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Book Update: Blackness, Nationality and Race

When I immigrated to Boston in 1969 at the age of 15, you were either White or Black, that was the law of the land. However, Black Americans as they were called then, rejected me as “foreigner”, because I wasn’t born in the U.S. and did not speak English. That rejection was an incentive to research the history of my Ancestors. In addition, I had to deal with the whitewashed “blanqueamiento” image of what a Latino(a) person is supposed to look like. In contrast, fifty-two years later, Naomi Osaka had her “Black card” revoked for choosing to play for Japan in the Olympics.[1]
A few weeks after I started a new job in Dallas, Texas in 1981, while pouring myself a cup of coffee in the breakroom, a White Woman (or is it a Karen 😊) asked me “Excuse me what exactly are you? You look Black but you speak Spanish? I am a Black man born in a Spanish speaking country and I am Garifuna, I answered. She replied what the hell is that? I smiled and walked away. As if that was not enough, in 1993 in the same city, I attended a Minority Business seminar and met an African American woman, after introducing myself as José Francisco Ávila, she asked me, “Are you Hispanic?  You sure look Black to me!” I smiled and continued my introduction.

Those lived experiences, along with discovering that my maternal grandmother was born in Coxen Hall, Roatan Honduras of Grand Cayman Ancestry, led me to expand my research beyond my Garifuna Ancestry, and was introduced to the Pan-African community as it was known then, which lead me to build relationships across borders and eventually to the U.S. Afro-Latino(a) demographic.

It also led me to publish a newsletter I titled EB@NO (A play on the Spanish word for Ebony, the title of the most prominent African American magazine at the time). I wrote an article with the title “Afro-Latinos”. In the article I mentioned that we have more in common as Black people than we are different. For instance, in my opinion the main difference among Blacks in Latin America is nationality and in the case of Brazil, language, as well as culturally differentiated groups.

The same holds true for Blacks in the Caribbean. Unfortunately, after so many years we continue to emphasize these differences instead of searching for the common threads that we share. In other words, we continue to be victims of the “Divide and Conquer” strategy used by the colonizers.  In my opinion as we prepare to enter the twenty first century, it is time to come together and realize that we have more to gain by following our own ideals instead of those dictated to us by the colonizers.

However, in the third decade of the 21st (twenty-first) century, according to Black Enterprise Magazine, Naomi Osaka, had her “Black card” revoked after she chose to play for Japan in the Olympics.[2] Osaka is biracial. Her mother is Japanese, and her father is a Black Haitian. She was born in Japan but raised in the United States. For some people, that meant that her loyalty should have been with the USA.

Osaka revealed that people revoked her “Black card” but struggled with the logic of it and felt those individuals were confused about how Blackness transcends country of origin. “I don’t know, I feel like people really don’t know the difference between nationality and race because there’s a lot of Black people in Brazil, but they’re Brazilian,” she said. She also noted that African-American is not the only presentation of Blackness.

Obviously, the confusion about Blackness transcending country of origin, and the difference between nationality and race is not new.

My lived experiences above, are examples of the whitewashed “blanqueamiento” image of what a Latino(a) person is supposed to look like, facing prejudices and discrimination, even from Latinos/Hispanics. That image was on public display on June 13, 2021, when The Root Newsletter’s report “Let’s Talk About in the Heights and the Erasure of Dark-Skinned Afro-Latinx Folks”   and video interview went viral on Twitter and Lin Manuel Miranda the film’s director apologized.[3]

All these perceptions and social constructs are the result of the long colonial history of the American Continent, when racial and ethnic mixing occurred among Indigenous Americans, Black Africans, Asians, and White Europeans. Spaniards developed a caste system in which they and their descendants represented the highest social status. Mixed peoples had a position of inferiority on the social scale.

The United States on the other hand, implemented the one-drop rule, a social and legal principle of racial classification, that asserted that any person with even one ancestor of black ancestry (“one drop” of “Black blood”) is considered Black (Negro or colored in historical terms). This rule meant many mixed-race people, of diverse ancestry, were simply seen as African American, and their more diverse ancestors forgotten and erased, making it difficult to accurately trace ancestry in the present day.[4]

Despite the existence of different racial and national ideologies throughout the Americas, the legacies of European and U.S. empire, colonialism and cultural dominance have naturalized whiteness and “blanqueamiento” as the coveted ideal.[5]

That rejection by the African Americans was an incentive to research the history of my Ancestors. As a result, my more diverse ancestors were not forgotten and erased, instead it led me to embrace my identity with dignity, and to self-identify as Garifuna, no qualifiers required!

Please reply to this message with your feedback and stay tuned for future updates and the book launch announcement.
Seremein, Gracias, Thank you

[1] “Your Black Card is Revoked”: Naomi Osaka Faces Harsh Criticism Playing for Japan in Olympics, Black Enterprise, Monique Kristen, July 19, 2021
[2] IBID
[3] León, Felice, Let’s Talk About In the Heights and the Erasure of Dark-Skinned Afro-Latinx Folks,, June 9, 2021.

José Francisco Ávila


Telephone:  (810) 462-1243

Twitter: @JoseFAvilaLopez

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