Is Brown Beautiful?
“As a person, I, as a people, we, Chicanos, blame ourselves, hate ourselves, terrorize ourselves.”— Borderlands/La Frontera, Gloria Anzaldúa
Zoe: When I was in the fourth grade, I thought I was in love with a boy in my class. He gave me butterflies and made my heart race all at once. I thought it was a “forever” kind of love, one for the screens of blockbuster movies and storybook scenes. After a few weeks, I decided it was serious enough to share with my family. I told my mom about how seeing him made me fill with an insurmountable happiness, in a way I’d never felt before and thought I’d never feel again.
Her first question was about what color painted his skin. Naively, I was confused about why she would ask about something so seemingly random. I answered that he was half white and half Chinese, and she replied he wasn’t the right type for me. He wasn’t Mexicano, didn’t speak any sort of Spanish, or eat tortillas religiously. He was the right gender, just not the right skin color.
Ruben: Dating a Latina is fine, though someone outside of my nationality might raise some tías’ eyebrows. If she is able to benefit from proximity to whiteness, even better. Whiteness is beautiful, whiteness is the standard, and whiteness is what we’re taught to strive for. To date a white girl is a sort of conquest—a sign that you’ve made it. The phrase “mejorar la raza”—better the race—is used as praise when we date those lighter than ourselves. Latinx families make it clear: Dating a white girl or a light-skinned Latina is fine. Dating a black or dark-skinned woman is questioned at best and prohibited at worst.
Z: I was told that dark skin would never be welcomed as a natural fit for my familia. Jokes and threats made me grow up thinking I just wasn’t meant to love blackness, that I was actively meant to believe it had no beauty. White skin that can tan: now that was different. Caramel skin—lightly tinted to so you knew it was ethnic—with brown hair and café-colored eyes might not make the most beautiful combination, but they would create the man who should wait at the end of the aisle for me. Even a crush was too close: I had a responsibility as a Mexicana to raise a family that continued my family’s cultural legacy—mestizaje lightened by European colonization.
R: Despite our families’ bias, to love, kiss, or crush on a white classmate is viewed as a transgression to the younger, more-aware sectors of our community. In the Latinx community on campus, we argue over whether or not dating white people is self-hatred—an adoration of the colonizer. I let it slip that, in the eighth grade, I told people that I was only into “white girls,” and I’ve yet to hear the end of it. For a generation hyper-aware of race, a generation still grappling with the murders of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown, the way we love is scrutinized as a political statement. We don’t want to think about how our skin looks against our partner’s, but we do because we know that love is political, love is racial.
Z: It didn’t matter that my young mind hadn’t yet begun to internalize race and love as intertwined, but after that day, the seeds dripping in a racism passed down from generation to generation had been planted. I dreamed of Spanish words and blue eyes, but in my mind one was meant for me and the other was meant to be idolized. It didn’t matter who they were, but it mattered where they came from: Mexicanos, Mexicanos, Mexicanos, but del norte, not del sur, because, of course, they couldn’t be too indigenous-looking.
Also, didn’t I know? Salvadorans couldn’t commit. Dominicans were too dark. South Americans just didn’t exist. These were the lessons I was taught, born from the mouths of my predominantly Mexican community, and reinforced every year I was growing up.
R+Z: Though it may be unfair to have to justify our feelings, thinking of love as a site for racial and ethnic justice can be productive. A relationship may force your family to address the anti-blackness that goes unspoken. Contemplating what it means to ask your white girlfriend to take your Latino-sounding last name can be a step in the struggle for racial equity. When we date while brown, we are not freed of our country’s histories of racism—but we can be empowered to confront them.
Only then can we begin to lessen our obsession with whiteness and realize beauty can be found in brownness, blackness, and every skin color in existence. Prejudice can be found intertwined with love, for ourselves and who we may one day share our lives with, but it can, and should, be challenged, unlearned, and confronted.
Ruben E. Reyes Jr. ’19, a Crimson Editorial Chair, is a History & Literature concentrator in Leverett House. Zoe D. Ortiz ’19, a Crimson Associate Editorial Editor, is a Social Studies concentrator in Mather House. Their column appears on alternate Wednesdays.
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