Professor Tanya Hernández shared her expert opinion with the San Diego Union Tribune on the controversy surrounding a lyric in a song by Jennifer Lopez, and the use of “Negrito” or “Negrita” in Latin culture.
Tanya Katerí Hernández is the Archibald R. Murray professor of law at Fordham University School of Law, where she teaches anti-discrimination law and critical race theory, among other courses. She’s also the author of numerous books, including “On Latino Anti-Black Bias: ‘Racial Innocence’ and The Struggle for Equality.” Hilda Lloréns is a cultural anthropologist and associate professor of anthropology at the University of Rhode Island, where her research focuses on the Hispanic Caribbean and on Latinx United States, and has been published widely in academic journals and in the press. Both women took some time to discuss the history of the term “negrito/a” and how its use fits into the way race is understood in Latin Americaand their own opinions on the criticism of Lopez and the general use of the term. (These interviews have been edited for length and clarity. )
Q: There’s been quite a bit of backlash over Lopez referring to herself as “tu negrita del Bronx,” in the song “Lonely” with Colombian artist Maluma. When you heard the song, or learned of this line from the song, how did it come across to you? What was your reaction to her use of this term?
Tanya K. Hernández: When I learned of the line from the song, it angered me a great deal because it felt like a tone-deaf, opportunistic attempt to appear relevant in our #BlackLivesMatter social moment. At no other time has Lopez personally identified herself with Blackness. Dating Black people does not make you Black. Dancing with Black people does not make you Black. Being part of the urban popular culture and aesthetic, again, does not make you Black. Even more troubling, is that Lopez has a whole history of whitening her appearance and hair to pursue her Hollywood ambitions. Certainly, those are her choices to make, but it should then not be a surprise that her sudden gesture toward Blackness, from her perch of White privilege, would be received poorly by me and many others.