Coming Out As Black

Coming Out As Black

The Blog
The Huffington Post

Elaine Vilorio, High School Senior
Northern New Jersey

I’m Black. After many years in the closet, after many years of breathing that stale air of self-denial, I can finally say this.

Growing up, I dreaded the question “What are you?” I always proudly answered that I was Hispanic. In fact, I made it a point to emphasize my Hispanicity simply because I knew what was coming next. “I’m Hispanic; I speak Spanish; my parents come from Dominican Republic. I’m Hispanic. And, just to clarify, I’m Hispanic.” To this, the other person confessed: “Oh… I thought you were Black. You definitely look Black.” The problem was I perceived the identification of “Hispanic” outside the realm of Blackness; but then, I wasn’t the only one. Take note that the other person in my scenario thought the same thing. Right after my declaration of Hispanicity, he/she stripped away the “Black” label with the phrases “I thought” and “You definitely look.”

The conventional definition of “Black” completely leaves out Hispanics, and this is because the latter is ashamed of African ancestry. As a result of this shame, American society has excused Latinos from identifying themselves as Black or African American. I recently read Henry Louis Gates, Jr.’s Black in Latin America, and I’m amazed at what I learned. Eleven million Africans survived the Middle Passage and came to the Western Hemisphere. Out of this almost unfathomable number, only 450,000 Africans came to the United States. Gates expresses the significance of these numbers nicely: “The ‘real’ African American experience…unfolded in places south… of Texas, south of California, in the Caribbean islands and throughout Latin America.” [1] Why, then, has the stereotypical Hispanic comprised mostly European and Indigenous features? Where did the Black go? It was buried under unofficial segregation, under whitening campaigns of populations and national histories, under racism…

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