I remember being mesmerized by the videos showing reggaeton, musica de caserio (“music from the slums.”) No seas charra, Julia! (“Don’t be so low class, Julia!”) was a common sentiment any time I put it on. I would sneak watch and listen to the beats of our African roots that made me want to dance while my much older half-sister, babysitting me, chatted distractedly with her friends. The videos would play in between the Spanish-dubbed commercials of Miss Cleo excitedly saying, llama ahora! (“Call now!”) close to midnight. Some of those late-nights would end with my falling asleep to my Dominican family wrapping their hair with a cloth and pinning it carefully in place, so the pelo malo (“bad hair”) would be perfectly straight and smooth when morning came. This was the early 1990s, I was about 10-years-old or so. I was born in a country where differences in our skin tone and hair type did not dictate our relatedness and never had, and yet we existed between worlds separated by these very differences informed by a persistent colonial history. Julia Feliz
Over twenty years later, hair and reggaeton would be the final catalysts to my awakening to the anti-blackness I internalized from a young age on the island where I grew up. This would lead me to understand my place in the supremacist hierarchy and to uncover how whiteness continues to invisibilize the shared struggles of Black, Brown, and Indigenous people across the U.S., the Caribbean, and beyond. Julia Feliz
The Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico’s history, my history, according to settlers, started 520 years ago when some European pendejos led by Columbus got lost while sailing in the name of the deplorable Spanish crown. Embarrassingly, they claimed to have “discovered” (A.K.A trashed) our islands, which were already inhabited by our Native ancestors, the Taínos. Columbus and company enslaved and forced them into servitude. The colonist books claim the Taínos suddenly became extinct from diseases, but it turns out, Columbus’ diaries outline the savagery our ancestors endured. The womxn and children were sold into sex slavery. Many others escaped or chose death before accepting whiteness as their fate. We know they fought ardently. However, not even a decade later, the Dominican Republic became the first slave port of the “New World” – the “Americas.” Our enslaved African ancestors eventually “replaced” the Taínos. Subsequently, colorism, through the Spanish-enforced racial caste, took root, flourished, and dispersed anti-blackness and anti-indigeneity within anyone not purely white.
Dominicans and Puerto Ricans are tri-racial peoples of the Caribbean, descendants of Africans and Natives. Island-wide genomic research studies have confirmed this despite being gaslit and programmed into accepting our ancestors as not ours or part of us for centuries. Our Blackness was offensive, something to hide, while our indigeneity was primitive, a weakness to be extinguished. España, our presumed savior, symbolized everything we must ever aspire to – whiteness. Hence, pelo malo, musica de caserio, and charro were few of many tiny details instilled within us, within me, to passively uphold the racialized hierarchies that persist. Similarly, this is similar to how relationships between Black/African Americans, Natives/Indigenous people, and white people on the mainland are defined through British racialized pseudoscience.
Those of us of mixed African and Native descent, like myself, have begun to ardently embrace decolonization by centering and embracing our Blackness to disrupt whiteness. To fight anti-blackness at the core, there must be destabilization from the bottom of the supremacist pyramid upwards. We should center our dark-skinned community and raise their voices to reject the violent ideologies forced on us and based on phenotypical features determined over 520 years ago by white supremacy itself. Julia Feliz
Our estrangement, purposefully encouraged by those in power, allows our white supremacist society to persist. To acknowledge, declare, and reject our privileges in a society that weaponizes our differences to divide us is to disrupt the hierarchical divisions between us. This is how whiteness loses power. By rejecting a culture of competition (individualism and capitalism) and embracing community and unity – we extinguish the power they have held over us for centuries. This would pay homage to our ancestors, of warriors and survivors —those born on the mainland and those of us from the Caribbean and would guide us all in achieving our collective liberation.
Julia Feliz is an AfroBoricua born and raised on the island of Borikén/Puerto Rico. They are an independent scholar, resource activist, writer, and content editor committed to the praxis of consistent anti-ppression. Julia is also the founder of SanctuaryPublishers.com, a nontraditional publisher by BBIPOC for BBIPOC.
More about Julia? http://www.about.me/juliafeliz
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