Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Otra Vez?

If one more person calls me prieta, negra, negrita, or morena - I'm going to slap somebody!  

Don't know what I'm referring to?  Then you must not be one of the Latino tribe, specifically, the Latino tribes from the Caribbean where there tend to be more people of African descent like the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Cuba, and Colombia.  

Imagine you're at work and someone that actually likes you as a human being, who knows your name, and hasn't seen you in a few days, says to you, "Hey, Black girl!  Where you been?"  Too hard to conceptualize if you are white? (And, I'm not mad at your tribe, because we do this to ourselves!!!!)  Lets pretend I come up to you on the subway and I don't know you, but I need directions, and I say to you, "hey paleface whitey, how do you get to Times Square?"  I think you might be offended, at least put off guard.  Yet, this kind of communication is part of a typical day among Latinos of African descent.   

Once I tried to conduct an informal survey to see if others were as offended as I am at the use of these words, but I was swimming upstream.  No one thought it was a problem. I was surprised and went through a period of self reflection where I tried to accept the usage of these words. My mother sometimes used to described me as jaba (pronouned ha-bah, someone with a light or even reddish complexion), but never in a dismissive or nasty tone.   She thought it was funny, since she was a dark skinned woman. Many people called her negra and I knew they weren't disrespecting her! Not Dona Lala! The most pious woman in the parish, who would lead the 9 days of prayer after someone's death? Are you kidding!

I started to listen out for the offensive words in songs.  I noticed that in many Spanish songs of the Caribbean the words morena, morenita, and, less often, negrita truly are complimentary describing the beauty of  woman as the subject, the gorgeousness of her complexion and expressing the desire men have for her. If I knew that people who use these terms had an affinity for all people of the African Diaspora, then I might accept these as genuine compliments.   I fear they don't, and, in most cases, I know they don't.

I don't hear a compliment when someone calls me prieta or negra, especially if the person has no respect for other Black people.  

A few weeks ago someone called me prieta. The person who did it is not a Black person, at least not obviously.  He is Puerto Rican and often in conversation he has made a few comments differentiating himself from African American men or  morenos.  "Why do you like those morenos?" I don't care how many times people say, "its just a term of endearment."  I don't like it.
And, this argument is not about people referring to my black skin.  I know I'm Black and not just because of my skin color.  I know my family.   The first time I visited the Dominican Republic and met my mother's people in 1986, I realized, truly what I was; that there are no actual barriers between Black people from the Dominican Republic and Black people anywhere else except for the ones we construct ouselves.

What truly saddens me is that I have written this essay before - in high school, in college, in graduate school.  I have written about this so many times, and yet there is still a need to keep on writing about it. 

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