- Colombian rapper J Balvin apologized after widespread backlash over his “Perra” music video.
- The music video, which showed two Black women being led around on leashes, was derided as racist.
- Afro-Latinos say the video is emblematic of anti-Blackness embedded in the culture.
Colombian rapper J Balvin recently apologized after widespread backlash over his “Perra” music video, which has been heavily criticized for its racist depiction of Black women.
The music video showed two Black women being led around on leashes, as well as Black actors wearing prosthetics to make them look like dogs.
The video also features Tokischa, a Dominican rapper, in a cage while singing about being a “b—- in heat.”
Criticism of the video blew up on social media, causing “J Balvin racist” to trend on Twitter.
Even Colombian Vice President Marta Lucía Ramírez weighed in, citing the video as an example of one of two recent incidents that “violate women’s rights and their dignity” in an open letter.
In his apology, Balvin said he removed the full music video from YouTube on Oct. 17 in response to the feedback.
Despite the rapper’s apology and the removal of the video, Afro-Latinos say the video is emblematic of larger issues embedded in the culture.
Afro-Latinos say “Perra” video is a ‘painful reminder’ of rejection
Instead of treating the incident as an isolated or unique situation, Afro-Latinos are calling for white Latinos to conduct broader conversations and take action to address pervasive anti-Blackness and misogynoir in Latino communities.
“We always think of Latinidad as this beautiful rainbow where we’re all living happily together and there’s no hatred,” said Guesnerth Josue Perea, director of Afrolatin@ Forum, an organization that supports Latinos of African descent in the US.
He told Insider, however, that J. Balvin’s “music video shows that there is still this continued lack of acknowledgement among white Latinos that they benefit from white privilege.”
For Afro-Latinas specifically, the video has been a painful reminder of rejection and violence they experience even within their own community.
For me, as an Afro-Latina, it is especially painful when it’s happening within what’s supposed to be my own communityAngel Jones
“I was disgusted, but not surprised by the way Black women are disrespected in the video,” Angel Jones, an Afro-Latina assistant professor of education at Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville, said.
“I always think of Malcolm X’s quote where he talked about how Black women are the most disrespected, neglected, and unprotected people in this country and that continues to be demonstrated by the lack of respect we receive.”
“For me, as an Afro-Latina, it is especially painful when it’s happening within what’s supposed to be my own community,” Jones added. “If I’m disrespected in the broader community, I should be able to go home to my community and feel the opposite and that is absolutely not the case.”
Some critics say this is not a story of cancel culture
For some, the incident has caused them to reevaluate whether they still identify as J. Balvin fans.
“I’m very upset that he would depict Black women in a way I find very appalling,” Anajia Owens, a musician, told Insider. “The representation that he chose to go with is inexcusable, especially when all the information is right there at your fingertips.”
“I can’t stand by him or support him,” Owens, who is a Black woman, said.
She added that both her and her girlfriend, who is Afro-Dominican, feel as though the incident created a “huge loss” for both Black and Black Latino communities.
Afro-Colombian artists have to confront injustice and racism in different ways that J. Balvin hasn’t had to think about as a white LatinoGuesnerth Josue Perea
However, she and others stress that this is not a story about cancel culture. To her, and so many others, this is a story about accountability and treating Black women with the respect and dignity they deserve.
“It doesn’t all fall on him,” Katelina Eccleston, a reggaeton historian who recently interviewed Balvin for Paper Magazine, told Insider, adding that the video and its concept were approved by several other people before its release. “This is much bigger than one video.”
Reggeaton and the music industry reproduce anti-Blackness
Eccleston said that anti-Blackness is ubiquitous not only in reggaeton, but in the music industry at large.
“His mistake speaks to larger issues of the industry,” Eccleston said. “As a Black woman in the space, there’s a gatekeeping that occurs to keep me in my place.”
Eccleston spoke of the “othering of Black issues as non-Latino issues,” saying that this process contributes to a cycle where Black issues are viewed as “something foreign to Latinidad.”
Both she and Perea noted that non-Black Latinos rely on the idea of ‘mestizaje,’ a term used to describe people of mixed race, as a pass to not acknowledge the ways in which they further marginalize Black Latinos.
They say the industry fosters this dynamic.
—alfred (@dr_agp) October 25, 2021
Eccleston cited Jennifer Lopez as an example of the music industry “browning white Latinos.” Lopez came under fire last year for referring to herself as “negrita” in a song even though she’s not Black.
There’s a sense that the music industry tends to view white Latinos as more authentically Latino than Black Latino musicians, said Perea.
Perea compared Balvin’s mainstream success to that of ChocQuibTown, a Black Colombian hip-hop group. Though the group has been nominated for and awarded several Latin Grammys, it has arguably not seen a similar level of success as Balvin, who has had collaborations with Beyoncé and Bad Bunny.
“Afro-Colombian artists have to confront injustice and racism in different ways that J. Balvin hasn’t had to think about as a white Latino,” Perea said.
Afro-Latinos urge accountability and attention given to the dehumanization of Black women
Balvin’s collaborator, Tokischa, and the director of the video, Raymi Paulus, have since responded to criticisms of the video.
Tokischa told Rolling Stone that she was sorry for the way the video had been interpreted, while Paulus told the magazine that the video was meant as a “satirical representation” of the “many contexts of the word ‘perra.'”
But many say that they do not want this moment to pass without greater attention to the mistreatment of Afro-Latinos and the dehumanization of Black women in music and beyond.
“We need to center Black Latinos,” Perea said. “As we’re engaging in these conversations about anti-Black racism and white Latinidad, we really have to discuss why this identity of mestizaje is a problematic identity that otherizes Black people.”
—Shamara Valdez Rubio (@ShamaraValdez) October 27, 2021
Jones agreed, referencing the numerous signs that read “Latinos for Black Lives” during the height of the 2020 racial justice protests as further evidence that white Latinos can fail to recognize the ways they erase Black members of their communities.
“Anti-Blackness isn’t going to go away if we don’t admit it exists and keep ignoring these problems,” Jones said.
“Black women matter and Black women should be respected and protected,” she added. “We should not be used for sales and entertainment. We deserve better than that.”