Boa Aparência (Good Appearance): How Colorism Plays Out in Latin America

“Go to the banks and you’ll see how racist, this country is.” This was a sentiment expressed ad nauseam in my interviews about how colorism drives societal treatment. Interviewees in every country I visited for the docu-series always cited airports, banks and TV shows as representations of the aesthetic their particular country strives for:

Whitewashed.

It was true, I only saw one tanned bank teller throughout my travels, in Honduras. For any of the others jobs that were pointed out, the standard was homogenous, light skin and straight hair. This preference is blatant even within advertisements and postings for jobs,

‘boa aparencia’ means ‘good appearance’ in portuguese and is a common requirement for any applying for employment in Brazil.

Many know this is code for ‘whites or lights only.’ The fact that resumes in Latin America come with a picture, makes discrimination and the continuation of institutionalized racism that much easier. Natural hair? Just relegate yourself to the unemployment line indefinitely. In Peru, even when there was a casting call that asked for Afro-Peruvians (which is shocking in and of itself) but wanted ‘morena’ not Black of African origin. A supposed “mixed” look, brown but not too “black.”

 Translation:

Cinemaperu Dear friends,

We are looking for girls (5-7 years) and adolescents (13-15 years) black, for a casting that will be held on Saturday June 12 from 2.00 pm to 6.00 pm at the following address:

763 Roosevelt Street Groove

(alt. block 8 Av Jorge Chavez. Porton gray: Triax Digital Television)

It is important that children and adolescents are not black African origin, but black "Creole". Understand, "brown".

All applicants are required to have expressive look. Specifically adolescents should have good figure.

No experience is necessary as an actress, you only have to be outspoken and not afraid of the cameras. If the candidates they like to sing, much better.

The applicants, if they wish, are welcome to submit their photographs to e-mail: krea.films @ gmail.com

For further information or additional details. Please call:

Ms. Liliana Alvarez 996717801

We thank in advance the dissemination

Sincerely,

Liliana Alvarez. ---

White supremacy and the aspiration to be the closest you possibly can is rooted in the idea of ‘mejorando la raza’ or improving or bettering the race by marrying white, if not white then light. Almost all of my interviewees have heard this phrase from a family member or friend as advice in the dating and marrying game. One Honduran, whom her friends call her ‘negra’ because she is dark skinned said her family said she hit the jackpot when she started dating her current boyfriend, a redhead very pale skinned Honduran. On the other hand when someone who is light or pale chooses to date ‘dark,’ families insist they are ruining or damaging the race. To preserve the privilege of being light, some have even resorted to marrying within their own family, like actress Michelle Rodriguez found out about her kissing cousins. Many of my interviewees came from mixed family backgrounds where their parents different colors caused a lot of fighting, drama, discontent, and familial problems that still persist to present day. The most common, was a dark skinned father and light skinned mother.

The beauty standard is exponentially more stringent for women in Latin America, the hair, the eyes and the skin all account for this euro-centric beauty ideal. This standard is ingrained from a very young age, as there are oftentimes no brown dolls to reflect the children in these countries. While traveling throughout Latin America I observed every little girl carried a blond haired, blue eyed doll.  Even in the smallest of villages, such as the maroontown, Palenque de San Basilio, in Colombia, the one doll I saw the little girls playing with did not resemble anyone who lived in that village. There is even a preference among the girls for white dolls because as one woman who lived in the African-descended community, Chota Valley said, the girls said the brown dolls were “ugly.” This is conditioning. This can affect how a child views themselves in relation to the standard. White.

For some, marrying white isn’t efficient enough to lighten the line, they tragically resort to bleaching their skin for assumed immediate benefits. Sammy Sosa is the most well-known of bleachers but this practice is common in everyday people.

Bleaching is big business in the Americas and Africa. I see it in New York, with the beauty supplies in Harlem, Brooklyn and Queens stocked with the soaps and creams. Also in Equatorial Guinea where it was extremely jarring because I saw more bleached skins, on women, than not. I didn’t see one man doing this. My interviewees in Equatorial Guinea said the men seek out and prefer light skinned women and for the women, it’s about status, a successful man will only marry a woman who is light, if there are no white women available. But as tourism grows in Latin America there are more and more foreign white women accessible to these men and they take full advantage. We will discuss this phenomena in the next post.

50SHADESOFBLACK.COM explores issues of sexuality, race, skin tone, beauty, and the formation of identity from a global perspective.  This is the third of a series of posts to 50SHADESOFBLACK.COM by our featured guest blogger, Dash Harris.

She attended Temple University for broadcast journalism, business & French. Dash is the owner of In.A.Dash.Media, a multi-media & video production company. She is currently working on Negro, a docu-series about Latino identity, the color complex, colonialism & the African Diaspora in Latin America. She is also a travel writer for Examiner.com, founder of Venus Genus, a website that empowers women by examining gender bias and female tropes and the blogger behind Diaspora Dash, a blog about the African Diaspora.

 

ALSO BY DASH HARRIS:

Hue & Phenotype: Colorism…Even More Complex

A DIFFERENT KIND OF CASTE: Origins of the Color Complex in Latin America