What’s My Color?

Living in multicultural Toronto, the Black Lives Matter movement is experienced in different ways. This is what it means for my own complex Latina identity

Where do we even stand in the global debate?

Photo: Sofía Jaimes Barreto

The considerable immigrant community in Canada’s largest metropolitan area has made Toronto, where I live, the world’s most multicultural city. About half of its population are immigrants and the city responds to a more open approach to diversity in many aspects, at least that’s what it seems to me. The moment you leave the GTA (Greater Toronto Area), it might be another story. 

Here in downtown Toronto, you’ll often hear “what’s your background?” and “where’s ‘back home’ for you?” You’ll soon realize how different your fellows’ family traditions might be, depending on where they originally come from, even when you’re surrounded by young people. Especially in these troubling times.

The thing is, even in an environment of respectful curiosity, Venezuelans like me can find themselves in some strange slot between preconceptions usually made for someone else. 

We are still difficult to allocate in the global taxonomy.

The rise of the anti-racist movement in the U.S. in May stirred up the sense of inclusion that people had, and quickly entered the conversation of the Torontonian youth. Soon, we were facing the fact that no matter how Canada intended to be diverse, a colonized land like this has, of course, colonization issues, well embedded and still hurting, along the pain brewing every day in the depths of the “Welcome to Canada.” 

Due to Canada’s large territory and low population, this country was made with immigration, especially since the 1960s, when the immigration policies opened to more than a few European nationalities. Historically, the invitation offers better life opportunities and wealth, often abusing non-Anglo-European and benefitting the Anglo-European.

First Nations had their lands, their education and their rights taken. The Asian, particularly Chinese men, suffered after building the Canadian Pacific Railway to discover they were now to be deported. The pattern repeats itself: in 2019, Canada launched a new program of welcoming a million new immigrants by 2021, to later realize the majority of job opportunities are for Canadians. The systematic discrimination soaks in people’s approach to others, since being non-white or having an accent are potential obstacles in your daily routine. 

The issue of where we stand as Venezuelans in this context is something I think about as I brush my teeth, rolled up in my towel, my hair still dripping. I see my brown skin contrasting sharply against the white towel I’m wrapped in, and I can’t believe my dark complexion wasn’t this evident to me before. 

We are still difficult to allocate in the global taxonomy.

I like my skin tone. It’s just skin. I guess reading and reading and reading about all this Black Lives Matter thing makes me feel uncomfortable; I don’t understand my chromatic position, nor what it socially means. Collective perceptions create stereotypes yet, ironically, stereotypes are about perception and deception. 

I enjoy the flavor, the swing of the Venezuelan typical conversation. The condescending comments I had been told, though, slowly became more and more flippant than gracious as I discovered the background of those words. I chuckle at “Venezuela has no racism, just classism,” a myth so many of us liked to say ignoring how privileged it is to deny marginalization issues.

In Venezuela, racism is a complex matter. One, there’s no education on it; two, calling someone black does not necessarily entail the despise of the N word; three, there’s a culture around it and some people are called black in a kind, lovely, way. The average Venezuelan has colored skin, so the potential racism levels differ from another country where tones are easily differenced.

In Caracas, they called me “Negra,” for example. I never chose the nickname, but I took it with great affection, and it rarely bothered me.

Perhaps I understand it better now. The Venezuelan flock was not of white sheep at all and it feels like the flocks were separated enough for me to ignore how I was the darker sheep in my realityshared with plenty of other realities.

A friend, who would pick up the phone greeting me “Negra querida”, asked if I felt identified with all that was happening, as a dark-skinned Latina. He wondered if I felt the rise of this movement was going to help how the world saw me as well. It’s funny. I don’t know if he was trying to make a joke. It was the first time I verbalized how I’ve been wondering the same thing, maybe out of anxiety for the unknown, feeling like someone could catalog me into a group that I haven’t asked permission to join.

An American author says that you can fit into one of three groups: White, Honored White, and Collective Black. In order, the first group is white people, of white ancestors, of a white “culture.” The second group includes some light skin mixed-cultures, mixed races, Asian Americans, Filipino Americans, Light-skin Latinxs, Middle Eastern Americans. The third group includes mixed races that result in a darker tone, Africans, Native Americans, Dark-skin Latinxs, Vietnamese Americans. Up to an extent, this prompts the level of discrimination each group could face regarding their skin tone, and this applies differently depending on where you are.

Latinos, though, are quite a mix of races and, therefore, colors. Venezuela used to be a land of only indigenous people and, in a short amount of time, it ended up having a full whole color scheme where my position was ambiguous—light skin for some, dark for others. I would live the privileges of some and understand the marginalization of others. 

I don’t know what’s more embarrassing: the selfishness of self-identifying with the anti-racist movement when I may not fit in the categories that the conflict is framed in, or having lived under the bias curtain, considering myself relatively white, when I’m not quite one in the context I live in now. 

I know that my skin tone doesn’t make me the main focus of a movement so intense in the U.S., spilled into Canada, and somewhat related to Venezuela and all of Latin America as well. I don’t suffer the countless acts of discrimination that the black community faces in North America, or in Venezuela, for that matter. But now I’m better able to understand the movement, while recalling so many unanswered questions about the place I come from. A place very difficult to explain in the categories of Black Lives Matter, or Decolonize.

There’s this post on Instagram that said Venezuela was the only country where you could call someone “negro marico” (black faggot), regardless of the target being neither, and without the person getting offended.

And I laughed.