Roland Roebuck, activist and advisor of the Afro-Latino Student Association at Howard University, lamented the rigid attitudes of African-Americans toward their ethnic and racial backgrounds at a speech for Hispanic Heritage Month on Wednesday. Roebuck focused his lecture in White Gravenor on the topic of Afro-Latinos living in Hispanic communities and said that denial is the negative consequence of interracial social interactions.

“Many people are not comfortable with their black identity and use their geographical identification to feel comfortable,” he said.

Discrimination against the African minority encouraged the notion of racial inferiority and the pressure to assimilate discouraged individuals from celebrating their identity, he said.

“In Puerto Rico alone, 89 percent of the population identified itself as white. This means that my cousins are calling themselves white and yet they are not calling themselves Afro-Puerto Rican.”

Roebuck remarked that in order to grasp a better understanding of Afro-Latino identity, one must delve into evolution of certain terminology. The different names of the Afro-Latinos – moreno, negrito, tiqueno – reflect the racism of Hispanic majorities against people of similar background, he said.

The Afro-Latinos, although they share similar cultural experiences and speak Spanish, are not fully and equally integrated into Hispanic societies, Roebuck said. He said that although he was raised in Puerto Rico and speaks fluent Spanish, he is not permitted to call himself a Latino.

“I am being denied because I do not fit the stereotypical portrayal of a Latino,” he said.

Roebuck does believe, however, that change is coming. With much patience and persistent political action, the inherently racist classifications are being replaced by political correct identifications such as Afro-Latinos and Afro-Descendientos, he said.

According to Roebuck, cultural self-denial is not exclusively an Afro-Latino problem. It also relates to the wider Hispanic population, he said, noting that class differences promote negative attitudes of the upper class toward the indigenous groups.

He further explained how it is generally thought that an upper-class Mexican is less likely to marry someone indigenous. Both the African and the Hispanic populations, therefore, are constantly under the pressure to appear whiter and are forced to reject their racial identities in an effort to assimilate and accommodate, he said.

Self-acceptance and pride of racial identity are the first steps to create an atmosphere of solidarity and respect, but they will not entirely eliminate misunderstandings and discrimination, Roebuck said.

“A Mexican-born journalist is not a journalist, she is a exican journalist. Why? When she is going back home from work, she can be seen as a Mexican woman going to her housekeeping job,” he said.

Despite the profusion of racism in the world today, Roebuck said he holds a positive and hopeful vision of the future. He encouraged the student community to challenge racism encountered on the daily basis and to be actively involved in local chapters of organizations committed to cultural diversity.

Cynthia Martinez (SFS ’05), resident director of the Black House, said she thought that Roebuck tackled the core of the issue.

“I think Roland Roebuck did an excellent job in exploring how common cultural attributes such as language and even geography contribute to a “shake up” in Latino identity,” she said. “What I think appealed to most students was his brutal sense of honesty. He wasn’t afraid to confront the racism, classism and denial of history that exists within the Latino community today.”

The event was sponsored by the GU Black House.

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