When advertising senior Jessica Hernandez was 15 years old the cops were called on her dad while out on a family dinner. The reason — someone believed her dad was her kidnapper due to their differences in skin complexion. Hernandez describes her dad as dark skinned with brown eyes while she has bright freckles, blue eyes and white skin.
As a self-identifying brown Latinx, navigating this world is often complex, tedious and just flat out difficult. People often ask me if I’m ‘Indian’ or ‘Middle Eastern.’ It’s an occurrence that I don’t find offensive, but rather important to dissect, because it shows race is a social construct. Others will perceive you as a certain race or culture despite you not identifying with it.
But regardless of how others perceive Latinx people, they are still Latinx — if they choose to embrace that identity. However, distinctions in melanin provide privilege for some and not others in Latinx communities, so it’s important to be conscious of these nuances between members of our community.
Let’s get one thing clear: Latinx is NOT a race. It’s an ethnicity. So racially, Latinx are not a monolith.
Often associated with brownness, Latinx people can be pigeonholed to look a certain way in the eyes of non-Latinx Americans. However, racial identity goes beyond just skin tone. Racial identity and being Latinx encompasses 33 different countries with different cultures, races, identities and groups. Latinx people — individuals from or with origins in Latin America — can come in any color: black, brown, white and everything in between.
The usage of Latinx/Latina/Latino as an ethnoracial identifier is partly due to the stereotypes we typically associate Latinx people with in the United States. Race relations operate differently in Latin America than in the United States, and, therefore, I will only be addressing Latinx whiteness within the context of the United States.
If you’re white passing or white in the Latinx community then you benefit from white privilege in America. This inherent systemic privilege on the basis of race is something brown, black or ethnically ambiguous people cannot experience. If you’re ‘read’ as white regardless of culture or ethnicity, then you experience white privilege. Culture is an aspect of being Latinx that has importance in the community, and recognizing what advantages difference in skin tone provides doesn’t strip that culture away.
White Latinx not recognizing their privilege can be harmful because their whiteness allows them privileges such as being less likely to be viewed as undocumented by law enforcement, benefit from eurocentric beauty standards and probably will not be racially profiled.
Hernandez, who is a white-passing Latina, says that she explicitly identifies as Latina because she wants people to know that it’s a very big part of her identity, but that it’s important to be conscious of her privilege. “I am aware, and I own up to having the privilege of having white skin and freckles and blue eyes,” Hernandez said. “But when I’m told ‘but you’re white’ … sometimes it feels like people are (trying to) water down my cultural experience.”
Hernandez understands that her whiteness affects the way she walks through the world, but the problem arises when someone else feels like that takes away from what she knows about her culture.
“I think my perspective is also very interesting because yes, I am a white Latinx but a white Latinx that was born in the U.S. and (who) is first generation Mexican-American,” Hernandez said. “My parents were born in Mexico. They came to the U.S. So that’s a different perspective compared to someone who’s white-complected in Venezuela. So I’m more aware of my privilege here I feel like.”
If you are Latinx and want to embrace that identity, then feel free to do so. But if you’re a white or white passing Latinx, recognize your privilege, and understand that not all Latinx navigate the United States in the same way.
Devora is a journalism senior from Mesquite. He is a columnist. Follow him on Twitter @kahrlosh