Growing up in a predominantly white neighborhood outside Boston, Brittany Volcy was often made to feel like her African features were not pretty.
“To assimilate to white culture, I straightened my hair. My curl now doesn’t come back because it is so damaged,” Volcy said. “I didn’t have control of my skin or the way that my face and nose was shaped, and I knew the one thing I could control was my hair.”
She’s not alone.
According to a 2016 Pew Research Center survey, one-quarter of Latinos who identify themselves as Afro-Latinos – people who are of African and Latino descent – have felt the need to assimilate to dominant beauty standards and Eurocentric views by changing their appearance, such as by relaxing their hair or compressing it instead of embracing their natural beauty.
As members of two minority groups, Afro-Latinos experience intense prejudice. Volcy said that Afro-Latinos like herself feel the need to following dominant Eurocentric views, which promote low self-esteem and social inequity.
“The way that people would describe me, I felt almost like an animal in a zoo,” Volcy said. “People would say that I looked so different.”
Many Afro-Latinos struggle with their identity because of racial biases established by Eurocentric views.
“From a male’s point of view, I can tell you that I grew up subconscious about my hair,” said Hassani Tyler, who is an Afro-Latino. “I felt like if I didn’t cut my hair short, I would be judged.”
Experts say that there is a very narrow standard as to what hairstyles are considered acceptable in Eurocentric society. The styles that Afro-Latinos often wear are standard within the Afro-Latino culture, but are unacceptable outside of it.
“Having straight hair and colored eyes is what is considered beautiful,” said April Wright, a biracial African American children’s book author. “Anything outside of it isn’t, unfortunately.”
That Eurocentric lens neglects the cultural heritage of Afro-Latinos by discriminating against people from two different worlds.
“I don’t want to be perceived as the stereotypes that have been placed upon me,” said Tyler. “We need more representation of Afro-Latinos … because that alone breaks the barriers of it all.”