J Balvin just released a new album and a couple of videos alongside it. I watched the video for Perra and immediately regretted it. It opens up to a scene of a Black woman in a maid uniform complaining and cleaning, then around 1:11, we are treated to a scene of Balvin walking Black people on leashes like dogs. Shocked is an understatement.
To more accurately describe it, I felt a multitude of things at the same time; shock, disgust, horror, shame. It was very clear that the “dogs” and “animals” in the video were all darker-skinned people with most of the “lower class” characters also cast with Black people, while the lighter-skinned people were characters like the “Profe” in the opening scene and others.
Sadly, this is not the first time Balvin has expressed colorism and anti-Black sentiments. He has quite a record of demonstrating that he is very much in tune with the benefits of his white privilege in his home country of Colombia which also has the 2nd largest population of Afro-descendants in Latin America, second only to Brazil.
But what else has Balvin done? Read on…
The “Tego Calderon isn’t Latino” incident
In an interview, he was asked about how he got started as a reggaeton artist. He mentioned that it wasn’t until he knew that Daddy Yankee was actually white and not Black that he started dreaming about it. He stated that Daddy Yankee was a Latino like himself, implying that Tego’s Blackness precluded him from also being Latino.
Rihanna is ‘just a girl to have fun with’
He played fuck, marry and kill with a Brazilian interviewer, where he got Rihanna as an option. He said he chose fuck for her because she wasn’t “a good woman to marry” and only good for fooling around with. People had things to say.
The All Lives Matter, I mean Black (from the United States) Lives Matter stance
He then cluelessly used the hashtag #EveryLivesMatter, in addition to the equally off-the-mark #LatinoLivesMatterToo hashtag in response to the growing outrage over police brutality and the murder of George Floyd. But because the utter foolishness of those hashtags wasn’t enough, he included a video of himself dancing with a Black woman.
Public pressure finally did its job and Balvin ultimately apologized stating in part, “I appreciate that it is my responsibility as a leader in the Latino community to educate myself of the plight of Black citizens in America – to learn about their struggles and the ongoing, systemic racism they face each day; and more importantly, to learn how I can be a better ally and help change the system through my voice and my action.”
Clearly, Balvin forgot about Black Colombians and Afro-Latinos throughout Latina America, and since then, he has most definitely forgotten about his pledge to educate himself when he decided to dress up Black women as dogs and put leashes on them.
Be peaceful, Colombia.
When protests in Colombia arose, J Balvin once again showed his privilege and his ignorance and .stated that Colombians should remain peaceful in the protests and stop the “nonsense civil war.” Many of the demonstrators were young and from marginalized communities, and took to the streets to protest structural inequality, poverty, and lack of education, among many other social issues that the pandemic made dramatically worse. Meanwhile, Balvin flippantly called for love and peace without taking a moment to understand the fundamental challenges many in his country were facing.
When artists like J Balvin intentionally ignore the realities of racism, colorism, and anti-Blackness in the Latinx community, but even worse, participate in so much of it himself, we have to ask ourselves, when does the Latinx community begin to hold these artists accountable for perpetuating so much harm that so many are trying to prevent and undo?
We must acknowledge that Balvin has recently done work to advocate for the adoption of COVID vaccines, using his power and platform by performing in concerts, addressing it on social media, and publicly sharing his own experience with the virus in various media appearances.
He has certainly been a part of the growing crowd of Latinx artists who have put the community and diversity of Latino and Latinx musical genres on the global musical radar. He’s also brought attention to mental health issues, which is a difficult topic to tackle in the Latinx community, especially amongst Latino men.
Despite that, the Latinx community has the ability to walk and chew gum at the same time. We can give credit where credit is due and also call out our musical faves when they are clearly showing up in the wrong way. Balvin must not only address and apologize for his anti-Blackness as he has done in the past, but he has to do the work to rid that of his system. COVID isn’t the only virus in the room; racism is too and Balvin has only recovered from one of them.
In Balvin’s own words in response to his Black Lives Matter fiasco on June 1, 2020, he says, “After taking time to speak to those close with me, I am educating myself on the deep significance and horrifying history that is the root of the #blacklivesmatter movement.”
Bro, how much time do you need?
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