A few years ago, I was on a panel discussion for TheGrio where they talked about being Afro-Latino and the challenges we face growing up in a world that deems your complexion to be less than beautiful. A world, let's not ignore, where even family members judge you for your complexion, the way you wear your hair, who you date. In that video, the topic of Sammy Sosa came up. I simply said: “I understand and feel sorry for Sammy Sosa.”
When Dominicans and the Internet think of Sammy Sosa it’s an automatic comedy show. If it’s not that he looks like Pepto Bismol it’s that he looks like Neapolitan Ice Cream. It’s what the Internet does; it takes a person and automatically makes them a meme. It’s funny. I laugh. It’s a joke…but it also isn’t.
The Internet gets a hard-on for breaking you down but it doesn’t get a hard-on for building you back up. And while Sammy may be past saving, I don’t see half as many memes about the core of the issue than I do about what his face now looks like. There is no advancement of the conversation.
If you’re Spanish speaking it’s “Pero Sammy ta loco” or “Ete maldito prieto quiere ser blanco ahora.” If you’re a white American or black American, it’s automatically “Dominicans are such self haters” or “Dominicans are so racist.” Both sides are tired as fuck to be honest. Neither of those advance the conversation. Neither of those provide a solution. All they do is leave everything in the same place.
Quick sidebar: You notice how we as Dominicans [not me personally] never say “eseeeee maldito blanco or triguenito” right? But people are quick to say “Ese maldito prieto/cocolo/negro?” But i’m sleep though.
Back to why I understand Sammy Sosa….
It’s simple, I WAS SAMMY SOSA.
Let me run you through the list.
My hair isn’t William Levy’s hair. You can't run your fingers through it. I don’t even have hair anymore. I’m bald. But when I did, it was hair I didn’t like. Actually, I hated it. So what did I do? I got the same curls Sosa and Pedro had. I wanted to have the look of someone who had “good hair.” I permed my hair in the same way many young Dominican women do. I went through my childhood being told I didn’t look Dominican, or wasn’t really Dominican, so I did everything in my power to chase that title. I would tell people “I’m not black” because they used it as an insult. At one point in my life, I thought being called black was a negative. It was an insult to me.
I tried getting green color contacts. I remember my dad [who is a super woke Dominican] asking me if I wanted to be white because he was furious with me over it. I was 16 years old. I was so mad at him for talking to me like that. But while I denied understanding his viewpoint, I did, and just didn’t want to verbalize it. As a teenager, I just wanted another way to get attention because I felt my skin color was preventing me from getting any.
I’ve had two major relationships in my adult life. Both light-skinned. In elementary school and high school? All light-skinned. Do you think that was by accident? Again, a lot of these woke Dominican dudes who are dark-skinned have the same record as I do when it comes to girlfriends. I’m not criticizing them. I’m not saying it’s right. I’m just showing you how real it is and why it’s no joking manner.
I’ve been dating for a while and have dated every shade of woman on earth. This would have never happened 5, 10 or 20 years ago. I’ve had dinners with women as light as milk and dark as me ... and I’m an Amistad shade. The same people that criticize Kanye and Kim are the same dudes that want a Kim on their arm because they are just as brainwashed as I was.
Why? I can tell you every single reason because I ONCE WAS that person.
- I want to have a North West looking kid.
- I like how it looks to have a light-skinned woman contrast with my dark skin. It makes me feel like I stand out.
- There was a feeling of accomplishment when you got a light-skinned woman as a dark-skinned man. Why? Because you didn’t believe you were good looking on your own because of how society treated you; and you sure as hell never thought your looks would get you a light skin woman.
- What’s the next big catch for a dark-skinned man than a white woman? A light-skinned woman of the same race.
- Those are all real thoughts dark-skinned Latino dudes go through because of all the BS they hear growing up. I’m not saying the thoughts are right, because they 100% aren’t, but they are thoughts I once held.
So when you consider everything that I’ve listed out, do you think Sammy Sosa just woke up one day and said: “You know what, I want to be white. I want to bleach my skin?”
"Money couldn’t even save this brother. It shows you how deep the cuts were on him. The insults. The poverty. The wealth that you only see light-skinned people having in your country. All that stuff from his childhood stuck with him despite at one point being one of the most beloved baseball players -- not just in the Dominican Republic -- but around the world. He couldn’t grow past it."
It’s easy to pick on Dominicans. I’m Dominican and I get tired of people picking on Dominicans. This skin bleaching nonsense happens even in the non-Spanish speaking Caribbean in countries, like Jamaica and Haiti. Additionally, if you’ve been anywhere else in the Caribbean or Latin America like Brazil or Colombia or even part of Africa, India and Asia, you’ll see that people of that complexion have the same issues. They have the same issues of self-hate. But they are growing up in a place that makes poverty in America look like a joke. They don’t even have black examples of success or wealth in person, TV or on billboards like we do. They have nothing.
So how the hell is something like Sammy Sosa funny when you know there’s a Sammy Sosa that’s 5 years old right now developing the same complex in DR, PR, Cuba, Brazil, Colombia, Venezuela … and the list goes on. Kids who have to really hustle to eat on a daily basis. Who have to wear the same clothes while understanding at a very young age that in their countries black means poor, and white means rich, or something close to it. Kids who look at their surroundings and not only develop this thinking but have parents who reinforce that there’s no escaping this.
So if we as men are going through these bouts of self hate imagine those same kids or men going through it in a place where the window to opportunity is not even slightly cracked. Air can barely come in.
P.S: You can read this the same way you can read every other article on Sammy Sosa. What’s next? I’m not Martin. I’m not Malcolm. But when my book comes out I’m going to make sure I make copies of it in Spanish and give them out for free in Dominican Republic to the people I know who go through this. Maybe my words and my experience will help them in some way, shape or form.
And I’m tired of talking about this shit. It’s frankly exhausting…
- Claudio Cabrera