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Black Rain on the Latina Superbowl Parade

Children at "Rayaera: Grafitti, Arte Urbano y Fenómenos Sociológicos Locales," Centro Cultural de España, Santo Domingo. Curated by Jorge González Fonseca.

Photo by author 8/8/19.

Admittedly, this may be the second or third Superbowl halftime show I see in my life. I’ll blame having Black Latina/o/x kids to navigate the social politics of this time for compelling me to turn the channel to the Superbowl from the other “Latino” Sunday night shows on at the same time: Mira Quien Baila (where the only Black Latino—Dominican radio personality Brea Frank—was finally eliminated, to the satisfaction of the all Latino and White jury, which ironically includes J-Lo’s dancer ex Casper Smart and Marc Anthony’s ex Puerto Rican former Miss Universe Dayanara Torres) and La Voz (with its again not-surprising all white Latino jury of Luis Fonsi, Carlos Vives, Alejandra Guzmán and Wisin). When blonde Shakira and blonde Jennifer Lopez came out, looking like any other generic white woman entertainer, I watched. And because “hips don’t lie” I won’t: I know their songs, like some of them (well, really some of Shakira’s), and sang along in Spanish “contigo, mi vida, quiero vivir la vida” as Shakira doubled “whenever, wherever…” in English. My kids rapped the Bad Bunny and JBalvin rhymes. Fun times!

But as a Black Latina, and as a Black family, the racial messaging in any Latina/o/x moment doesn’t go unnoticed, whether that is in our daily lives, in regular Latino television programming, or a Superbowl featuring “Latinas.” At work, in social settings, or in any representation of Latinindad, I always look to see if my and our Black beings are not only being represented, but whether we belong. And mostly, the answer is that we do not. This is another way—a racialized, intersectional way—to analyze Latina/o/x pride, representation and politics, often overlooked by those on the side of racial and gender privilege. For Latina/o/xs who fit the white/non-black stereotype, the job is done when the last name is in Spanish, older white women that are fit flaunt their bodies, or a flag is waved. This perspective is blind to the fact that for some of us, liberation cannot ever come dressed in white faces, cannot happen with a criollo version of white supremacy that renders Black people invisible and beauty and admiration only in white face.

As I watched the Superbowl performance, in between songs and flashy clothing, and what looked like a maxipad with wings peeking out of J-Lo's first outfit when she bent over (all good, just indicating the gist of our conversation), I missed most of the political nuances. And honestly, didn’t you miss them too? Except for the woman symbol in an areal shot or the Puerto Rican flag (who I’ve since learned the US audience thought of as Cuban—no surprise!), I would argue they were largely subtle, palatable, nonthreatening to the entertainment value of the show. The cages looked like pretty blue pods, allegorical to flowers. I didn’t realize there were children in them until I saw still shots and articles describing them. In my view, there were no immediately jarring political demonstrations of the sort Beyonce and (Latino too) Bruno Mars used in their 2016 Superbowl appearance donning Black Panther berets and military formations. After reading some articles and explanations, I’ll give Shakira and J-Lo a belated nod for effort, particularly after learning of the negotiations with Jay Z’s company and his desire to temper the political messaging. But as a Black Latina who is constantly worried about what happens when our Black kids and adults head out into the world, that’s as far as my concessions can go. Because to claim that J-Lo’s and Shakira’s presentation was as political as it needed to be would be in agreement with the continued exclusion of Black people from the “mixed” but always white “gran familia" Latina.

Here is what is undeniable: Shakira and J-Lo decided to perform in a halftime show explicitly boycotted by others. Last year, Black Rihanna and Black Cardi B said no to the show in support of Colin Kaepernick, but more importantly in support of the movement for Black Lives. I celebrated that, personally and politically. This year, (white) Shakira and (white) J-Lo agreed after White artist Pink refused. Why would two Latinas agree? And if they did agree, why would they not at least gesture to the main political issue that has been at stake in the NFL? Aren’t Black lives a concern for Latinas? Must Latina feminist politics come in white?

I’d suggest that the performance exhibits the seduction of whiteness and the continual inability for non-Black Latina/o/xs to imagine a world where Blackness is part and parcel of their community and not a root or an influence. The performance and the resounding embrace is a perfect example of how the racial politics of Latina/o/xs continually disappoint. This is where the “real” Latina/o/xs remind that some of us—the dark ones of our Latina/o/x communities—are not part of their agendas. This is how they message us that we don’t belong, that our Black issues are not their issues, just as not referencing the NFL teams’ racist commodification of Indigenous histories and traditions elides them from Latinidad.

Sunday’s halftime show and celebratory reactions drove in this messaging. First, by agreeing to the half-time show J-Lo and Shakira declared themselves agnostic (translation—not my problem) to the main question that has plagued the NFL for the last few years: the questions of Black lives. But here is what the two artists missed and likely many (white) Latina/o/xs missed: Black lives are the lives of so many Black Latina/o/xs. Black Latina/ox/s have to deal with police and state violence and acts of racial discrimination in and outside the criminal justice system, often at the hands of white Latinos. (Remember Zimmerman? How about Miami Police Captain Javier Ortiz, a white racist Latino who then claimed he was “Black too”?)

Second, J-Lo and Shakira performed and referenced non-Black “Latina/o/x” and generic white feminist as de-racialized issues, comfortably and perhaps intentionally putting Blackness in the background as back-up dancers and musical influences. This is the same “y tu abuela donde está,” (where’s your grandmother?) trope that typifies Latina/o/x representation of Black lives. We are either dead, in the kitchen, part of the set design, never protagonists, as the white faces do the selling. In this way, Shakira and J-Lo’s zero-calorie political statements recycle the blindspots of white feminism. It's a feminism that celebrates big derrieres on white blonde women but will never offer a Latino spot for a Black woman.

J-Lo and Shakira could have dared to serve as representation of a broader spectrum of Latinidad. A Latinidad where Black lives and police brutality extends the purview to what some criminal justice scholars call crimmigration, where immigration is tied to criminal law (hence terms like “illegal alien"). I know they are not scholars. But what if they or their Latina/o/x world would have had to worry about their kid being caged in an ICE facility or a local jail? Might they not have been able to recognize the caging of Latina/o/x children as part of a criminal justice and immigration system that has always sought to criminalize non-White, and lets be honest, mostly Black and dark (including Black Latina/o/x), populations? Some have declared that the children in the cages were Latinos; I can’t help ask from a Black Latina lens if any of them were Black. Or is Blackness only allowed the purview of African-American-ness in non-Black Latina/o/x and Latin American eyes? [Given the times Latina/o/xs react in awe and refuse to speak to me in Spanish, I think I know the answer.]

As a Black Latina, I always wish, or rather have to fight (with all the enduring significations of the “angry” Black woman), for Blacks to become visible to Latino/a/xs. After the Superbowl, the undying defenses by excited non-Black Latina/o/xs proved again to me that they are ready to sacrifice us, or at least put us on pause. During moments when dancing and cultural representation and “real” Latino and white feminist political issues such as “colonialism” (as opposed to those non-Latino issues like police brutality) are at stake, they don’ want us to rain on their parades. The failure to see us (Blacks) in the framing of “their” struggles speaks to the whitened racial frames of those political stances; and remind that anti-colonial struggles will often forget about one of its most potent products—race. The claim I am making is not for solidarity. The ask (I really want to say demand but that may elicit some defensiveness that exposes the fragility of Latina whiteness) is for an acknowledgement that we too are part of your Latinidad.

Jennifer Lopez and Shakira could have done what Cardi B, Rihanna, or even Pink did. Instead, they came out—blonde manes and all (which is not insignificant)—with two white Latino trappers (Bad Bunny and J Balvin, who again put a white face on everything Black) and signaled, to the applause and jubilation of non-Black Latina hegemony, that we are not part of them: not “their” whitened celebrations nor “their” whitened struggles.

Understanding that reality, yet again, I and my children returned promptly to the regular programming of Mira Quien Baila and La Voz; again to the everyday battlefields where we look for any indication or opportunity to demand that we belong. We stay involved to stake a claim to the spaces of Latinidad that we and our ancestors also built and that also belong to Black Latina/o/xs like us.

Zaire Z. Dinzey-Flores

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