One of the hottest questions about one of the hottest rappers of the moment is about her race. Is Cardi B black? That is one of the most Googled questions about the rapper. The answer is yes, of course. But the answer, for many, is also complicated. Why? Because race is a complicated subject.
Belcalis Almanzar, aka Cardi B, was born in The Bronx to a Dominican father and a Trinidadian mother. When discussing why she is tired of people trying to figure out her racial background, she told Zendaya in an interview, “One thing that always bothers me is that people know so little about my culture. We are Caribbean people. And a lot of people be attacking me because they feel like I don’t be saying that I’m black. Some people want to decide if you’re black or not, depending on your skin complexion, because they don’t understand Caribbean people or our culture.” And on her being black, she added, “I don’t got to tell you that I’m black. I expect you to know it.”
Case closed. Cardi B is black.
So, why do so many still question it? To answer that question, we have to dig deeper into actually understanding race and how it has evolved in different parts of the world, especially in the Caribbean.
What is black?
One definition of black is being dark skinned. That is a vague definition, of course, because that is dark? Another definition says “To be considered black in the United Sates not even half of one’s ancestry must be African black….black is any person with any known African black ancestry.” The “one-drop rule” of the South proclaimed that a person that had even a single drop of “black blood” was considered black. That is another definition that is vague.
How dark does the person have to be and how far back does the “one drop of black blood” have to go to consider a person to be black?
If you’re not into dissecting shades of skin color and digging up ancestral history, there were other ways of figuring out who should be considered black and who shouldn’t. There was also the pencil test, a test that was prevalent in South Africa during Apartheid. It was used to classify who was white and who wasn’t. The test decreed that “if an individual could hold a pencil in their hair when they shook their head, they could not be classified as White.”
For the sake of common social understanding, most of us now consider a black person one that has ancestry originating from Africa recently enough (recently being relative) that it has influence over their appearance, culture, AND how mass society views them. There are several arguments against each of these points. “I’m not from Africa and neither is my family” might be one. “The “Black” race didn’t exist until Europeans created, so I am not a black race” might be another.
Yes, most blacks in America, Latin America, or the Caribbeans do not have immediate family members directly from Africa, and they might not identify with any of the cultures on the vast continent. But that is not necessarily needed to be descendants of Africans. Four hundred years might separate Americans’ blacks from their African ancestors but the influence they have over our looks and culture is undeniable. And in the larger scheme of things, four hundred years is a tiny snapshot of time that would not completely break the connection of a group of people from a land that was home to them for thousands and thousands of years.
As for race being an European manufactured concept, that is mostly true. Race as we know it now did not really exist until mid-16th century when the colonization of the Americas started. Although there were always ways of separating people and where they come from based on their appearance, it never had the weight that it started to garner past the slave trade. Now, it is the world we live in.
Black has grown to be more than a race. It is a sign of power and pride that has been embraced by the people of Africa and their decedents all over the world. From the Black Panthers of America to the Black Lions of Ethiopia, the color black identifies skin color, features, culture, history, and so much more to billions of people. Although it is a complicated matter, race simply connects people that have shared experiences on this Earth based on the culture of that group of people and how other groups perceive them.
If you don’t believe that you are “black” and posses the features, the culture, and family heritage of what is considered black in America, declare that to mass society. You will quickly, as if you haven’t already, learn what your race is in America. That is the reality.
What about the Caribbeans?
Race in the Caribbeans
Before the European invasion, the population in the Caribbean Islands was estimated to be between 750,000 and 1 million. The natives, made up of various ethnic groups like Taino, the Island Caribs, and Ciguayo were spread out through the various islands that occupy this region. The population was devastated by epidemic disease such as smallpox and measles after European contact and dwindled down.
Between the 1500s and 1800s, the region got a boost in population thanks to the Transatlantic Slave Trade. Ninety five percent of Africans that came to the Americas through the slave trade were scattered in the Caribbean and Latin America. These slaves were put to work on plantations that grew tobacco, coffee, and crops that produced lots and lots of sugar. Later on, immigrants from European countries started arriving as well as indentured servants from India, China and Indonesia. By this time, the pure Amerindian population had gone down by 80-90% due to death and mixing.
Today, the Caribbeans are one of the most racially diverse regions of the world. Countries like Haiti, Barbados, Jamaica, and Trinidad and Tobago are black majority while others like Cuba and Puerto Rico have a white majority. And most others, like the Dominican Republic, have a mixed race majority.
The mixing of all these races and cultures has created a unique and vibrant culture in the Caribbeans. Seeing African spirituality, European cuisine and Amerindian customs in most of these extraordinary islands is normal.
That is exactly what makes Cardi B’s ethnicity complicated along with millions of people from the Caribbeans.
Cardi B’s father is Dominican. One of the last census conducted in the country estimated that population to be 73% mixed race, with the two main racial groups being black and white. Spanish settlers mixed with the natives as well as black slaves from West Africa. There is no denying that a lot of Dominicans just simply look black the way we are used to perceiving black. There is no denying that mocha skin and beautiful coily hair. But what about those that have black, white, and native running in their bloods, which comprise the majority of the population?
If you go by the good ‘ol “One Drop Rule”, then any African blood would mean that all of the mixed race Dominicans would be considered black. But is that how they identify themselves?
Known as a “rainbow island”, Trinidad and Tobago is yet another example of the complexities of race in the Caribbean. And that is where Cardi B’s mother is from. Majority of the population is considered mixed between East Indian, African, and more.
In short, Cardi B is just another Afro-Latina with the racial blends of everything the Caribbeans have to offer.
All this mixing, however, did not prevent a class system based on racism from continuing on past independence from colonial powers. A study released in 2012 by the Inter-Americas Commission on Human Rights found that the problems of race are actually most persistent in the Caribbean, compared to other parts of the Americas. IACHR commissioner Prof Rose-Marie Belle Antoine said, “While we pat ourselves on the back for being rainbow countries, the reality is that there are still race tensions in our societies.” She also added, “Financial power is still largely in the hands of white minorities in the region because of business patterns that have shifted little in the centuries.”
That is a common thread between black communities, regardless of being African American or Afro-Latino.
What exactly is an Afro-Latina?
Afro-Latina/Latino are people of Latin America that have significant African ancestry. It might simply be defined as just being a black person from Latin America. Many Brazilians, Dominicans, Cubans, Hondurans, and more identify themselves as Afro-Latinos. Celebrities like Zoe Saldana, Juelz Santana, Rosario Dawson, Tatyana Ali, Sammy Sosa, and Cardi B belong to that group.
However, like many mixed race people, Cardi B consistently receives criticism for not embracing her black side or her Latina side enough as if one suffers when the other is celebrated.
When people question her blackness, her response is: “I expect people to understand that just because we’re not African American, we are still black. It’s still in our culture. Just like everybody else, we came over here the same fucking way. I hate when people try to take my roots from me. Because we know that there’s African roots inside of us.”
The simple answer?
Yes, Cardi B is black. But she is also most likely European and Amerindian. She has the freedom to express whichever side she wants to express at any given time.