Latinx Files: Reggaeton has a color blindness problem

Bad Bunny and J Balvin inside a bubble
(Illustration by Diana Ramirez Santacruz / Los Angeles Times; photos by Chris Walker / For The Times and Evan Agostini / Invision/AP)

Hey folks, this is Fidel. Every once in a while, the Latinx Files will feature guest writers. This week, I’ve asked Shaadi Devereaux to cover for me. Devereaux is a writer, speaker and poet who uses media to build narratives for trans women of color. She covers sexuality, desire, colonialism, race and anti-Blackness in the Americas. She is also an independent contractor and consultant on a variety of programming centered on human rights for women and marginalized communities. You can find her on Instagram here.

What is Bad Bunny’s next move? Based on a recent Time profile, it’s a frustrating one for many tried and true fans.

In the lengthy cover story, Benito Antonio Martínez Ocasio was asked questions on fame, politics and his desire to be “the biggest star in the world.” Among them, he was asked what role colorism and race play in the reggaeton industry.


“Because I haven’t seen it or lived it, I can’t say,” he said. “It’d be irresponsible of me to say yes.”

He then offered the success of Tego Calderón as an example of someone who he considers to be “the biggest singer in the industry,” as possible evidence that the industry is a meritocracy and that anti-Black racism doesn’t limit the possibilities of Black artists.

Unsurprisingly, his comments set some parts of the internet aflame.

“I ain’t going to lie bad bunny really broke my heart after he admitted that he doesn’t believe in colorism,” tweeted user @roxayyy_ of the interview.

“Bad bunny not speaking up about colorism and racism is soooooooooo disappointing and not what I was expecting from him,” added @starell971. “He’s always been one to speak out about things his other male counterparts in the industry don’t speak about. What’s the change?

This isn’t the first time that Bad Bunny has fallen short in people’s eyes when it came to the subject of anti-Black racism. He was accused of being silent in the wake of the George Floyd protests and at the height of the Black Lives Matter movement. It was a surprise to many, considering the Black foundations of the music that made him famous.

Such was the backlash then that he ended a self-imposed exile by speaking exclusively to Time, saying that he not only supported the movement but was going to dedicate himself to education and providing economic resources to the struggle for Black lives.


“There are artists who only upload a photo or a basic message just to calm public pressure or to look good,” he said in June 2020.

“Not me… I want to go deeper and see in what way I can serve, how I can support the fight against a systematic monster that has been [around for] centuries. It’s a problem that perhaps will not have been solved when I die, but at least I will know that I have contributed something for future generations that, with faith, will enjoy freedom and justice.”

“Bad Bunny BARELY spoke out against racism and police violence towards Black Americans,” Twitter user @CZACarey recently noted. “He was forced to after fans called him out for his silence on the issue. So his not even acknowledging racism and colorism at all in his own culture is telling.”

It might be harder to blame Bad Bunny for choosing not to speak on the subject, if he had spent his whole career being largely apolitical. But as others have pointed out, that’s not the case. On the contrary, he has used his massive platform to raise his voice on a number of pressing issues.

In recent years, Bad Bunny has released a short documentary with journalist Bianca Graulau about displacement in Puerto Rico, and paused his tour to join protests to remove Gov. Ricardo Rosselló from office. Most recently, he received a GLAAD Vanguard award for his advocacy for trans lives in memory of the murdered Alexa Negrón Luciano — though it should be noted that some trans women found his acts of dressing in drag and kissing men on stage “in tribute” to be ultimately sensationalizing, stigmatizing and not true to their own experiences.

So what changed? What caused Bad Bunny to renege on his promise of education and what led him to talk about racism with doubts to its existence, instead of a problem that needs to be addressed? Were the details of the work of antiracism simply too troublesome to deal with in the home turf of the Latin music industry and Black people within his own community, as opposed to positioning racism as a simply American boogeyman?


Unfortunately, dismantling anti-Black racism is rarely a brandable, easy or lucrative endeavor. The purpose of that work is not to quickly create capital for those already at the top, so many find it not worth the risk of a bad PR moment — one which ironically occurs anyway when you doubt the existence of anti-Black racism because you have not experienced it personally.

The interview with Bad Bunny marks a larger trend of artists across the Americas seeming very shy and frightened to talk about racism, often seeming altogether tired of the conversation. It marks a trend of artists who simply don’t want to do the work, make concrete action to equity and share the capital gains of industry.

Artists like Bad Bunny and J. Balvin are often cited as diverging from the conservative mainstream and as making us question traditions. But which traditions are they eschewing, really? Colorblind ideology, misogynoir and erasure are tales as old as time when it comes to race in the Americas.

The sad reality of it is that the Latin market engages “urban” culture with the same business model as its American counterpart. Even though both are dressed up in sexy lyrics and Black “urban” cultural output, they still espouse the same conservative language of doubting and obscuring the realities of the marginalization of others to the tune of personal benefit. A laissez-faire “chamaquito” attitude when it comes to something like racism is a dangerous affair.

So what then should we expect from famous non-Black artists?

Though it’s true that celebrity rarely has the answers, there is also a need for popular artists to share capital gains, access, platform and education with the very communities that are the source of their art. In the case of reggaeton and most global popular “urban” music and culture, this community is a very Black one.

The answer to bridging the two Benitos in the two very different Time magazine stories is to look beyond the politics of celebrity, and in the direction of Black voices across the Diaspora. Especially when they challenge us.


The answers are found in our own fearless desire and commitment to push the conversation forward as shown by writers such as fierce online advocate and socio-critic Zahira Kelly-Cabrera (aka Baddominicana); Ariana Brown, poet and author of “We are Owed”; speaker, historian and facilitator Dash Harris Machado; Katelina Eccleston (aka Reggaeton Con La Gata); writer, artist and cultural critic Dr. Alan Palaez (aka Migrantscribble); and Javier Wallace, postdoctoral associate at Duke covering race, class, gender, labor migration, nationality and transnationalism of athletes from the U.S., Latin America and the Caribbean.

These and others are the Black voices that we should be listening to on the topics of racism and colorism in Latin America and abroad, instead of Bad Bunny and other non-Black celebrities.

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Things we read this week that we think you should read

— If you want to listen to new music, meet cool people and promote a good cause all at the same time, then check out La Papaya Club, a tropical music dance party that promotes organizations helping improve Afro Latinx and Indigenous communities. Read more about the mission of the organizers in the story from the homies over at Los Angeles Public Press, a new publication you’ll definitely see more of in this space.

— It’s always great to see Latinx actors getting their break in Hollywood. Chilean Marko Zaror has parlayed his extensive martial arts experience into a role in “John Wick: Chapter 4.” L.A. Times en Espanol reporter Sergio Burstein sat down with Zaror to talk about the movie.

— If you have a mother of a certain age, then you should check in on them because actor/heartthrob Andres Garcia died on Wednesday. Garcia’s life is impossible to encapsulate in a small blurb, but read this obit and you’ll soon realize that he was actually the most interesting man in the world.


— This past Saturday, el compa Beto Duran invited me to Schurr High School in Montebello for the first-ever Lorenzo Mata All-Latino High School Showcase. The event brought together 24 very good Latino high school basketball players from Los Angeles, Orange County, San Diego and Arizona for an exhibition game that proved that ball really is vida. It was truly a wonderful community event, one in which multiple Latino high schoolers dunked. The future indeed looks bright. For more on this cool, hopefully annual event, here’s a segment from “Sports Central LA.”

— It’s been a good week for Latinx comic book fans. First, there was the trailer release for “Blue Beetle,” the first live-action superhero movie with a Latinx superhero as the main character. Some folks, like el compa Jose R. Ralat over at Texas Monthly, took issue with the fact that Jaime Reyes (played by La Vanguardia alum Xolo Maridueña) isn’t from El Paso. And while it’s certainly an opinion I share, I’m mostly excited to watch a movie featuring one of the most underrated characters in either universe.

But wait, there’s more! This week also saw the trailer release for “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-verse,” the sequel to what many (myself included) consider to be the best comic book movie of all time, which also happens to be the first to feature a Latinx superhero as the main guy, live action or animated.

And last, but certainly not least, please enjoy this very hilarious video of Ben “El nuevo Benito” Affleck speaking in Spanish to promote his new film “Air.” Many were surprised to discover that el Batman habla español.