11 Examples of Light Skin Privilege in Latinx Communities

Originally published in Latina and republished here with the author’s permission. 

A person sits against a brick wall, staring off to the side.

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While terms like “Latino” and “Hispanic” aim to lump people of Latin American and Spanish Caribbean descent together, many of us are of different racial, national, language, cultural and historical identities, meaning that despite the fact that we all check “Latino” on forms and surveys, our experiences as Latinos in the U.S. are not identical to one another – for some of us, there are actually more differences than similarities.

Case and point: the privileges that light-skinned Latinos possess that most Indigenous and African descended Latinos don’t.

Colorism is a principal and a practice that treats light, fairer-skinned people better than those with darker hues, and it’s upheld both between and within communities of color. In the Latino community that looks like light-skinned Hispanics, who may deal with different forms of anti-Latino racisms, receiving preferential treatment in school, the workplace and politics.

We live in a culture that values whiteness, so the closer we meet this ideal, the more privileges many of us attain. That doesn’t mean that the race, immigration and class struggles of light-skinned Latinos aren’t real – far from it – but it does mean that light-skinned Latinos are awarded a set of unearned privileges that many darker members of the Latino community don’t enjoy.

Here are a few:

1. Light-skinned Latinos make more money.

A study from 2003 found that Latinos who identify as white made about $5,000 more a year than Latinos who describe themselves as black and $2,500 more than those Latinos who identify as “some other race.”

2. Light-skinned Latinos have a lower unemployment rate.

According to the same study, these fairer-skinned Hispanics’ lower unemployment rates has also resulted in lower rates of poverty.

3. As such, light-skinned Latinos live in more affluent neighborhoods with more resources.

According to a 2005 study, black Latinos live in more racially segregated neighborhoods with little exposure to non-Latino white people and lower property values.

4. Lighter-skinned Latinos also complete more years of schooling.

A 1996 study on light-skinned and dark-skinned Mexican Americans found that the former group is more likely to have more years of schooling even when both family backgrounds are similar. Researchers believe that this is partly due to teachers’ implicit biases, as many see white (or lighter) students as smarter, academically prepared and coming from better homes than their dark-skinned classmates, leaving many students to meet these expectations.

5. With that, light-skinned Latinos are considered smarter than their darker counterparts.

According to a study published in Social Currents this year, fairer-skinned Latinos, and African Americans, “are several times more likely to be seen by whites as intelligent compared with those with the darkest skin.”

6. Light-skinned Latinas are more likely to marry “higher-status” (read: white) spouses.

Like light-skinned African Americans, fairer-skinned Latinas tend to marry people who have higher levels of education, income and occupation prestige than darker Latinas, a trend problematically called “marrying up.” Gah!

7. Light-skinned Latinas are deemed more beautiful than those of darker hues.

As such, across Latin America and the US, many brown and black Latinas use harmful skin lightening creams to increase their “beauty” (as taught to us by white Eurocentric ideals) by increasing their whiteness, regardless of major risks associated with these skin-fading creams.

8. Most Latino politicians are light-skinned.

From state and local officials to Congress to the current 2016 presidential candidates, most Latino politicians representing our community are light-skinned or straight-up white-passing. Just take a look at the Latino politicos getting the most media attention right now, Republican contenders Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio.

9. Light-skinned Latinos have the privilege of being seen as Latino.

From 7-year-old Afro-Dominican Jakiyah McKoy being stripped of her Little Miss Hispanic crown to Afro-Latino actors like Tatyana Ali, Melissa de Sousa, Gina Torres, Faizon Love and more mostly or solely being cast in African-American roles, Afro-Latinos aren’t recognized for their Latinidad in the way light-skinned Latinos are.

11. Light-skinned Latinos in some Latin American communities also have lower rates of HIV/AIDS.

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Raquel is the Politics & Culture Editor at Latina.com and Latina magazine, writing on all things policy, social justice, cultura and health. Formerly at millennial news site Mic, Raquel’s work can also be found at the New York Times, Cosmo for Latinas, the Washington Post, the Independent and more. A proud NuyoFloRican chonga, when Raquel’s not talking Latina feminism, racial justice, the “x” in Latinx or the prison industrial complex, she’s going on and on about the Puerto Rican diaspora in Orlando, Fla. Follow her on TwitterInstagram and Snapchat at @RaquelReichard.