I never thought I’d actually write a post about this but I just finished Blanca and Roja and had some thoughts.
On that book we have two sisters as the main characters: Blanca and Roja, both of them latinas. Blanca is light-skinned and blonde while Roja has darker skin and brown almost black hair with hints of red. The way they are treated differently by everyone, even in their own family is an important point in the story and I highly recommend reading it if you enjoy magical realism.
“Everyone is on your side. You pretend they’re not. You pretend we’re the same. But people look at us differently. Boys. Teachers. Our own cousins. Even people who look more like me look at you like you’re better.”–Roja
First of all, let’s make a couple of things clear: Colorism is not the same as racism but it is rooted on it. Colorism is considering someone of the same race inferior because they are “less white”. This is usually done subconsciously and perpetuated thanks to imperialism and euro-centric beauty standards –
In my personal experience, colorism doesn’t have to be intentional to do damage.
I was the only one of my siblings who wasn’t blond as a kid, who had curls instead of perfectly straight hair, and my skin was a couple of shades darker than theirs. My siblings used to make fun and say that I was obviously adopted, not really meaning any of it (if you have brothers you know what it’s like) but the differences were so obvious that even now I can’t help but compare myself to them.It’s important to note that neither of my parents is blonde and my dad is actually darker than me.
As one tends to do when they are young I looked for role models, people who looked like me on the mainstream media, I didn’t found as many as I wished for. The protagonists of books and movies were always pale and light-haired, it’s no coincidence that my favorite princesses were Pocahontas, Jasmine and Belle.
On Blanca & Roja, towards the beginning we have Roja describing her sister and how different they both are. She remarks on how, even though Blanca is blonde, she still has brown eyes, but her brown is more clear, she says it’s
A brown that could be forgiven.
A brown that can be missed so she’d pass as white. And Roja sees this as an advantage, which I won’t deny but it’s also important to see how this would affect Blanca.
Blanca is a white skinned latina and she knows that the world sees her as a white girl before they actually see her as latina, I imagine this fucks up with her sense of self, with her identity.
What marked me as part of my own family made the world love me a little less. Closeness to one always meant distance from the other.
This goes to show that even the people “benefited” by this aren’t really winning anything, they have to compromise a part of themselves.
In her Author’s Note, at the end of the book Anna-Marie Mclemore says:
So often, Latina women are called to rip ourselves apart, to reduce ourselves to versions who can be easily understood. So often, it pits us against each other. And the only way we survive is to find our way back to each other and ourselves, to resist the idea that we must be one version of ourselves or another.
There isn’t really a point to this post other than bringing awareness on this topic (and raving a bit on how good B&R is) and telling all my fellow dark-skinned latinx out there that brown can also be beautiful, that no matter what everyone else is trying to push on us we don’t need to straighten our hair every day, avoid the sun or feel less than our own relatives.
Once, brown was trees in October. It was the flyleaves of my father’s books. It was copper cosmos flowers. It was the earth that grew everything.