A white reggaeton artist was named Afro-Latino Artist of the Year and that’s a problem

The decision to choose reggaeton artist J Balvin as Afro-Latino Artist of the Year last month is a notoriously puzzling and frustrating story. The genre of music – created by Afro-Panamans and originally known as “Reggae en Español” – is a popular and profitable style of music that originated in Black Latin and Caribbean communities.

As was previously the case with jazz, rock and hip-hop, reggaeton has morphed from its association with black artists who struggled to break into the mainstream music industry to white artists who rake in millions and the face of reggaeton became. J Balvin, a white Colombian singer / rapper, who explicitly stated that he’s not an Afro-Latino is just the latest in a long story of black creators being struck from their art.

“The Latin American music industry borrows heavily from Afro-Latino cultural practices, but privileges and prioritizes white Latino artists to perform, and that’s a historical pattern we’ve had,” said Petra Rivera-Rideau, author of Remixing Reggaeton: The Cultural Politics of Race in Puerto Rico. ” tells Rolling Stone.

To discuss the bigger issues of representation, extinction, and black identity in Latin America, I joined in Zahira Kelly-Cabrera and Kim Haas. Kelly-Cabrera, also known as @Bad_Dominicana, is a writer, artist, and sociocultural critic whose analysis comes from a Black Latina feminist perspective. Haas, who is African American, is the executive producer and host of “Afro-Latino Travel with Kim Haas” celebrating the people of African descent in Latin America. (These interviews have been edited for length and clarity.)

Q: In December, Colombian singer and rapper J Balvin became of. named Afro-Latino artist of the year African entertainment awards USA, an organization that describes itself as support, celebration and uplifting African entertainment. The backlash to the news that award was quick because he is white Colombian and not Afro-Latino. I hear and see often that race is discussed because all Latin people are a mixture of Europeans, Blacks and Indigenous peoples, negating any need for a more concrete definition of race. Can you say something about how race is generally understood and defined in Latin America?

Kelly Cabrera: When we think of Latin America, every time I say that I’m a black Latin American, I tell people to rethink their idea of ​​the universe. Mainly because the current conception does not include the existence of me and nearly 100 million black people in Latin America. The idea is that Latin Americans are a mix of mostly whites and indigenous people, and every now and then scream a kind of black. When you think of Latinos, you think of J. Lo or Selena, you don’t think of Gina Torres or a dark skinned black woman who would look more like Viola Davis. It’s just about an image that even Latin Americans would like to cultivate, and the deletion is very deliberate, very targeted. It’s easy to categorize J Balvin and say that he’s probably mixed up somewhere in his line, and that’s good enough. Instead of saying that if we are looking for the bridge between Latin America and Africa, we should look for the descendants of Africans who are still in Latin America.

Q: Does the understanding that people can be black as well as Latinos seem to be rather inconsistent, just as we understand that there are blacks who are culturally American or British?

Kelly Cabrera: Absolutely, because of the way “Latino” is constructed to be essentially mestizo or white; essentially not black. It’s very hard for people to come to terms with the fact that you can be both black and Latino. All the Latinidad you know and love comes from black people. People have a hard time understanding that there are people of different races in Latin America, just like in the United States. However, when you think of Latin America, you never think of black people. When you think of a country like Colombia, don’t think it’s 15 to 20 percent black. That means there are a lot of black people; they may be concentrated in places, but that is still a lot of people. They have the second largest (black) population after Brazil, which has the second largest (black) population after Nigeria.

It is very difficult for both Latin Americans and people outside Latin America to understand blackness as a Latin American. Every time I arrive at Miami Airport, people refuse to speak to me in Spanish even though my name is Zahira Kelly-Cabrera and I am obviously from the Dominican Republic. I get, “Oh my mistake, I thought you were Jamaican or something else.” I’m black, so not a Latin American. In the DR, I’m automatically Latin American. In places like Cali, Colombia, everyone immediately spoke to me in Spanish. It’s an assumption and they assumed I was from the black churches.

Haas: Absolutely, because when I speak to Afro-Latinos they have often said, “I am both. I’m of African descent and Latin American. ”When I speak to a lot of Afro-Latinos, they will often tell me that they feel like they are in a kind of no man’s land where people say,“ Well, you are not black ”or“ You are no Latino ”. and they say, “No, we can both be, and we are both.” This notion of what it means to be Latino includes blacks because people of African descent make up a significant part of Latin America. When we think of a Latin American, I think we have to think about what that means.

Q: After this situation with J Balvin and his award, what would you hope for from the resulting understanding of Afro-Latin identity and representation?

Kelly Cabrera: I would hope people start thinking about where all this music that they love, benefit from and enjoy so much that they understand where it is coming from. That they understand where it comes from and who has been marginalized, not just in music, but in every way. We have the least access to resources, that really is the bottom line. We’re creating this in the midst of so much … struggle. In Colombia, where J Balvin is from, Colombian activists who fight for their people and fight against displacement are murdered almost every week. That has a context.

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