Racism in the Latino Church

I have attended a few Latino churches. There were two that I attended for a period of several years. It can be argued that some of these instances were not fully racist, or were better described as episodes of prejudice and or ignorance. Still, I think that they are worth noting and sharing.

The first church I attended was a Pentecostal one, which had a majority population of Puerto Rican people. Everyone looked different with different features and skin tones. There were not many darker skinned people but there were some.

I remember one Bible Study that a teen girl was talking about her mother worrying about her child coming out dark brown and that she prayed to God about the situation and the baby was born blonde with blue eyes. Because this happened when I was a teenager the details of the statement verbatim are a little fuzzy but I do remember her saying that ending statement like, thank God, the baby wasn’t born Black with Black features. They were discussing how life can be more difficult for Black people. Now, I understand that is a true fact, but to relish happily in the fact that a baby is born “White looking” is pretty disturbing.

It reminds me of an art piece, which I think is Spanish or Portuguese of a Black woman praying to God to take the curse of Blackness away from her family. There are depictions of her descendants getting lighter and lighter by having interracial marriages. They are trying to bleach out the Blackness in the family.

I am fully aware of the toxic penetrating influences of the Spaniard caste system of a racial hierarchy including terms for those who are mixed race like mulatto and mestizo.

At the other church I attended, there was a moment when a Latina girl who was five years old said to me at random, “Black People scare me, or I’m afraid of Black people.” But I’m Black, and we were very close. She sat on my lap every day at church and ran into my arms. We are literally the same color. We are both tan colored. What confused me was, why she was saying it, she randomly said it, why she was saying it to me, and did she not view me as a Black person? What is so hard about the situation is that she is so young, but it isn’t the sort of thing I ought to brush off as a kid’s nonsense. Children DO see race, and around the age of five they are pretty aware of differences and some labels.

To this day I regret having said nothing to her, but I was so shocked and so disturbed by it, I didn’t really know how to respond, and I was afraid to, because I didn’t want to get my feelings hurt any further. I love her like my own child. Besides, there was very little time an opportunity to talk to her in private. This was said at the end of a Sunday School session.

I also did not want to hear again the words I have heard most of my life, “Well, you’re not really Black, you’re different than them.” Me, being separated out from other Black people because of my positive attributes, my articulate language, my education, my non-reactive demeanor, my lighter complexion, my multicultural affinity etc.

Another memory is some ignorant teenagers saying that all the ghetto people voted for Obama. I voted for Obama. Really? Not only that, but they said this in my presence. I think what’s crazy to me is counting how many times people have said offensive statements right in front of me. I don’t know if it’s an issue of they don’t give a f*ck about my feelings or they don’t see me as a Black person so they feel it’s ok to say it.

Another incident was a pool party I attended with the church group and the N word was said in the pool. After saying it, they looked at me. They were not addressing me, they were addressing one another, either jokingly or in casual conversation. It drives me nuts how popular and common that word has become among people of all colors and if they felt that it wasn’t ok to say it in front of me, why say it in the first place?

The last one I’ll share which really was the last straw for me was when I was in the car with a woman whom I confided in many days. She drove me to the church every time I requested. We got on the topic of police brutality and she said that she felt that the same amount of White people are attacked by police as Black people. Honestly, there wasn’t really room for rage at that point.

That was an “I’m DONE” moment. I never rode with her to church again. I never requested a ride from her again. I was really sickened by her attitude. She was also the type of Latino, that at first glance, if not for her slight accent, would easily read as Caucasian.

I say all this to say that despite some of the wonderful, loving relationships I formed that everything has good things and bad things. This is part of the bad things that occurred there and I think it’s important to highlight NBPOC (Non-Black People of Color) racism, prejudice, ignorance and discrimination.

These are not situations that I am enraged about, I’m more so disturbed, because they came from people that I truly loved as family for whom I felt truly loved me, but I’m sorry, if in someone’s mind, you must “Un-Black” someone to love them or un-see their skin color, you don’t love them entirely. That really saddens my soul to know that people will continue to do that to me my entire life.

The most disturbing out of all these situations was definitely the child. When children say statements, it’s like, but they’re so young, this disease is already being injected into them. I should have addressed it with her, and I wish that I had. People say that having POC influences makes a difference, but how can it make a difference if children, see the “nice” people as something outside of who they actually are?

I am a childcare teacher and I hope that the children I see, see me and are influenced by me. It’s not that I need them to love every single solitary Black person. It’s that I want them to look at Black people and not automatically become bombarded with all these negative thoughts and avoid them and demonize them due to that. The crazy part about NBPOC doing that to (Black) BPOC is it’s like, White society is not going to see you as equals to them.

There are some rare exceptions, but in general, there are Latinos I have met who may have read as White but as soon as they opened their mouth and their Spanish accent took over, I knew, as soon as you open your mouth, you will be removed from whatever “White” status you thought you had, especially if you are an immigrant.

Anyway, I just wanted to share because I thought it was important.