you going to find yourself a pretty nice white girl?” There are many things that could be said about this, but what I want to address is the unfortunate consequences many people of color have suffered due to colonialism. As mentioned before the media perpetuate what it means to be desired and beautiful, and most of the time it’s being white. Growing up in this environment I know that I have suffered a lot from internalized whiteness, wanting lighter skin, colored eyes, live in the same neighborhoods, etc. Not only that, but it has gone as far as planning ahead for future generations. Framing heterosexual unions in a “strategic” way in order to have lighter skinned offspring. And even in non-normative unions, I have observed that the desire is for lighter skin, or to “civilize” and normalize children of color to be able to assimilate more easily into dominant culture. I acknowledge that fact that a lot of my observations are pretty broad, but in my experience across the board this is what has been somewhat consistent, but I’m not saying that it applies to everyone.
I encourage you all to talk about this topic among community. Conversations on aesthetic privilege, claiming of identities, familial influences on self-image, and let’s not forget the role of institutions among all this, like the media, social networks, etc.