Cardi B Reminds Us That Latinos Have A Complicated Relationship To The N-Word
For those who have been hiding under a rock over the past few months, Bronx native and proud Dominicana, Cardi B, has taken the world by storm with her hit single, “Bodak Yellow.”
We’ve all heard the song at this point (even our moms and tias) and as a result, it’s reached the number two spot on the Billboard music charts. Why do we love it so much? Because it celebrates an unapologetic brand of feminism, the hustling mentality that many of us were raised on, and it reminds us that stunting on your haters is sometimes the only way they’ll ever get the point.
But while Cardi B continues to compile accolades and rep her Dominican and Trinidadian heritage, some internet blogs have recently questioned her for responses related to a question about using the N-word in a recent interview with DJ Vlad for VLAD TV.
What does the N-word have to do with Latinos you might ask? The short answer: A lot.
If you live on the East Coast, then you’re probably aware that Latinos can be of African descent. From the Caribbean to South America, Afro-Latinos of various nationalities have made their imprint on New York for centuries. But in cities like Los Angeles, there are far more Latinos of indigenous and mestizo descent than Afro-Latinos or Blaxicans (Black-Mexicans) like myself.
For some, Cardi’s use of the N-word comes with no surprise, especially for those who grew up using the word around African Americans and other people of African descent.
“And I’m quick, cut a n***** hustle, Don’t get comfortable,” she recites throughout “Bodak Yellow.”
“N***** hatin’ on me, really be upset,” she raps in another song, titled, “Red Barz.”
While the conversation around the word now involves Cardi B, she is, however, not the first Latina to be publicly questioned (read: dragged) for using the N-word in a song.
Jennifer Lopez (J.Lo) holds that title.
In 2001, J.Lo was publicly scrutinized for using the word on “I’m Real,” before rapper Ja Rule (everyone’s favorite summer-of-2001 rapper) came to her defense, claiming there was an “unwritten rule” that allows Puerto Ricans to say the word because African Americans and Puerto Ricans “are all kinda in the same family.”
Other prominent Latino artists like Latino rapper Fat Joe – whose racial background has been debated in the past – has consistently used (and defended) the word throughout his career.
Still, while J.Lo and Fat Joe may have defended themselves, there are a large majority of people in the U.S. who rightfully feel like the word has no place in Latino communities and outside of them.
So where does Cardi B fall under the complicated history of Latinos and the N-word? As a self-identified black woman of Caribbean descent and someone who has openly spoken about the racial discrimination that she has faced in her life, it almost seems like Cardi B has “rightfully” earned the right to use the word.
“… because at the end of the day, there are also Latinos (many of whom exist in our families) who use the N-word in social settings and are openly anti-black.”
But Cardi B’s response to DJ VLAD’s question revealed that she has her own hang ups about the word’s loaded history.
“It’s just something that like, is a lingo, like even I want to stop saying it,” she explained. “I really can’t stop saying it, I’m sorry.”
“It seems like something that is so normal, which is bad, but it is what it is,” she continued.
We’re introduced to her own racial background moments later when she claims that she and all Latinos come from diverse backgrounds.
“My parents, my father’s side, we’re Spanish, were Hispanic, and everything. But it’s like where do them Spanish people come from? Where do them Latino people come from? They’re mixed people, we’re mixed with African, European… What is it? Mulatic?”
It’s safe to assume that Cardi B probably didn’t mean to say Mulatic. I’m guessing she was looking for the word Mulatto or Mestizo — both represent different forms of racial mixture, but we can never be too sure. Mulatic may, in fact, be the group of undiscovered people in the Caribbean that white scientists and anthropologists are dying to “discover” next.
But Cardi B was far from finished.
She concludes the interview by explaining that, according to white people, there is no difference between Latinos and African-Americans. “And at the end of the day,” she says, “like Latinos and Hispanics they are considered a minority, like you think white folks see Hispanic and Black people, like oh yeah they are Hispanic and they’re black, no, we are all considered the same to them.”
Cardi B raises an interesting point and something that some non-black Latinos who use the N-word have often alluded to: African-Americans and Latinos are both victims of racial discrimination, which makes it OK for Latinos to use the N-word.
(Another point often used by Latinos who use the N-word: African-Americans and Latinos often grow up in the same neighborhoods, listen to the same music, adopt the same fashion trends, which also makes it OK to use the word.)
We’ve all heard these arguments before. And while they may occasionally ring true, they can easily downward spiral because at the end of the day there are also Latinos (many of whom exist in our families) who use the N-word in social settings and are openly anti-black.
Last year, the popular television show, “Black-ish,” created by Kenya Barris, took up the ongoing debate in an episode, titled, “The Word.” During one of the scenes, Curtis (Allen Maldonado) and Charlie (Deon Cole), used a dry erase board to stage an informative session at their workplace in hopes of educating their white coworkers about which Latino groups could and couldn’t use the n-word.
One of their white coworkers ask, “Mexicans can’t say the N-word, but Dominicans are OK?” To which Charlie explains, “Puerto Ricans are cool too unless you’re a J.Lo (Jennifer Lopez) Puerto Rican.”
Other people in this group, according to Charlie, include actress, Rosie Perez, deceased rapper, Big Pun, and Fat Joe. Marc Anthony and Ricky Martin, however, were, “no bueno,” and not allowed to say it under any circumstances.
“See basically the whole terror squad can say it, but not Menudo,” both men add.
While the scene was filled with comedic moments intended to diffuse such a loaded topic, it also raised an important point about the question of geography with regards to Latinos and the N-word.
Do Latinos on the west coast and east coast use the word in different ways?
DJ Sour Milk, a Latino Los Angeles-based DJ and radio show host at POWER 106 FM, believes that there are differences between the West and East coast Latino’s relationship to the word.
“I think there’s always been tension between the Mexican and the Black community in L.A.,” he explained to me over the phone. “There were always race riots in my high school between blacks and Mexicans.”
“But the N-word was something that my African American friends and I often used as a term of endearment and love even if black and brown people were beefing around us. I don’t think New York has all of that; I feel like it’s all love out there between African-Americans and Latinos,” he continued.
“Do Latinos on the west coast and east coast use the word in different ways? Should one group be allowed to have more access to it?”
DJ Sour Milk’s attempt to differentiate between Latinos on the east and west coast shows that there may be a regional difference with regards to the word. Particularly, if there are more Latinos of African descent on the east coast then there are on the west coast.
Perhaps the racial lines are often blurred between African-Americans and Latinos on the east coast in a way that they are not on the west coast where, in contrast, there are less Afro-Latinos according to the census. Still, a continued examination of the word’s existence in the Latino community will certainly prompt differing views, but what will also continue to transpire is the reality that African-American and Latino experiences are undeniably woven by a thread that, as our current political and racial climate shows, has the potential to create bridges.
That said, Latinos of non-African descent must also acknowledge that before these threads can be woven, the anti-black sentiments that are deeply ingrained in our communities must be addressed, while simultaneously realizing that being part of a discriminated group doesn’t exempt one from confronting their own racial prejudices.
The differing viewpoints that continue to revolve around the word reveal another glaring detail: Cardi B shows us that the Latino relationship to the N-word is part of the unresolved legacy of racism and mistreatment of people of African descent both in the U.S. and throughout Latin America.
Should Latinos be allowed to use the word? The debate will continue long after you finish reading this story. But if you’re a Latino who continues to use it, you should also remind yourself that for people of African descent in this country, the word means more than just a term of endearment amongst friends. It can also be a vivid (and sometimes haunting) reminder that being black in this country means that you are part of a group that continues to be disprorportionately impacted by the unrelenting legacy of white supremacy and police killings.