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It’s fifth week, and Miss Carmen feels as gray as the winter sky that Wisconsin offers. I’d like to reset the intentions of this column. I am here to write to you, dearest reader, from a passionate place, a place of love. My previous articles have been written with a firm tone, encouraging Lawrentians to continue to follow safety guidelines, engage in conversations about difficult topics with love and kindness and, to most importantly, embark on a journey of learning. The hardest lessons to learn often lead us down the Valley of Shadows.
In national music entertainment news, Dominican musical artist DaniLeigh previewed an upcoming song of hers titled, “Yellow Bone,” on Instagram. The contents of the song, specifically its lyrics, were quickly analyzed by activists, educators, commentators and many in the entertainment industries in Hollywood. What followed in her comments section was … well … cataclysmic. Hell hath no fury like Black Instagram and Twitter scorned. The comments ranged from the general calls to cancel the artist to those educating her on the issues, and many just unfollowed her completely. (An unfollow is just as bad as a negative comment since many celebrities get paid to post on social media platforms like Instagram. They get sponsorship deals based on how many followers they have … so, I’m assuming that this scandal must have cost her money.) However, a few hours later, she did post an “apology” video addressing viewers, explaining that she is not a racist or colorist because she has a dark-skinned, Black boyfriend and friends … Where have we heard that argument before?
The history of the Caribbean, specifically the Spanish-speaking Caribbean, and how it has dealt with topics of national identity, race and its role in the world after Christopher Colum-b¡$ch arrived on the coast of Hispaniola, is complex (and that’s an understatement). Contemporary Caribbean scholars, like Jorge Duany, have written books, articles and presented critical theoretical frameworks that essentially tell us that race in the Caribbean is not talked about or categorized within the same binaries that it is in the United States. In the Dominican Republic alone, many terms might be used to describe someone’s racial identity or their phenotypic features. The following are terms that might be used throughout the Spanish-speaking Caribbean as racial categories or as adjectives to refer to someone’s phenotypic features: trigueño/a/e, moreno/a/e, negro/a/e, mulato/a/e, prieto/a/e, mestizo/a/e, jincho/a/e, café con leche, colora/ao/ae, rubio and many more. There are also various regional terms specific to the island; for example, jibaro/a/e is a term specific to Puerto Rico. This word has historically described poor rural farmers that have Taino (First Nations of many of the Caribbean islands) phenotypic features. Many Caribbean proverbs are unique to each island’s specific national, colonial, cultural and racial histories like, “Yo nací con la macha ‘e plátano, or ”Soy boricua de pura cepa.” During European colonial rule, throughout the Caribbean, there were a variety of racial caste systems. Artists of the time even created caste paintings throughout the Caribbean and Latin American colonies that visually depicted what individuals were assumed to look like according to their racial identity. I encourage you to do a quick Google search of casta paintings. How those were racially mixed with African parentage is truly terrifying and indicative of the way in which Spanish colonizers viewed Black and darker-skinned people at the time. These are sentiments that still exist today in the Spanish-speaking Caribbean and Latin America (referred to as “anti-Blackness”).
To summarize the racial hierarchy that existed in the Caribbean and, in many ways still does, purebred whites were at the very top, enjoying all of the social, political and economic benefits society had to offer. Specifically, white men enjoyed the social, political and economic benefits society had to offer. In contrast, African slaves and darker-skinned people were often abused, exploited and solely considered as tools to further Euro-colonial expansion befitted from none of the social benefits.
This short explanation of the racial caste systems in the Caribbean tells us what exactly? Well, that mixed-race people in the Caribbean who are lighter-skinned, like DaniLeigh, undoubtedly benefit from colorism and even function as citizens of the world with a colonized mind. DaniLeigh has been referred to as a white Latina performing as a Black woman — a lot to unpack there. Essentially, DaniLeigh benefits from colorism and her denying that she does because she dates a Black dark-skinned man shows her internalized anti-Blackness. Instead of admitting and understanding that she does benefit from what many call “light skin privilege,” she indicates how detached she is from the reality of racial complexities within the United States. She might also be detached from racial complexities within her own community, which is even more terrifying and jarring. DaniLeigh is, however, a great example of the condition of many of those who are a part of the Caribbean diaspora. The world does not move without the Caribbean, nor does the Caribbean move without Afro-Caribbean creativity. I am not saying that DaniLeigh is a white woman, but she is absolutely behaving like the many performative allies that are White women. I hope she takes this as an opportunity to learn from her mistakes. The next one might cost her her career.