Sunday, November 05, 2006

I found this at Dr. Raquel Rivera's blog on For those of you who do not know of her she is one the premier reseachers of our time on issues of Puerto Ricans and race. Her doctoral thesis was on New York Puerto Ricans and Hip Hop. You can find her thesis (now book) at:

Khalil Al-Puerto Rikani

The Myth of Latino Brown-ness
by Dr. Raquel Rivera

Language conspires against us. How to make ourselves understood and at the same time speak in a way that does not perpetuate crazy myths?
For example: Black is used as a synonym for African American in the U.S. and, more and more often African Americans and Latinos are spoken about using the language of skin color: Blacks and Browns.
But is brown a useful label when so many Latinos are (whether by looks or by ancestry) just as black or even "blacker" than many African Americans? Is brown a useful label to describe Latinos ranging from the milkiest skin-toned to the ebony complexioned?
The work of photographer Luis M. Salazar, born in El Salvador in 1974, was showcased last year at the S-Files collective exhibit at El Museo del Barrio in East Harlem.
The photo series is titled Spark La Música: Hip Hop en español in New York City, 2003-2005 and features artists like La Bruja, Enemigo, Divine, Inti and El Meswy. Considering the huge range of skin tones evident in the photos (from Divine's and Inti's deep brown skin to La Bruja's and El Meswy's cream-colored complexions) the text accompanying the photos struck me: They come from [description of their various regional backgrounds]. And besides their color of skin and mother tongue, they all share the love of hip-hop culture.
I wondered: How can the text state these artists share a color while the photographic evidence right next to those words screams to the contrary?
To add yet another spin to the matter, while the above mentioned hip hop artists featured in Salazar's photo series are from Latin America (Puerto Rico and Colombia), El Meswy is from Spain. So not only is this European artist being incorporated into the definition of Latino, but he is also endowed with the mythical brown-ness of Latinos and Latin Americans. It is a brown-ness that, though using the language of racial phenotypes (looks), stands as a synonym for a Latino pan-ethnicity that reaches across the Atlantic to Spain.
Some people insist that describing Latinos as brown is appropriate because we are supposedly all mixed. Yet, describing all Latinos as brown is tricky considering some of us are more mixed than others; also considering that some of us are just as mixed as African Americans, Native Americans, Asians or whites in the U.S.; also considering that some of us are not mixed at all; AND, also considering that depending on how mixed you are, you get treated differently, courtesy of Latino and Latin American-style racism and self-hatred.
Other people say that Latino brown-ness is just a convenient label that uses the language of skin color but really points beyond race. They say that brown-ness is a good symbolic way for Latinos to bridge our racial differences. But I do not buy it. This all sounds way too much like Mexican writer Jose Vasconselos' dangerous myth of the so-called cosmic race from back in the 1920s or like 1930s Puerto Rican writer Tomas Blanco playing down Latin American racism as a kid's game (compared to racism in the U.S.). Using the label brown to describe all Latinos sounds like a re-packaging of the old myth of racial democracy in Latin America.
As long as white is the color of privilege among Latinos and Latin Americans, pretending we are all brown sounds like a terrible idea to me. How can we address racial conflict, differences and inequality among Latinos if, supposedly, we are all brown?


  1. Asalamu aleykum

    wow akhi, didnt expect you to put such a picture,
    please remove it for removing it is closer to piety and purity

    jazaka Allahu khairan

  2. wa alaykum assalam

    I've already fixed the problem. Jayakumullahu khairan.


  3. asalamu aleykum

    isnt her hair awra too and should be covered
    its better not to have pictures of women at all,

    jazaka Allahu khairan

  4. wa alaikum assalamu wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh

    Why do you say that?


  5. Asalamu aleykum

    yakhi it is well known that we should lower our gaze even if a woman passing by is fully covered
    so why do we put pictures of women who are not covering their awra

    if you still have doubt
    then asking a scholar will always be fine, and since sheikh saleh al fawzan is your sheikh then you can ask him.

  6. Wa Alaykum Assalum wa Rahamtullahi wa Barakatuh

    Dear Al-Hanbali:

    I am taking the picture off for now untill I have some further clarity on this issue.

    My intention was only to be true to the original article. A good article on intellectual property (IP) is:

    Also, most of my posts are addressed to people in Western societies (both Muslim and non-Muslim). With that in mind I edited the pictures to what would be generally considered moderate in these societies. Don't get me wrong I would never have my wife go out in anything less than an `abaya (chudra in Kuwait?) and a niqab.

    As a further note, even in Saudi when photos in magazines revealing too much are censored in a simple manner as I had done. That is the manner in which the Hay'ah al-amr bil-ma`roof wa nahy `an al-munkar deals with it.

    Additionaly, I do consider Shaykh Saleh Al-Fawzan (hafizhahullah) one of the main `ulama that I take from. I also briefly studied under him. But, I don't want you to get the wrong impression that I sat with him for long time or that I know him personally.

    Jazakumullahu khairan

  7. Salaams brother,

    This is a great blog. Keep it up.

    I don't see anything wrong with the picture of a woman with uncovered hair for study and cultural purposes. How are we going to understand the outer world if we don't gain knowledge about how they live apart from us? Beauty lies in human diversity. That doesn't mean we violate Islamic rules, but that we use our conscience and acknowledge other cultures.