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New Report Takes A Deeper Look At How Latinos Experience Discrimination In The U.S.


A new report out today takes a deeper look at how Latinos experience discrimination in the U.S. It finds that Latinos with darker skin tones are more likely than those with lighter skin to say that they have been discriminated against. NPR's Hansi Lo Wang reports on the results of this national survey by the Pew Research Center. And we should note there is one scene in this story that some listeners might find upsetting.

HANSI LO WANG, BYLINE: In Leyda Diaz's family, there's a diversity in skin tones.

LEYDA DIAZ: I'm the lightest one of my siblings. We come from the darkest to the lightest. My mom is dark, and my father is very light skin-toned and - with red hair and freckles.

WANG: Diaz lives in Queens, N.Y., and identifies as Puerto Rican and Afro-Latino. Sometimes, though, she says, other people overlook her Latino identity, including during a recent shopping trip.

DIAZ: And this lady was asking for help, but she was saying it in Spanish. And she was with a friend. And she goes, ask her. She goes, oh, she doesn't speak Spanish. And I'm like, (speaking Spanish).

WANG: Diaz says others have also judged her brothers by their appearance.

DIAZ: They're black Hispanic - morenos, as they would say. So when you go to a bodega - oh, watch that moreno. He might steal. My brother says, (speaking Spanish). And then, oh, sorry. Oh, hey. You know, it's like, now you try to play it off. But - what? - I just walked in, and you had just classified me as a thief.

WANG: It's a kind of discrimination that the Pew Research Center says some Latinos and Latinas are more likely than others to say they've experienced because of their race or ethnicity. Latinos and Latinas with darker skin tones are more likely than those with lighter skin to say that they've been subject to slurs or jokes and that people acted as if they were suspicious of them. Juliana Horowitz is one of the co-authors of Pew's new report.

JULIANA HOROWITZ: The idea of colorism is something academics talk about, but it hasn't really necessarily been part of the more public debate about race and experiences with racial discrimination in the U.S.

WANG: These new survey results could help deepen that debate, according to Margaret hunter. She's a sociologist at Mills College in California, where she studies colorism. Hunter says in the Latino community, discussion about discrimination based on skin tone usually takes place within families, behind closed doors.

MARGARET HUNTER: You'll hear people say sometimes, oh, don't air the dirty laundry in public. But I don't think we have to think about it that way. I mean, we're all being influenced by the unconscious bias of racism.

GUESNERTH JOSUE PEREA: White supremacy or white privilege doesn't really have one country, and it's an international thing.

WANG: Guesnerth Josue Perea is the director of programs and communications for the AfroLatino AfroLatina Forum. It's an organization based in New York City that's trying to raise awareness of Latinos and Latinas of African descent in the U.S.

PEREA: There's a myth in the Latino community that we are this rainbow, multicolored ethnic group, that there's no racism in Latino communities because we are all mixed. It's not true. There's a lot of discrimination in many different ways.

WANG: Sthephany Paz of Brooklyn says sometimes she feels that from within the Latino community.

STHEPHANY PAZ: I'm fair-skinned. I have light eyes. I have long hair. I was told never to date a Latino from specific countries or anyone darker than me, you know? I was encouraged not to tan.

WANG: Paz says she thinks her appearance has helped her advance in her career as a wardrobe stylist. Christina Gomez, a sociologist at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, says addressing colorism begins with more open conversation about the problem. And she's noticing a generational shift.

CHRISTINA GOMEZ: Our young people today are really talking about this on college campuses and making it literally visual to all of us. And so they talk about Afro-Latinx people in a way that, 20 years ago, we weren't talking about it.

WANG: Gomez says when we talk about discrimination, it's not enough to know that someone is Latino or Latina. She says we also have to acknowledge what someone looks like. Hansi Lo Wang, NPR News, New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Hansi Lo Wang
Hansi Lo Wang (he/him) is a national correspondent for NPR reporting on the people, power and money behind the U.S. census.