YouTuber and mitú contributor Kat Lazo recently published a video where she seeks to explain white privilege within the Latinx community. Quite frankly, despite there possibly being good intentions in terms of fighting racism among our people, the publication is embarrassingly shallow. The smug and self-righteous tone used throughout doesn’t help either.
Lazo’s underlying argument is that “white and light-skinned privilege” among Latinx people exists and that this skin-based privilege should not be a negative thing so long as those who possess it use it to empower darker-toned Latinx. The premise of this argument is that racism, especially by white Latinx, can be fought on an individual basis with corrective behavior, such as checking your uncle when he says something inappropriate. While we also encourage micro actions such as checking and educating family members or friends who hold racist views, narrowing it down to this is missing the mark by an abysmal margin.
Lazo and mitú leave out the capitalist and colonial nature of white Latinx racism as a direct extension of Euro-American and European white supremacy. Leaving this important factor out of their equation does not help to solve the issue of racism in our community in any meaningful way. In fact, talking about racism without mentioning its class and colonial root causes only helps to mystify it further. It also leads us to band-aid solutions at a time when we need nothing short of surgical intervention.
The Origins of White Supremacy in Latin America: European Colonization
Lazo begins her lesson with the popular trope of Latin American as a “melting pot” of different ethnicities, nationalities, traditions and culture. However, in order to understand the racial divisions in our region, we cannot start with the “melting pot” theory, as this only helps to veil the violent formation of our present identities. Centuries before this “fusion” idea, Europeans colonized our region, killing and enslaving tens of millions of Indigenous and African people to extract material wealth from them. What ensued from this point on was a purposeful forging of a society in which white people — the colonists and their descendants — became the political, economic, social and cultural elites. When we take this context into account, reducing the racial divide in the Latinx community simply to race and colorism does not help us understand the deeper structural and material roots of white privilege and racism in the Latinx community. In other words, mitú’s video hardly touched the surface.
An element that helps to confuse this history somewhat is the so-called “independence” of Latin America from Spanish and Portuguese rule in the first few decades of the 19th Century — later, for countries like Cuba. In reality, serious historians of this moment in our history understand it to be only a transition of power from direct imperial rule to white settler and upper-class mestizo rule.
For Indigenous people, African people, and the majority of mestizo (mixed heritage) people of our region, white supremacy is an ongoing reality. Racial discrimination is only one pillar of oppression, alongside extreme poverty, labor exploitation, political disenfranchisement and the pillaging of our natural resources by both our national governments and imperialist forces.
The Latin American ‘Melting Pot’ & ‘All Lives Matter’
Our cultural identities are influenced by this historically unequal dynamic. The decontextualized idea of a Latinx “melting pot” helps to veil the racial dynamics of Latinx white supremacy where everything European is the standard. Non-Europeans are only seen as a garnish in our racial and cultural makeup, ignoring the abysmal divide that continues to exist. In other words, the promotion and celebration of the idea that we are a “cosmic race” and a “fusion” of ethnicities is just another way of saying “All Lives Matter.” Under the current capitalist-imperialist system, all lives don’t matter, there is no racial harmony, Indigenous and Black lives are seen and treated as disposable, and working-class mestizos are exploited.
Unlike racial nationalists and identity politics activists who might call for the dismantling of the Latinx/mestizo identity to correct this situation, those of us who are socialists and anti-imperialists would much rather concentrate on dismantling the material and political structures at its foundations. Attempting to correct the distortions in our racial and cultural identities without economic and political power to overcome the very urgent conditions of extreme poverty, labor exploitation and political subjugation is putting a band-aid over the deeper wounds that exist. A compromise could be a simultaneous movement of dismantling our colonially-imposed identity as well as the material and political structures that are its foundation.
Lazo and mitú’s suggestion, on the other hand, is that white and light-skinned Latinx should simply use their individual skin-color-based privileges to empower the voices of non-white Latinx. This focus on racial tones is dangerous as it takes a real problem, distorts it and gives way to inconsequential solutions. For example, one of the voices that Lazo suggests we should promote is that of the late Cuban singer Celia Cruz, based simply on the fact that she was a Black woman. When we look at it through a class analysis, this doesn’t make sense as Cruz became a willing symbol for U.S. capitalism and imperialism, especially against the Cuban revolutionary socialist project. Contrarily, Fidel Castro, of European descent, is broadly seen by U.S.-based Latinx as a “dictator” who oppressed the people of that island. In this false dichotomy, Celia Cruz must be defended and empowered simply because she was Black and white revolutionaries like Fidel should use their privilege to empower Black and Brown people regardless of their political principles (or lack of them).
While we acknowledge racial inequalities within the Latinx community, empowering and giving platforms to people simply based on the color of their skin does not correct the situation, especially in the United States. Across the U.S., Black and Brown people are often used as pawns for government aggression against our communities — locally and back in the homeland. Take the other personalities promoted by mitú and Lazo: Ritchie Torres and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, two liberal Democratic party politicians who they insist we must support simply because they are Latinx of color. Their politics, however, are anything but progressive in the international arena, where they both have supported aggression against Venezuela and Palestine’s sovereignty, making them mere puppets of U.S. imperialism.
The inconsequential solutions, false prophets and general political outlook offered to us by the liberal Latinx media is an extension of white supremacist aggressions. We confidently arrive at this conclusion because it does not offer any real tools with which to fight the deeper structural roots of racist inequalities. Conclusively, it’s hard to give mitú the benefit of the doubt when their entire media model is based on an obvious attempt to assimilate us to the liberal capitalist ideas of mainstream U.S. society, cloaked in racial and ethnic advances within it.
To be clear, we do not have the arrogance or dogmatism to offer the solution to such a complex situation. We do, however, suggest that the socialist projects as seen in Cuba, Venezuela and Bolivia, are definitely worthwhile investigating and replicating as they have worked in terms narrowing extreme racial gaps that have been embedded into our economic, political, social and cultural makeup since the colonial era.