Amara La Negra and Anti-Blackness in the Latinx Community
BY: ALEXIS ARNOLD
Amara La Negra, breakout singer from the reality TV show, “Love and Hip-Hop: Miami,” looks like the real-life version of a Black Power Barbie. La Negra, however, is not African American. She identifies as an Afro-Latina and is from the Dominican Republic. Her name translates literally to, “Amara the Black,” and her signature afro underscores that. The recent discussions of the colorism she faces as a dark-skinned Latina has shed a new light on an old issue.
“Afro-Latinx” refers to Latin American people who are of the African diaspora, meaning they are Black according to their African ancestry. Much like African Americans, Afro-Latinx people come in many colors. Some of them, like La Negra, are dark-skinned. Others, like actress and basketball wife LaLa Anthony, have lighter skin tones and straighter hair, but still recognize their African heritage.
Of the recorded 11.2 million enslaved Africans who survived the trip to the Americas, only about 388,000 to 450,000 came to the United States, according to the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database. So where did the other Africans go? The answer: Latin America. Brazil alone took more than 40 percent of enslaved Africans to work on sugar cane plantations. Considering this history, it is not surprising that many Latinx people have African ancestry. What is unnerving is the obvious anti-Blackness that still exists within these communities.
The conversation surrounding La Negra's identity blew up after the first episode of the reality show, in which music producer, Young Hollywood, told her that she should to change her “look” to further her career. The producer suggested she straighten her hair, braid it or really do anything other than style it in an afro. La Negra asked if her afro was not elegant, and Young Hollywood reluctantly affirmed. Essentially, he wanted La Negra to whiten her look in order to be palatable to the American market.
The idea that lighter is better, commonly referred to as “colorism,” is not new for La Negra or others with darker skin. Colorism is discrimination based on skin tone. The term, coined by writer and activist Alice Walker in 1982, is not a synonym for racism because race is based on several factors, in addition to skin tone. Colorism typically occurs within racial groups, such as the infamous “Brown Paper Bag Test” that conferred certain privileges onto Black Americans whose skin tone was lighter than or equal to that of a paper bag.
Latin soap operas, or telenovelas, are among the worst offenders of colorism in Latin media. They continually relegate Black Latinxs to supporting roles, often portraying servants. La Negra talked about her experience auditioning for a telenovela during an interview on “The Breakfast Club” radio show.
La Negra said that at a telenovela audition, interviewers told her she had a “special look,” and that she could only be cast in unfavorable roles. “If we had any parts for a prostitute or maybe a gangster,” La Negra said they told her, “or if we do a slave soap opera or something, we will definitely have you in mind.”
Although she faces this prejudice every day, La Negra continues to be proud of her identity. La Negra’s main message is: “Don’t feel that you have to change who you are or how you look in order to succeed.” It is a powerful statement that can inspire everyone, but especially Afro-Latinx people. Is La Negra the Celia Cruz of a new generation? Only time will tell, but one thing is for sure: esta negra tiene tumbao.