Saturday, June 19, 2010

The Curious Case of Racism In Puerto Rico

After living and working in PR for some years, I am still always perplexed when a friendly Puerto Rican brings up the issue of racism and how it does not exist in PR.  Perhaps this is an attempt to try to portray PR in its best light, or it could be wishful thinking.  Whatever the case, it could not be further from the truth.

So what accounts for this disconnect of whether PR is racist or not?  I believe most PR have an overly simplistic notion of what constitutes racism.  Sure, the KKK does not exist in PR, there is no history of lynching, and the mixed population of people get along relatively peacefully.

But what the Puerto Rican misses is that its variant of anti-black racism is WORSE than that of the US mainland.  How could I say that, you ask?  Well, racial discrimination is an everyday phenomenon in PR.  This finally was brought to light by Reggaeton star Tego Calderon who hails from Loiza, PR, the town most associated with black Puerto Ricans.  Calderon wrote that racism is worse in PR because it is universally denied.

This denial comes in the form of Black Puerto Ricans claiming there is no racism, yet they consider themselves white on self-identification forms.  It comes in the form of Black Puerto Ricans claiming there is no racism, yet they usually do not even consider attending university in PR as it "is just not for them."  It comes in the form of Black Puerto Ricans claiming there is no racism, yet they know that the highest paying professions and most lucrative jobs are reserved for "Los Finos," or the white elite Puerto Ricans.

One other fallacy in Puerto Rico is the "We are all Puerto Ricans, whatever our color so we have not racism here."  This may be true, but most Americans consider themselves "all Americans" regardless of color, but that does not preclude the existence of racism there.  The family of all Puerto Ricans still has a color caste system that treats people differently according to color, regardless of their status as a Puerto Rican.

Yet another fallacy from the island is "Puerto Ricans are not racist because most of us have some level of black blood."  How ridiculous is that notion?  Adolf Hitler is said to have Jewish ancestors, yet he was more anti-Jewish than any other person in history.  Further, many white Americans have native American and even African blood, but that never stopped them from killing natives or discriminating against blacks over the years.


From a personal standpoint, a friend of mine came to Puerto Rico as a manager of a pretty big organization.  His status as an African American was a bone of contention when he began instituting changes in an under-performing institution.  He was resisted tooth and nail, falsely accused of managerial misconduct, and even stereotyped as creating fear in the office.  After a tumultuous year, my friend had enough documented evidence to begin firing people and replacing them with high performers with integrity.  But his ordeal of insubordination from a few subordinates was based on his skin color as most whites in PR could not handle a black person in a position of authority over them.


Finally, when a PR gentleman proudly boasted to me how PR has no racism, I asked him, "Could a black Puerto Rican ever be elected Governor of PR?"  He thought for a moment, and said, "Probably not, I see your point."


So for all of the racist history of the US mainland, African Americans are well represented in the middle and upper classes, attend university in the thousands and increasingly obtain advanced degrees.  They have multi-millionaires who are not associated with sports or entertainment, and even the current President of the USA is African American.  In contrast, black PR languish in isolation on the island and they are shunned from partaking in the means of social mobility reserved for non-blacks there.

There is indeed racism in Puerto Rico, and it is high time to stop the charade down there.  Having said that, black Puerto Ricans themselves have the onus of stopping the denial and starting the move to educate themselves and build institutions that increase their progress.  Until that happens, they will remain the ridiculed demographic group that does not realize that the joke is on them.  

24 comments:

  1. Thank you for this brilliant post.

    I have had personal experiences with my fellow Boriqua that would make my nappy hair stand straight up on end (if I had any left that is).

    Just to make it personal, because I'm basically self-centric. Moreover, just to add another layer to the complexities involved, I'd like to offer my little perspective.

    My family is of mixed race, father was a Afro-Boriqueno, mom is what some consider a white Latina. Theirs was a torrid love affair, if nothing else. Riddled with the backdrop of what many still are unable to claim as a reality of our people "La Raza".

    Like I stated above, my family is of mixed race. My mom's side of family, most of whom were poor farmers, whom we affectionately call "Jibaros", were upset over mom seriously intending to marry a black man, Puerto Rican or not, he was nonetheless, "un negro", and in their eyes, not all, less than worthy of my mom.

    My father's side of the family, suburban, upper middle class, land owning blacks, (admittedly a rarity, but there were some) were mortified over my father's interest in "una jibara blanquita". Who was seen as less than as well, a poor farmer girl from the wrong side of the mountain. So not only were the issues racially based, but also based in class structure, but with an interesting reversal. Despite the grief they experienced, they married anyway, then moved here during the second large migration of Puerto Ricans during the 1950's.
    Although, sadly, they didn't live happily ever after all.

    Yet the irony of it all is that race and class continue to be an "unspoken" truth in our community, both on the island and in the US, and I agree is a curious case indeed. I am happy to see that there are others out there who are aware of this too.

    I will add that despite some of the progress we have made in this country, there is still a majority of us who disdain education as something that "whites" do. Compounding and extending the unconscious belief that we are less than, instead adopting our economic alienation. All in the name of Puerto Rican pride. I do see some attitude of awareness brewing, slowly but some stir is brewing. However, I can't help but wonder if this is curious case of the self-imposed oppression? It wouldn't be the first time in human history that a people collectively kept themselves down, in the name of false pride.

    Your blog hit it right on the head of the nail. Very insightful.

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  2. YOUR "OPINION" ON RACE IN PUERTO RICO IS NOT THE TRUTH! I LIVED MOST OF MY LIFE IN PUERTO RICO AND THE ONLY COLOR PEOPLE CARE ABOUT IS MONEY!!!!!!!
    YOURE REALLY REACHING THINKING PUERTO RICO IS RACIST!!!!!!! PUERTO RICO IS THE MOST NON RACIST PLACE ON EARTH(when it comes to skin color)!!!!!!!
    Name me a Country or a place LESS RACIST THAN PUERTO RICO!!!!!!

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    1. You need to read about Arturo Schomburgh, the NYC Public Library has a major cultural center named after him because of his contributions to the African Diaspora. It will make you rethink your statement. The truth can be a little "prickly"!

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    2. The truth is that Arturo moved to New York and started to experience racial discrimination once he was in the United States. In Puerto Rico he educated himself & studied. Once he moved to the United States he was discriminated against so he joined the Puerto Rico Revolutionary Committee and contributed a lot to African diaspora. Puerto Rico might have prejudice people like everywhere else in the world but for the most part people don't see color. We are all the same inside! We all bleed red and our parents don't teach us hate like they do in the United States! We are Ricans and we love our people! All colors are beautiful!

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  3. Lastly HITLER BEING PART JEWISH IS ABSOLUTELY FALSE!!!!!!! 100% FALSE! That was a rumor Americans spread about him and Jews as well to upset that sick fuck and Nazis.
    YES A MORENO COULD BE ELECTED IN HIGH OFFICE IN PUERTO RICO.
    AMERICA IS THE MOST RACIST PLACE ON EARTH. INTERRACIAL LOOKING PEOPLE IN AMERICA GET SHIT FROM WHITES AND BLACKS. Black Americans feel the need in America to tell Black Puerto Ricans they are "Niggas" too. In America,sure but NOT in Puerto Rico. Theyre are some people who prefer WHITE SKIN OR BLACK SKIN OR BROWN SKIN as much as some people like Thick, skinny or Fat Women. It's a preference. If Puerto Rico is so racist? Why are there so many "INTERRACIAL" Children in P.R.??????????? So many White Puerto Ricans USUALLY date Black Puerto Ricans and NOBODY IN PUERTO RICO GIVES A FUCK UNLIKE AMERICA!

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  4. This article is loaded, but I WILL say that the Writer makes a good point about the Coloured Upper-Middle Class in the US vs. PR.

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  5. As a Puerto Rican I find this article so misleading. Growing up in Puerto Rico we never saw color. Puerto Ricans are Puerto Ricans. Your view of why some people aren't progressing is because you see them as black Puerto Ricans and maybe that's your problem. If they decide to not go to college and better themselves they won't be able to progress in life. Puerto Ricans have opportunities to go to college and get financial aid just like in the United States. Did these people that you think are being treated unfairly because of their skin have an education or a degree? Because getting a good paying job has alot more to do with education then the color of your skin. Their neighborhood and environment also can make a difference no matter what color their skin is, specially if they believe that they'll never be able to do better. As for your friend who is African American being acused or not doing well in a job in That was probably out of his element, maybe it was more of a cultural shock or misunderstanding and not because of the color of his skin. Maybe he just wasn't suited for the job. Maybe his language skills weren't as great as he thought. Why does it have to do with his skin? Maybe people didn't like him or the work he was doing. If he was white and all that happened, what would be the excuse? you seem to just find racism everywhere according to your blogs it seems. Maybe it's a personal problem

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  6. This is insulting to all Puerto Ricans! Calling us darker people the ridiculed demographic group is demeaning. You are judging people based on the color of our skin and saying we are the ridiculed group. it's all perception and ignorance in your part. You really must of been talking to the wrong people when you were on the island. I'm a black Puerto Rican so that must make me ridiculed according to you but from what I see maybe your people are the ones who haven't evolved. Americans still call black people African American but yet we don't call black people African Puerto Rican! We are all just Puerto Ricans. This is the most racist article I have ever read. You are practically saying we are ridiculous and uneducated dumb black people.

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  7. I met a "white" Puerto Rican in a bar in the Philippines.. Stupidest racist fool I've ever met in my life. He went on and on about how Puerto Ricans were white, Americans and among the elite of the world because they killed off most of the natives. I got so angry I told him no, you are a territory therefore slaves and left him there.

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  8. I met a "white" Puerto Rican in a bar in the Philippines.. Stupidest racist fool I've ever met in my life. He went on and on about how Puerto Ricans were white, Americans and among the elite of the world because they killed off most of the natives. I got so angry I told him no, you are a territory therefore slaves and left him there.

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  9. Who feels it knows it and who knows it recognizes it any where one travels and i travel alot.on cruises starting and ending in puerto rico i've witnessed blatant racism by puerto ricans on land and on water.on water i've seen puerto ricans get off elevators as soon as blacks get in with them.i've seen puerto ricans refuse to be in the same area of the pools with black family members of mine but not the white looking family members.on land i purchased christmas gifts at a mall and a brother of mine and i had to take our gifts to another location in the mall to get the gift wraps as soon as i approached one of the women wrapping this very pale puerto rican gave me s look of disdain and without saying a word just simply refuse to serve me and then hasten another darker lady to deal with me.yes racism does exist in puerto ricans.i am dark skin and i've endured racism all over the world i know what it looks and feels like without a doubt...

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    1. Very gripping story Aron. Yes, this problem is going nowhere fast since far too many Puerto Ricans put their heads in the sand and refuse to even entertain the notion that what we are saying is true.

      Just look at the foolish justifications and excuses a few commenters posted above. I refuse to think they are that stupid, just brainwashed or mislead by what they have always been told.

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    2. Thank you blogger. Wherever there are humans you will have human issues; race class religion greed selfishness exploitation violence fear insecurity.

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  10. Yes there is a stupid amount of racism in puerto rico. To the point where they are segregated to Loiza. Yes puerto ricans in the US are even more racist because they believe they are white. Tego is one of the major voices in regards to this fact but I guess he's just delirious right.

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  11. OMG...you people need to read up on Puerto Ricos history before you comment..Everywhere has racism. Its human nature, but PR was one of the first Spanish conquered Islands to rid of institutional racism when the Spaniards ask the Church if they could marry the Africans and Islanders(Tainos). Dont get confused by your own prejudice and try and project them on others.

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  12. I'm laughing at all the salty, yet proud Boriquas that deny the racism that we have in Puerto Rico. I was born and raised there for 15 years, with a darker skinned father (we look more indigenous than black, to be honest), and a white-ish mother. My maternal grandmother didn't want my mom to be with my dad because she didn't want grandchildren with "bad hair'; I ended up with hair as straight as spaghetti noodles, but she still didn't like the fact that my dad was dark at the end of it all, even though she was a darker skinned woman, with "bad hair"! My elementary and middle school were prominently with white Boriquas, and even though they don't directly say, "I don't want to be your friend because you are dark", they bully you, pick you last for teammates at a game, say that you're uglier, or that you're not their type because you're not blond and blue eyed. Oh, and I wasn't even born in the 1980's, or earlier; I was born in 1998, in which racism wasn't even a "topic" of conversation, and later on we shamed every other country for being discriminatory, while calling people of different colors disgusting slurs. There IS racism in Puerto Rico. WAKE UP BORIQUAS! THERE'S NO SUCH THING AS BEING COLORBLIND WITH RACE HERE!

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  13. No company, let alone a country can survive on old ideas or practices. Racism is an old practice that does not serve anyone. Racism is killing Puerto Rico.

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  14. Thanks to the author of this article!

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  15. Rasism amongst Puerto Ricans not only exists but it has existed for so long it is sewn into the fabric of our everyday lives...without notice, which means that a great deal of puerto ricans fail to self reflect in an effort to be a better version of themselves. Lets not be confused by that fact that the Spanish "allowed" interacial marriage through the church, and there being no racism. Juzt the fact that others have used that as an excuse shows the depth of racisim with our people. Theres an unspoken caste system in Puerto Rico, shere us negras or mullatas are unable to qualify for the governers seat or any other political office that has been designated for los finos. The racial divide is so clear that we are all categorized based on hair and skin color. From negros, to tregenos to mullata, hincho and countless other names that are used to describe. Puerto Ricans. I have been told never to date black on the island or in the states and my light skinned father even stated, "we dont have enough african blood in us to even identify with being black...truth is, we will gey no where until these types of discussions are met with authenticity. We should refrain from using our patriotic ego when thinking about the topic of race so we can move forward as an people and as an island.

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  16. To the person who wrote this article, I see exactly what you are saying just from reading some of these comments!!! This isn't the first time I heard this, and this subject was told by other PR people. The reggae-ton artist that you spoke of was talking about this same issue years ago on MTV. This is something that seems to be passed down from generation to generation, and just like "white supremacy" will never go away in the states this mentality will never go away in those caribbean Hispanic islands. I was told that there is an old saying in PR and DR that says, " Marry white to better our people", and I also heard a Boricua say that the older PR always say "never bring a cocola home". If this isn't racism then I don't know what is!!!

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  17. I have a friend who's, Puerto Rican father told him to never bring a Black girlfriend to his home! I have Puerto Rican friends that are dark skinned and have been discriminated against by lighter skinned Puerto Ricans who didn't realize that my friends although dark we're born and raised in Puerto Rico so therefore understood every ugly thing being said in Spanish about black people! Yes racism exist in Puerto Rico just like every where else but sadly it's people who have some black blood themselves who perpetrate it and then deny it God forbid they ever admit that slave ships landed in the islands too!

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  18. This article is COMPLETE BULLSHIT. My mother was born in Puerto Rico in 1951, I was born in Puerto Rico in 1989. MY ENTIRE FAMILY resides in over "20 Pueblos" on the island; all of them ranging from pale blue eyed to dark and nappy hair. I could ask any of them about racism in Puerto Rico and they would completely disagree with this article. I, myself was born AND raised there up until I joined the Marine Corps in 2007. My mother is light skinned and still calls me "mi negra" as a sign of endearment. Stop exaggerating and misleading the people that know NOTHING about this topic.

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