The Triple-Consciousness of Afro-Latinidad
Updated: Feb 14, 2020
By Nicole Alvarez
In a highly racialized country such as the United States, race plays a very important role in how others perceive you and act towards you. The impact of U.S. race relations and racism can also negatively affect an individual’s mental health. For instance, studies have shown that the odds of reporting good or excellent mental health increase by 41 percent for people who are racialized as white on the street compared to those who are racialized as non-white (López et al., 60). As sociologist Nancy López states, one’s “mental health status may be the first thing to change when exposed to everyday racism, whereas the impact on physical health may take longer to manifest” (Lopez, 49).
One of the famous intellectuals to investigate the impact of American racism on the mind was W.E.B DuBois. As an African American historian and sociologist, DuBois was specifically interested in the mental health of the “American Negro” after the abolition of slavery (DuBois). It was DuBois who coined the term “double-consciousness” to describe the internal conflict African Americans experience given they are black and American at the same time. I argue that Afro-Latinos, as a result of being black and Latinx at the same time, experience a type of “triple-consciousness” when in the United States; Afro-Latinx people often find themselves caught in a dilemma of not being black enough for the black community but also not being Latinx enough for other Latin Americans. In addition, they have to deal with the racial discrimination they may face as a result of their blackness, or Latinidad, or both.
In The Souls of Black Folk, DuBois describes “double-consciousness” as “this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others” (DuBois). African Americans are cursed with this “second sight” because they are forced to be hyper-aware of how other Americans view them due to their race and the color of their skin. These prejudices that others hold against them are what make it difficult for African Americans to be, as DuBois says, “both a Negro and an American, without being cursed and spit upon by his fellows, without having the doors of Opportunity closed roughly in his face” (DuBois, 4) In other words, African Americans cannot live with peace of mind because racism negatively impacts many aspects of their lives. This was especially true during the time period DuBois was writing in; at that time, it had only been less than 40 years since African Americans were declared citizens in the United States; the fact that African Americans had just recently been recognized to be actual people who belonged in America probably heightened these feelings of alienation (Jones). DuBois ultimately conceptualizes double-consciousness as “two souls, two thoughts, […] two warring ideals in one dark body” (DuBois, 3). As a result of this internal conflict, DuBois argues, African Americans have internalized feelings of hate and disgust they see others have towards them. This internalized racism leads to “inevitable self-questioning [and] self-disparagement” (DuBois, 10).
This situation of self-questioning and self-disparagement is made worse when there is additional racism or discrimination one experiences that comes from a community they feel they should belong to. This is the case for Afro-Latinx people who have to encounter anti-blackness on one end and a refusal to accept any other black experience other than that of the African American on the other. Moreover, they have to deal with how they are racialized by other Americans, such as white Americans and Asian Americans, because regardless of how “Afro-Latino self-recognition” may act to assuage the internal conflicts that come from existing between two worlds, one’s “street race” impacts whether they are read as one minority or another and therefore affects how they are treated (Flores, 83). After all, blackness and Latinidad both come with their own set of stereotypes and prejudices. Members of the Afro-Latinx community therefore often find themselves having to choose between identifying with Latinx culture or identifying with black culture, between the experience of “nationality or Latino pan-ethnicity, and that of blackness and the realities of U.S. African American life” (Flores, 82)
It is important to acknowledge the impact of triple-consciousness on the mental health of Afro-Latinx people. It has been found that there are health disparities between black Latinx and white Latinx that are a result of “interpersonal- and contextual-level discrimination” (Cuevas et al., 2131). These forms of discrimination become psychosocial stressors that can cause psychological responses such as “negative emotions [and] depressive symptoms” which can gradually “erode the individual’s health.” These emotions can also lead to increased negative health behaviors such as smoking, excess alcohol use, and physical inactivity. This connects back to sociologist Nancy Lopez’s idea that the effect of everyday racism on physical health may take longer to show up because, in reality, physical health consequences can form as a result of one’s mental health.
Overall, the term “double-consciousness” that W.E.B DuBois created in order to conceptualize the African American experience can also be modified to apply to the Afro-Latinx experience. The internal conflict characteristic of the Afro-Latinx experience in America can be described as a type of “triple-consciousness;” this is because Afro-Latinxs in the United States are black, Latinx, and American at the same time, and their self-perceptions are dependent both on how they perceive themselves and how others perceive them based on their blackness and Latinidad. Another important thing to note, though, is that I am in no way trying to compare the oppression of African American bodies and the oppression of Afro-Latinx bodies; I simply argue that the intersecting identities of Afro-Latinx people adds an additional layer to their consciousness when it comes to navigating the world. Other aspects of an individual’s identity, such as gender, sexuality, and socioeconomic class, can also add layers to how their consciousness forms.
Cuevas, Adolfo et al. “Race and Skin Color in Latino Health: An Analytic Review.” American
Journal of Public Health, Vol. 106, No. 12, 2016, 2131-2136.
DuBois, W.E.B. The Souls of Black Folk. Penguin Classics, 1996.
Flores, Juan. “Triple-Consciousness? Afro-Latinos on the Color Line.” Wadabagei: A Journal of
the Caribbean and its Diaspora, Vol. 8, No. 1, 2005, 80-85.
Jones, Martha. “How the 14th Amendment’s Promise of Birthright Citizenship Redefined
America.” Time, 9 July 2018, http://time.com/5324440/14th-amendment-meaning-150-anniversary/. Accessed April 25, 2019.
Lopez, Nancy et al. “What’s Your ‘Street Race’? Leveraging Multidimensional Measures of
Race and Intersectionality for Examining Physical and Mental Health Status among
Latinxs.” Sociology of Race and Ethnicity, Vol. 4, No. 1, 2018, 49-66.