In a recent interview with Hot 97, rapper Fat Joe opened the conversation to the African heritage that Latinos share with Black people.
“Let’s speak about Latinos not being Black. Latinos are Black,” he said. He then briefly explains how millions of slaves brought from Africa during periods of colonization integrated with Indigenous and European immigrants to make what consists of the Cuban and Puerto Rican population; however, that happened all across the continent.
Joe’s most provocative claim, however, was this: “Sometimes, Latinos may even identify themselves with African and Black culture more than Black people. All the music is African: Brazilian music, Dominican music, Spanish drums…”
When asked about their opinions on this, BC students only seemed inclined to answer after I told them their responses could be anonymous.
“That isn’t possible," one student answered. "You can relate to aspects of a culture, but that does not make you part of it more than the actual people of the culture. Choosing to immerse yourself in a culture is not the same as being born into it.”
Another student had more of an issue with the generalization of Fat Joe’s statement. “It’s just stupid. Generalizing Black culture for everyone that has dark skin. What about people in Africa? Also, what makes Latinos Black?”
Both of these students have fair points regarding Joe’s statement. But what was more noticeable for me was how they seemed to interpret the comments in different ways. For the first student, Black culture was an experience that could not be acquired. For the second student, Black culture had to do with nationality. Which is it?
Vannesa M. Marco wrote an article for BET in which she expresses her disappointment in Fat Joe’s use of “Latinidad as an umbrella term,” therefore “erasing the struggles of Black Latinos.”
I can only speak from my experience as a Latina who lived in South America my whole life. I refuse to call myself a white, brown, or Black Latina because I have never heard that term before in my country. I have never felt a racial divide within my nationality because being Latino is not a race; it is simply a geographic indicator.
I believe that what Fat Joe was referring to in his interview is African roots. He mistakenly classifies African roots and Black culture as being equal. Like many, he is mixing the cultural identity of an entire continent with the experience of being Black in a certain place. However, he is talking about music in this interview; he mentions the African influence on our musical development and draws a connection between Black culture and Black Latinos.
In the context of his interview, I find nothing wrong with the statement that some Latinos may identify more with their African roots than some Black people, but it is not the same as saying we identify with Black culture. Fat Joe’s comments carry the common linguistic mistake of conflating a nationality with a culture.
With regards to the BET article and those who feel insulted by Fat Joe’s “umbrella statement,” the only thing wrong with it is that it is not broad enough. For this context, any Latino can relate to the musical history of their country—in this case, African beats and instruments. Clearly, this interview is not about the struggles of Black Latinos, and it doesn’t have to be. Not everything is a fight about the politically correct and incorrect, and sometimes unnecessary labels are more problematic than simple and general terms.
Fat Joe thinks it is important to point out that Latinos, too, have different races, which is true. He thinks that some Latinos have more of a connection to African influences that affected the entire western world than others, which is possible. All in all, in the spirit of National Hispanic Heritage Month, we should be thinking about how to celebrate our origins, instead of focusing on details that highlight our differences.