What Can Brown Do for You?

A UPS Slogan or a Comment on Clinton's California Win?

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Rochelle Newman-Carrasco Rochelle Newman-Carrasco
Maybe it's because I'm headed to Panama next week for the Caribe International Advertising Festival that I feel compelled to address race -- both the presidential race and the continued use of racial characteristics, like skin color, to define Latinos.

Lately there has been a lot of time spent on the Black-Brown Divide. It is the easiest way for those speaking and writing about identity politics to capture the tensions that may or may not exist between African-Americans and Latinos. This is suddenly of interest because the Latino vote is influential and, so far, Latinos are casting their vote largely in favor of the first female U.S. president vs. the first African-American president. What many would have you believe is that this preference for Hillary Clinton means that Latinos are not ready to support an African-American presidential candidate.

It would be naïve to pretend that Latinos (who, by the way, come in all colors) are color blind. And yes, there are cultural tensions that exist within some Latino and African-American communities in both urban and rural America. But the Latino votes for Clinton are most likely a product of the candidate's power of persuasion, coupled with years of brand recognition and brand loyalty.

Certainly there are some Latinos that view an African American candidate as unelectable. There are some African Americans, some Anglos and some of every group that feel the same way. But they are not the voice of an entire community. There are some that still believe a woman candidate is unelectable as well. Several people have asked me why Latinos, who they still associate with words like "macho" and "machismo," are so willing to vote a woman into the White House?

The fact is that the U.S. trails behind Latin America in this regard. There have already been women presidents in Latin American countries. Panama happens to be one of them.

Panama is also one of the many countries throughout the Americas where Black Latinos are a dominant part of the overall population. The Afro-Latino presence is common throughout the Caribbean and the Americas with strong populations in such countries as the Dominican Republic, Cuba, Venezuela, Puerto Rico and Brazil to name a few. Mexico's black population is far less pronounced, but it exists in various states.

Truth be told, in spite of their Latino heritage, Black Latinos are not immune to discrimination within the Latino community, including within the advertising and media communities where the Telemundo's and Univision's of the world are more likely to cast light-skinned on-camera talent for their news, novellas and other programming and where advertising agencies systematically "vote" for the whiter candidate at casting sessions. In fact, even "brown" Latinos, those of Indian or mestizo descent, have experienced their challenges when competing for on-camera roles.

As for the word "brown?" It's a misnomer. It's simply not that black and white. "Brown" is a clever attempt to fit all Latinos neatly into the U.S. box of race and color in spite of the multiculturalism and diversity that is so much a part of the Latino cultural reality. People just need to accept and embrace the complexities of this consumer group. Latinos are White, Black, Asian, Indian and a blending of all of the above. So as pithy as it sounds, making "brown" a synonym for Latino doesn't really help to move the conversation about cultural understanding forward. Call me crazy, but I'd like to believe that as creative communicators, we're actually interested in doing some of that.
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