So today, I was scrolling the interwebz and I saw something that caught my eye. Apparently Black Twitter is in an uproar, calling Jennifer Lopez a cultural appropriator because of a quiet little lyric in her recent collaboration, “Lonely” with Colombian singer Maluma. The lyric in question states “Siempre serás tu negrita del Bronx,” which a quick plug into Google Translate comes back as “I will always be your little Black girl from the Bronx”. Which made Twitter ask “Since when is Jennifer Lopez Black?”
Did Jennifer Lopez really say she was Black?!?! pic.twitter.com/hUbnTlPoEO
— yall niggas goofy (@_SincerelyAshB) October 18, 2020
Jenny from the Block has had a semi-tumultuous relationship with the Black community. She came under fire a few years ago for her use of the N-word in Ja Rule’s “I’m Real”, and more recently for a well-intended, but very tone-deaf, deleted tweet in which the singer used the dreaded #AllLivesMatter hashtag. And then of course there was the whole Motown tribute debacle the year before, where folks were in arms because the “white Latina” was performing in a space that energetically should have been “reserved for Black talent.”
But when it comes to the question of “Is Jennifer Lopez Black?”, I’m almost positive if you were to ask her about it, she’d say “I’m Puerto Rican.” And I can say that because every step of her career that’s what she’s identified as, down to the big ass Puerto Rican flag she wore in her recent Superbowl performance.
I can also say this because as a person who grew up around Latinx people from the Caribbean and South America, I know something Black Twitter doesn’t seem to want to accept in their quest to cancel “la negrita del Bronx”: Google Translate fucked my girl over. That term “negrita” doesn’t so much mean “little Black girl” but more so “dark-skinned girl from the Bronx.” Which is more than likely why she hasn’t responded to the outrage. But if we gone be mad at anything, it should be the fact that Jennifer, with her light-bright self, thinks SHE is dark-skinned.
Now why, pray-tell, is this the true problem? Because as Aida Rodriguez stated in her recent segment on Tiffany Haddish’s They Ready, Latinx people are racist against themselves. Although I would rather use the term colorist here because, thanks to colonialism, they are not alone in that sentiment. We seen this shit everywhere, in Desi culture where only light-skinned women are depicted, to other parts of Asia, to my home country, Jamaica, where skin bleaching is a thing because “every body love off the browning them”. And the list goes on. Pick a country, any country, and I will show you an unnatural obsession with all things white.
Which is why I’m pissed Jenny is calling herself negrita. Not because she ain’t Black. Which, honestly I don’t get the distinction: the majority of the Caribbean population is a melting pot of cultures (not races—a social construct invented by colonials to lessen the likelihood of rebellion against inhumane practices) from Indigenous peoples, to enslaved Africans, to Asians, to Desi folks—and any lightness is usually the by-product of rape and selective breeding. Period. But I digress.
I’m pissed about the negrita comment because I have so many friends who were told not to stay out in the sun because they might “get too dark”. Aida Rodriguez, another light-bright, struggled in her family because she was “the dark one with the curly hair”. And her story is not unique. In a recent roundtable hosted by Rodriguez, they discussed the need to end the paper bag test (if some how you’ve never heard of it, it’s this asinine test where your complexion couldn’t be darker than a paper bag– a sickness one of the commentators attributed to Latinx folks “doing it to themselves”, but again I beg to differ). And in this roundtable one of the commentators, Gadiel, discussed that he, a light-skinned Latino, noticed the considerable difference in how he and his sister, who was darker than him, were treated by family and members of their community; something which affected the girl’s self-esteem to the point of her feeling unworthy– and somehow morally lesser than– all because she was “una negrita”.
All of this, every drop of anti-Blackness, every drop of self-hatred, comes from one place and one place only. One James Baldwin summed up eloquently in his famed essay “Letter from a Region in My Mind”. He said:
“Negroes in this country—and Negroes do not, strictly or legally speaking, exist in any other—are taught really to despise themselves from the moment their eyes open on the world. This world is white and they are black. White people hold the power, which means that they are superior to blacks (intrinsically, that is: God decreed it so), and the world has innumerable ways of making this difference known and felt and feared.”
And it isn’t just Black folk who feel this intense self-hate; every waking moment of our lives we are taught to worship the Eurocentric standards beat into us via colonialism. As Toni Morrison put it: “As if we have no substance, no meaning and no depth, without white people.”
White supremacy, and the idea that being ranked against a paint swatch should somehow justify the level of treatment you receive as a human being, is a disease. And it has infected us all, corroding our brains and our systems as we unconsciously (and sometimes consciously) are taught to worship all things on the lighter spectrum of the swatch. It’s why Black men, like my father and uncles, celebrated having lighter women on their arms; not out of love, but as a status symbol and certification of their proximity to whiteness. It’s why little girls couldn’t play in the sun. It’s why people in the same family will receive different treatment outside. It’s why Latinx people will vehemently deny being Black, even when dark as midnight, because they speak Spanish. It’s why Sammy Sosa bleached his face, and Michael Jackson, and Lil’ Kim, and Vybez Kartel, and on and on and on.
And what Jennifer Lopez calling herself negrita tells me, is not that she is somehow jumping on the train of women impersonating Black women for funsies (cough cough, Ariana Grande, cough cough Kardashian coven). No, it tells me that in her household, she was the dark skinned one, and while the term was meant as a form of endearment, they were really saying “Don’t get too dark, my negrita. The world won’t love you if you are too dark.”
And that shit right there, is the real problem.
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