February is Black History Month and to celebrate this special occasion, I would like to share some thoughts triggered by a book I recently read. Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge is a book that challenged my perspective on race.
Black History Month is an annual celebration of the achievements by African Americans and a time for recognizing the central role of blacks in United State history. It all started with Carter G. Woodson who throughout his studies noticed that African American history was either misrepresented or non-existent in history books. In 1926, known today as the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH), the group lead by Woodson sponsored a national Negro History Week. This event inspired schools and communities nationwide, and by 1976 President Gerald Ford officially recognized Black History Month. There is no better time to discuss race than now.
My father has called me negra for as long as I can remember. He does so not to emphasize the color of my skin, because I am five shades lighter than him, but because, in my opinion, it is his way to assure that I am part of him. For some reason, it always made me feel this sense of belongingness; even to this day, when he calls me like that, I feel at home. Whenever he called me negra in front of people, people reacted with immense shock and with disgust “¡Ella no es negra! ¡Y por qué le dices así?” (She’s not black! Why do you call her like that?). Why do we see black as something bad? This is a question I have never asked myself before. Growing up, I have never thought about race. I knew I was not as light-skinned as some of my friends, but because I grew up in the colorful country of the Dominican Republic, there was always someone darker than me. I have always been color-blind.
During the month of January and thanks to Our Shared Shelved book club in Goodreads, I had the pleasure of reading Eddo-Lodge’s book. This book made me think a lot. I had to stop multiple times throughout the book to think because it questioned and challenged everything I knew about racism. The book is vibrant with history and tales of the United Kingdom’s structural racism and how blacks are misrepresented, but, most importantly, the book highlights the double standards of our society today.
In the United States, history has made us look at racism and discrimination as something of the past—something that doesn’t exist anymore. Obama was our president. However, the truth is that, although discrimination is not as visible as it was before, we still see peoples’ biases and prejudice against people of color. One of the greatest lessons of this book is when she refers to racism as covert. Eddo-Lodge states, “It doesn’t manifest itself in spitting strangers in the street. Instead, it lies in an apologetic smile while explaining to an unlucky soul that they didn’t get the job.” This is racism today. It is not talked about, but rather it sneaks in every chance it gets. I have experienced subtle racism here in the United States. However, where I have observed more acts of racism are in different countries in Latin America. I was born in Cuba and raised in the Dominican Republic where being white is perceived as better than being black. You see it everywhere: mothers trying to relax their little girls’ hair, telling them to marry a white guy para mejorar la raza (to improve the race) because being black is not good. It is so sad that embracing African heritage is not encouraged.
I do not agree with everything in the book; there are some ideas with which I do not agree. However, Eddo-Lodge makes a lot of good arguments that I now understand. I never thought that by ignoring race—that by keeping myself in a state of persistent color-blindness—I was not helping racism. Race is such an uncomfortable topic to discuss, so it is easier to ignore it. Race needs to be in the conversation; otherwise, it’s like sweeping all the dirt under the rug, never addressing the issue.
“Not seeing race does little to deconstruct racist structures or materially improve the conditions which people of colour are subject to daily. In order to dismantle unjust, racist structures, we must see race. We must see who benefits from their race, who is disproportionately impacted by negative stereotypes about their race, and to who power and privilege is bestowed upon – earned or not – because of their race, their class, and their gender. Seeing race is essential to changing the system.”
― Reni Eddo-Lodge, Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race
I want to take this opportunity to recognize that I am black and an Afro Latina. It is unbelievable that I just came to this realization. I have lived my whole life oblivious to the fact that I too am black. Afro Latinos are Latinos of African descent. Afro Latinos are the result of the complex colonial history of Latin American—a mix of indigenous Americans, white Europeans, and slaves from Africa and Asia. It is incredible to see how many people do not know that in Latin America’s colonial period, many African slaves were taken by the Spanish and Portuguese.
This book is a must-read because it made me reflect on my life and helped me come to terms with my racial identity as an Afro Latina. Why did it take me this long to acknowledge that I am black? Why is it that we see black as something bad? The answer to these questions are far more complicated than I can put in this post. Because blackness is often associated with oppression, we do not want to be seen as black. History defines who we are today. Understanding our history and being open and aware to the experiences and the challenges we face every day will help us conquer racism.
- Information about Black History Month
- Afro-Latino: A deeply rooted identity among U.S. Hispanics
- Reni Eddo-Lodge talks about her book Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race
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