What Really Happens When You're a Light-Skinned Latino

"Clean this house like a white man's house."

Growing up, this wasn't an unusual thing for me to hear, but at an early age I struggled to comprehend my grandfather's logic.

I loved my brown skin. I loved my last name, and I wanted to be Richie Valens when I grew up. These things were the foundation of my identity. So my grandfather left me wondering: Why should I want to identify with anything but my Mexican identity? I was proud to be Mexican.

Once I became versed in privilege and oppression in college, my pride was heightened. Seeing myself as the poster child of oppression, I was eager to share my story and was provided with plenty of opportunities to do so. I later realized, however, I had been so focused on voicing my frustration with racism in America that I ended up silencing other marginalized people in the process. I learned that my gender and relatively light skin afforded me opportunities that other people of color do not have, including those who are trans, queer and women of color.

Which brings me back to what my grandfather was hinting at: You need to associate yourself with whiteness, leveraging any advantages that connection gives you, because life will be that much easier.

I am convinced he learned this the hard way. And he was right. Life is easier when you pass as white, something many light-skinned Latinos can afford. And here lies the issue I have with "What Happens When You're a Light-Skinned Latino." Fernando Hurtado did not discuss what really happens when you are a light-skinned Latino. What really happens is this:

  • You are given more platforms to discuss your oppression compared to dark-skinned Latinos.
  • You are perceived as more innocent than your darker counterparts.
  • You do not suffer the intensity of racism that Afro-Latinos experience.
  • You meet the standards of white beauty.
  • When you are in a group of dark-skinned Latinos, a white person will likely speak to you first.
  • Your citizenship status is rarely, if ever, doubted.

None of this is to say that light-skinned Latinos do not have frequent encounters with discrimination.

They do, and Fernando Hurtado's article is proof of that. Regardless of skin tone, many Latinos live in communities riddled with poverty, heavy policing and inadequate schools. Yet the hardships I have experienced due to my race, no matter their intensity, do not eclipse the undeniable privileges I have as a light-skinned Latino.

If we are to live in a racially just world, people of color who have the microphone need to own up to their privileges without a stutter. And when we have the stage, it is critical that we center on the stories of those furthest on the margins.

Sean Flores is a Program Associate at Advancement Project, a national racial justice organization.