Racismo en Puerto Rico: Surveying perceptions of racism

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This study engaged the relatively new method of on-line survey methodology to address a few key questions about perceptions of racism in Puerto Rico. The questions addressed whether Puerto Ricans perceive anti-black racism to exist; whether they have experienced it personally, or observed racist behaviors and practices; and in what realms of social life they perceive racism to exist. The article correlates these findings with the way respondents described themselves racially. Thus, this article reports on three distinct areas: (1) the use of on-line survey methodology to address questions of race and racism; (2) quantitative response patterns about racism in PR and among Puerto Ricans and their relationship to how people selfdescribed racially; and (3) to how, when, and where racism is manifested according to respondents. © 2017, Hunter College Center for Puerto Rican Studies. All rights reserved.
Racismo en Puerto Rico:
Surveying Perceptions of Racism
hilda lloréns, carlos g. garcía-quijano and isar p. godreau
Hilda Lloréns (hilda_llorens@uri.edu) is the author of Imaging the Great Puerto Rican Family:
Framing Nation, Race and Gender during the American Century (Lexington Books, 2014), and
co-author of Arrancando mitos de raíz: guía para una enseñanza antirracista de la herencia
africana en Puerto Rico (Editora Educación Emergente, 2014). Her research centers on race,
racisms, and gender in the Caribbean and among Latinas/os in the U.S., and she teaches
anthropology at the University of Rhode Island.
Carlos G. García-Quijano (cgarciaquijano@uri.edu) is an Associate Professor of Anthropology
and Marine Aairs at the University of Rhode Island. His research and scholarly interests
include Ecological Anthropology, Cognitive Anthropology, and the use of mixed ethnographic
methods to understand complex sociocultural categories and their eects on people’s lives.
Isar P. Godreau Santiago (isar.godreau@upr.edu) works at the Institute for Interdisciplinary
Research at the University of Puerto Rico at Cayey, where she directs various institution-
wide level research initiatives and her own research projects. She is the author of Scripts of
Blackness: Race, Cultural Nationalism and Colonialism in Puerto Rico (University of Illinois
Press, 2015) and principal author of Arrancando mitos de raíz: guía para una enseñanza
antirracista de la herencia africana en Puerto Rico (Editora Educación Emergente, 2014).
This study engaged the relatively new method of on-line survey methodology to
address a few key questions about perceptions of racism in Puerto Rico. The ques-
tions addressed whether Puerto Ricans perceive anti-black racism to exist; whether
they have experienced it personally, or observed racist behaviors and practices; and
in what realms of social life they perceive racism to exist. The article correlates
these findings with the way respondents described themselves racially. Thus, this
article reports on three distinct areas: (1) the use of on-line survey methodology
to address questions of race and racism; (2) quantitative response patterns about
racism in PR and among Puerto Ricans and their relationship to how people self-
described racially; and (3) to how, when, and where racism is manifested according
to respondents. [Key words: Puerto Rico, racism, race, skin color, on-line surveys]
     2017
This research study, which asks participants “Does racism exist in Puerto Rico?,
emerged as a result of observations made by the authors about the lack of quantita-
tive evidence to support the many qualitative studies that have long documented
racism, racist practices, and racial discrimination against black and/or dark skin
individuals in Puerto Rico.1 Additionally, conversations with colleagues, cultural
workers, and activists about the need to systematically document the effects and
consequences of racism in Puerto Rico made apparent the need for gathering quanti-
tative data about race and racism. Our goal was to engage the relatively new method
of on-line survey methodology to address a few basic, yet important questions about
perceptions of racism in Puerto Rico.
We understand that perceptions of “race” and of racism are culturally and
historically informed. To the extent that perceptions are normative, they are also
shared among the individuals who comprise a given cultural group. In their every-
day lives individuals tend to deploy perceptive categories without much thought. In
other words, normative categories can be so naturalized within culture that indi-
viduals might use them completely outside of conscious awareness (Hoetink 1967;
Mintz 2005). Yet even when the agreed upon racial categories are naturalized, it is
worth noting that they nevertheless offer insight into “socially relevant distinctions”
(Mintz 2005, 39). Each of the racial/color categories used by respondents in our sur-
vey point to specific perceptual distinctions and/or “scripts” about racial and social
standing vis-à-vis other individuals and the society at large.
Our operational definition of perceptions of racism comprises three dimen-
sions: (1) whether Puerto Ricans perceive racism to exist; (2) whether they have
experienced it personally, or have observed racist behaviors and practices; and (3) in
what realms of social life they perceive racism to exist. We also wanted to find out
if answers varied depending on how respondent’s identified racially and if we could
detect significant differences in self-reported racism between those who identified
as “black” and those who did not. Thus, this article reports on three distinct areas:
(1) the use of on-line survey methodology to address questions of race and racism; (2)
quantitative response patterns about racism in Puerto Rico and among Puerto Ricans
and their relationship to how people self-described racially; and (3) to how, when,
and where racism is manifested according to respondents.
The ideology of racial democracy
Status quo definitions of the contemporary Puerto Rican person, is that she is a
mixture of three ancestral “races”: Indigenous, European (Spanish), and African
(González 1980; Flores 1993; Dávila 1997; Guerra 1998; Duany 2002; and others).
Historically, Puerto Rico’s government espouses the view that, as a result of this mix-
ture, Puerto Rico is a “racial democracy” especially when compared to the U.S. (Blanco
1942). According to this view, mixture equals racial tolerance, and variation in appear-
ance neither aids nor hinders a person’s position or possibilities in life in a significant
Racismo en Puerto Rico • Hilda Lloréns, Carlos García-Quijano and Isar Godreau
way. Consequently, the local government in Puerto Rico does not systematically collect
data on race. In fact, it requested the US federal government to eliminate the race ques-
tion from the census questionnaire from 1960 until 1990. The rationale was that Puerto
Rico was as a “Great Family,” made up of various racial mixtures, whose racial toler-
ance made it distinct from the US. Accordingly, the issue of race was not considered
to be a matter of public policy that needed to be documented or addressed (Godreau,
Lloréns and Vargas-Ramos 2010). The official discourse, which can also be espoused
by individuals, is that racial discrimination is a minor problem, confined to the actions
of a few ill-mannered, hateful people or isolated interpersonal incidents that don’t
amount to systemic consequences (Canabal et al. 2015).
Yet there is overwhelming evidence to the contrary. There is ample scholarship
documenting racial discrimination in Puerto Rico against black persons in areas
such as national ideologies, literature, cultural politics, census, and health outcomes,
employment, the criminal justice system, education, housing patterns, the media,
in art and popular culture, and in language usage, to name just a few (Seda Bonilla
1969; Zenón Cruz 1974; Costas et al. 1981; Santiago-Valles 1996; Torres 1998; Rivera
Ortiz and Lind 2001; Hernández, 2002; Duany 2002; Vargas Ramos 2005; Rivero
2005; Gravlee et al. 2005a, 2005b; Borell et al. 2007; Loveman 2008; Godreau et al.,
2008, 2013; Lloréns 2008, 2014; Franco Ortiz et al. 2009; Dinzey-Flores 2013; and
others). Furthermore, studies have explored processes of racialization against black
communities and their residents in Puerto Rico, emphasizing how their unique
life experiences are silenced, cast as exotic or located at the margins of a national
imaginary that privileges whitening (Hernández Hiraldo 2006; Géliga Vargas 2007;
Lloréns 2014; Godreau 2015).
However, the majority of these studies are either qualitative or based on small
population samples, lacking statistically sound demographic data to support their
findings. Since most of these works are based on qualitative data and analysis, evi-
dence against the myth of racial democracy has been difficult to document statisti-
cally or quantitatively. Problems associated with obtaining quantitative data on race
and racism are further exacerbated by the fact that when such data are collected, the
methods are not appropriate. Latinos, and especially Puerto Ricans, do not identify
with the racial and ethnic categories used in most surveys and demographic studies
in the US, which are the categories approved by the Office of Management of Budget
(OMB) (e.g., White, Black, Native American, Asian). When faced with such catego-
ries, the tendency among Latinos and Puerto Ricans is to indicate their ethnicity as
Hispanic, according to OMB protocol, and then to identify their race as “White” or
as “Other” in the United States (US) Census and national surveys (Frank et al. 2010).
The first tendency (choosing White) is best illustrated by the 2000 and 2010 census
results for Puerto Rico, where an overwhelming majority, 80.5 percent of Puerto
Ricans (in 2000), and 74 percent (in 2010), self-identified as “White” only in the cen-
sus. This is a striking number considering that the self-identified white population in
the US 2010 census was 75 percent. and most people would agree the U.S. population
156 centro journal volume xxix number iii 2017
is whiter than the Puerto Rican population (U.S. Census 2010). Scholars explain that
this tendency of Puerto Ricans choosing “white” is stimulated by people’s awareness
of the privilege conferred to whiteness in general and to U.S. authority in the island
(Rivera Batiz 1999; Duany 2005; Loveman 2008).
Scholars explain that this tendency of Puerto Ricans choosing “white” is stimulated
by people’s awareness of the privilege conferred to whiteness in general and to U.S.
authority in the island.
A second trend, common among Puerto Ricans and Latinos living in the U.S., is
to choose “Other.” For example, nearly 42 percent of those who identified as being
“Hispanic” in the Hispanic origin 2010 census question (question 5) reported that
they were of “some other race” in the next race question (question 6). In fact, 97
percent of all those who selected “some other race” in the 2010 census were Latinos
(U.S. Census 2010). Scholars explain this tendency is due to the fact that many
Latinos consider themselves to be a blend of European, Native American and/or
African descent and do not identify with the common conceptualization of race as
Black, White or Native American, thus making the race question difficult to answer
(Brown et al. 1998; Rodríguez 2000; Gómez 2000; Roth 2012).
The impact of skin color and racial appearance
This notion of mixture, however, does not mean that racial inequalities are incon-
sequential. Color differences among Latinos and Puerto Ricans shape life chances
as measured by income, employment, residential segregation, and health status. For
instance, Haney López (2005) found that in 2000 the unemployment rate for white
Hispanics was to 8 percent in comparison to 12.3 percent for black Hispanics, a figure
that exceeded the black unemployment rate of 11 percent. Studies of other disparities
among minority groups also point to differences where light skin color correlates to
privilege and dark skin to disadvantage (Glenn 2009; Espino and Franz 2002; Gómez
2000; Darity et al. 2005; Goldsmith et al. 2006; Bodenhorn 2006; Hersch 2006,
2008). In Puerto Rico, an overt bias in favor of whiteness and European esthetics as
opposed to blackness has been well documented in both personal and institutional
practices (Alegría Ortega 2007; Franco Ortiz 2009; Géliga Vargas 2007; Godreau et
al. 2008; Lloréns 2013; Santiago Valles 1996; Rivero 2005; Zenón Cruz 1974, and oth-
ers). Furthermore, race has been shown to have an impact on health outcomes, with
black or darker-skinned Puerto Ricans exhibiting differential (worse) morbidity
rates from light skin counterparts (Landale and Oropesa 2005; Gravlee et al. 2005;
Borrell et al. 2007; Costas et al. 1981).
However, with so many Puerto Ricans selecting “white” or “other,” in a society
where race/color impacts their life chances so powerfully, new survey methods are
Racismo en Puerto Rico • Hilda Lloréns, Carlos García-Quijano and Isar Godreau
needed to track the effects of racism and color discrimination. More importantly, to
the extent that there is an official discourse promoting an ideology of racial democ-
racy, the development of such alternative methods will be slow to come by, present-
ing a serious obstacle for civil rights protections. Ascertaining whether people share
this belief and whether they are aware of the prevalence of racism in Puerto Rican
society is thus a first important step to tackle this challenge. Establishing whether
people’s racial identification impacts their responses about racism is also important,
since the effects of racism disproportionately affect those with visibly black features.
By detecting such response patterns, we can also debunk the notion that all people
are treated equally regardless of color or racial appearance.
On-line Survey Methodology
In order to test how widespread or popular the official egalitarian view of race
in Puerto Rico is, we utilized an on-line survey methodology. The survey titled
“Racismo en Puerto Rico/Racism in Puerto Rico,” a 10-item questionnaire (see
appendix A) was conducted entirely on-line using SurveyMonkey. This service
offered efficient and easy access to the site, to the construction and editing of the
survey, and to the results at a cost-effective rate. It also provided the researchers
with unique web links to both the Spanish and English surveys, and these could
be emailed to potential respondents. Before turning to Facebook’s paid promotion
feature, the researchers emailed the survey’s web links to personal networks and
contacts but did not achieve much success in the number of completed surveys.
To recruit survey respondents, the researchers created a Page on Facebook2
and named it Racismo en Puerto Rico/Racism in Puerto Rico (see Figure 1). Using
SurveyMonkey’s web links, we were able to post these links directly onto the
Racismo en Puerto Rico Facebook Page, thus giving visitors the opportunity to
access the survey (see Figure 1). The survey opened on August 3, 2015, and closed
on August 19, 2015. The promotion feature of Facebook offers a reach that is wide
and far and is much more diverse than those offered by personal networks. We
designed the paid promotion services to specifically target respondents in geo-
graphic locations with large populations of Puerto Rican people (e.g., Puerto Rico,
New York, Connecticut, Florida, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Georgia, Texas, California,
North Carolina, Illinois, Massachusetts and Maryland), and whose interests
included the category “Puerto Rico.3 The decision to include Diasporic-Puerto
Ricans in the sample was largely due to our interest in measuring racism among
Puerto Ricans. Additionally, a survey on the relevant literature revealed that even
when Latinos are aware of the U.S. white/black binary, they are more likely to
resort to the “continuum” racial schema commonly used in Latin America to
classify their own and others’ racial appearance (Rodríguez 2000; Gómez, 2000;
Duany 2002; Roth 2012). Upon analysis, our data showed that the use of racial
nomenclature did not vary widely between Puerto Ricans residing on the mainland
and those residing in Puerto Rico (see results below).
158 centro journal volume xxix number iii 2017
The decision to include Diasporic-Puerto Ricans in the sample was largely due to our
interest in measuring racism among Puerto Ricans.
Two versions of the survey were used, one in Spanish and the other in English, so as
to reach Puerto Ricans both in the island and in the mainland (where for some of them
English might be the language they felt most comfortable reading and writing). Using both
SurveyMonkey and Facebook allowed the researchers to keep track of the trends in the
data. For instance, we noticed that we received a higher volume of responses on Fridays,
Saturdays, and Sundays, with the lowest volume-taking place on Tuesdays. People tended
to access the Page and to respond to surveys at night or in the early morning.
Another interesting trend that emerged was that the Page received many more
“Likes” (N=1,149) than total completed surveys (N=159). Poirier writes that from a mar-
keting perspective, Facebook “Likes,” which are enacted with a simple click, “add to the
viral nature of social networking” because “Every time someone ‘Likes’ your page… he
exposes it to all his friends, who then have the opportunity to expose it to their friends”
(n.d.). Thus the “Likes” button is a marketing tool that both validates the usefulness of a
Page (i.e., cause, organization, product, etc.), and allows Facebook to “target” the page to
the “Friends” list of each person who “Likes” the Page. In this way, the Page is targeted to
established personal networks. Although people tended to fill out the survey at night or
early morning, “Likes” appeared throughout the day. On average, it took survey respon-
dents four minutes and fifty seconds to complete the survey.
The number of “Likes” (N=1,149), as opposed to surveys completed (N=159),
may also point to other trends, such as that people increasingly access Facebook
from their mobile phone devices but do not own a computer where they could com-
plete the survey. For instance, in an ethnographic work, conducted by Lloréns and
Garcia-Quijano (2012) with Latina adolescents in New England, girls were asked,
“How many a hours a week do you spend on-line?” The majority answered, “24
hours a day.” When asked how this is possible, the youth reported that this is because
they accessed the Internet “on my phone.” Similar to findings about youth connec-
tivity, we found that the majority of girls in our study reported not using their tele-
phones for web surfing, but rather as a tool to access and participate on social media
sites (Ritchel 2010; Anderson and Rainie 2012; among others). Furthermore, many
of the girls reported not owning a computer at home. These Latinas girls relatedly
reported that they only really need a computer station when they had school projects
and in that case they use computer stations at school, at the houses of friends and/or
relatives, or at the public library.
Similarly, we have observed that older, working-class, and economically disad-
vantaged Puerto Ricans tend to use their phones to access Facebook because com-
puters and Internet access are comparatively difficult to afford. This may explain
in part the disproportionate higher number of likes rather than completed surveys.
Racismo en Puerto Rico • Hilda Lloréns, Carlos García-Quijano and Isar Godreau
Figure 1. Screen-shot: Facebook
Page Racismo en Puerto Rico/Racism in Puerto Rico Research Study
Figure 2. Screen-shot: Facebook Page Promotion for Racismo en Puerto Rico/
Racism in Puerto Rico Research Study
160 centro journal volume xxix number iii 2017
Another factor may be a lack of knowledge about how Internet links work (the sur-
vey was displayed as a web link). Other factors include discomfort filling out surveys,
not knowing how to do so, and/or not wanting to participate altogether because for
many Puerto Ricans race and racism remains a sensitive topic.
An important aspect of conducting on-line survey research is that the
researcher(s) must maintain an active “presence” on-line. In other words, it is not as
simple as posting the research links once and then waiting for the survey responses
to accumulate. Rather, the researcher(s) must continuously post to the Page and send
out “flyers” in order to generate interest and awareness about the research study.
The Racism in Puerto Rico/Racismo en Puerto Rico Facebook Page offered visi-
tors the opportunity to posts comments to the page. Nine people posted the following
comments in Spanish: “This [racism] is not new.” “Yes, racism exists in Puerto Rico and
even more in the United States. And it is Puertoricans against their own people. It has
happened to me many times!!!” “We are all Puerto Rican that stupidity [sic] can’t exist.
“Racism exists everywhere in the world since the beginning of the world.” “Racism
exists everywhere but nowadays people act like it is a pastime.” “Of course racism
exists in Puerto Rico.” “It does not exist.” “I think Puertoricans only know how to be
a loving people.” “It depends from which point of view it is seen because the Puerto
Rican is of mixed race. We are not one race, we are mutts and in Puerto Rico we don’t
call it racism we call it abuse of power… but yes, there is racism in Puerto Rico.”
Pros and cons of on-line surveys
On-line surveying offers a cost-effective medium with which to reach a large infor-
mant pool in diverse places. This method also allows researchers to conduct prelimi-
nary analyses on collected data while waiting for the desired number of responses to
accumulate (Wright 2006; Ilieva et al. 2002). Researchers were able to spot trends in
data early on (i.e., whether the Facebook promotion was reaching desired target pop-
ulation, as well as days/times informants were more likely to respond to the survey).
Some of the cons include that respondents are “free” to interpret context and
that by virtue of being on-line, the survey is targeted at those with access to a com-
puter, as well as to people who tend to have higher literacy rates. As we have already
mentioned, on-line surveys are limited to those who can access the Internet (i.e., our
data show relatively high education of our informants), as well as to people who have
higher literacy (which may also help to explain the higher number of “Likes” versus
filled surveys discussed earlier). All in all, we consider our sample to be representa-
tive of Puerto Ricans with access to on-line social networks and with reasonably
good command of computer applications.
In our analysis of this online survey data, we sought to explore several issues
related to our respondents’ perceptions of race and racism in Puerto Rico, includ-
ing whether they consider racism to occur in Puerto Rico, their experiences with
racism, when and where do they perceive racism to occur, their self-descriptions of
skin color, as well as the relationships between these variables and socioeconomic/
Racismo en Puerto Rico • Hilda Lloréns, Carlos García-Quijano and Isar Godreau
demographic characteristics of the respondents. Because the methods used to
explore these issues and tests these relationships are quite varied, in this paper they
are discussed in different sections of the study results.
The total number of respondents on which these results are based is N=159; 83 (52.2
percent) were female and 76 (47.8 percent) male. The mean age of the respondents
was 39.61 years old (ST. Dev. 15.16), with a minimum of 13 and maximum of 73 years
old. Seventy respondents (44 percent) had completed university studies; 54 (34
percent), post-graduated studies; 15 (9.4 percent) had technical courses; 10 (11.3
percent) had completed high school; and 1 (.6 percent) had only completed middle
school. Our sample was relatively highly educated, which is likely a factor in all
on-line methodology. Thus this survey reflects the view of an educated segment of
the Puerto Rican population.4 A similar pattern can be seen in the reported income-
level of respondents: 43.4 percent (69) made $40,000 or more per year; 26.4 percent
(32) made between $20,000 and $39,999; and the remaining 29.6 percent (47) made
$19,999 or less.5 In terms of geographic representation, 50 (31.4 percent) of respon-
dents reported residing in the San Juan, Puerto Rico, metropolitan area; 73 (45.9 per-
cent) were from towns outside the Metropolitan Area; and 35 (22 percent) reported
residing in the United States Mainland (Other, 1 (.6 percent)). As mentioned, the use
of skin color nomenclature did not vary significantly between Puerto Ricans residing
on the mainland and those residing in Puerto Rico. There was no significant differ-
ence between island and U.S. mainland residents in our sample in whether they used
“black” or “white” (U.S. binary racial schema) versus intermediate skin color terms
(i.e., continuum racial schema) to describe their skin color (phi= -.072; P=0.363).
Furthermore, there was no significant difference in their reports of whether or not
they had personally experienced racism (phi= -.025; p=.752).
Table 1. Respondent Demographics
Total number of respondents 159
Females 83 (51.9%)
Males 76 (47.5%)
Respondents who resided in San Juan Metropolitan area 50 (31.4%)
Respondents who resided outside of Metropolitan Area 73 (45.6%)
Respondents who resided in U.S. mainland 35 (21.9%)
Respondents who resided elsewhere 1 (0.6%)
162 centro journal volume xxix number iii 2017
Does racism exist in Puerto Rico?
One hundred forty eight (148) respondents or 93.1 percent of the sample answered:
“Yes, racism exists in Puerto Rico,” and 11 respondents or 6.9 percent of the sample
answered: “No, racism does not exist in Puerto Rico.” Ten (10) or 6.2 percent of
respondents answered that they had not experienced racism personally and had
not observed racism being directed at others. One hundred forty nine (149) or 93.8
percent of respondents reported that they had either experienced racism person-
ally or had observed racism being directed at others. Sixty-one (61) or 38 percent
of the sample said that they had experienced racism personally; while 98 people
or 67 percent of the sample said that they had not experienced racism personally.
One hundred twenty (120) people or 75.5 percent reported having observed rac-
ism being directed at others, and 39 or 24.5 percent said they had never observed
racism being directed at others. Hence, based on these survey results, the official
“racial democracy” belief is not widely supported by respondents. Furthermore,
the acknowledgement of racism as a problem in Puerto Rico does not seem to
depend on the respondent‘s personal experience with racism or with him or her
witnessing instances of racism directed at others.
Table 2. Results (N-159)
Does racism exist in Puerto Rico? YES = 148 or 93.1 percent
NO = 11 or 6.9 percent
Have you experienced racism in general?
(Personally or observed racism directed at others)?
YES = 149 or 93.8 percent
NO = 10 or 6.2 percent
Have you personally experienced racism? YES = 61 or 38 percent
NO = 98 or 67 percent
Have you observed racism directed at others? YES = 120 or 75 percent
NO = 39 or 24.5 percent
Skin Color, Coding and Testing Hypotheses
We explored the relationship between self-description of skin color (or emic racial
categories) and respondents’ reported experiences of racism. Emic cultural catego-
ries of skin color refer to the folk categories shared within a group, whereas etic
racial categories refer to external (or outside) categories not necessarily shared or
agreed upon by the group. For instance, it is widely recognized that the U.S. Census
imposes etic racial categories in Puerto Rico at the expense of the emic or internal
categories used by individuals on the island (Vargas-Ramos 2005; Godreau, Lloréns,
Vargas-Ramos 2010). In this study, respondents provided twenty-nine (29) different
emic categories (or culturally shared and understood terms) to describe their skin
Racismo en Puerto Rico • Hilda Lloréns, Carlos García-Quijano and Isar Godreau
color. This multiplicity of racial/color ascriptions is a common phenomenon that has
also been documented in other Latin American and Caribbean countries (See Table
5) (Santos et al. 2009; Alexander 1977; Harris 1970; Wright 1990).6
In order to use the actual “emic” (Pike 1954) terms used by respondents to
describe their skin tone and avoid imposing other terms that might not reflect their
cultural understanding of these categories, we decided to ask the respondents to
describe their skin color in their own terms, and rely on coding for our analysis of
results. We wanted to test whether there is a relationship between the respondents’ self
description of skin color and their reports of having experienced racism.
We chose to use emic categories over more official standard racial categories.
Using racial categories as a variable is methodologically challenging for various rea-
sons, including that skin color labels do not accurately describe just skin color but may
be influenced by other phenotypic characteristics as well and that category distinc-
tions can simultaneously be made along varying dimensions and levels such as the
black versus white binary, or using a spectrum of intermediate color terms, both pri-
mary (e.g. brown), and secondary/metonymic (e.g. caramel). There can also be a high
degree of overlap between color terms or a person’s self description of skin color can
be at odds with how others would describe them. Further, different people can use dif-
ferent skin color terms to refer to the same person, and this can vary with environmen-
tal factors (such as recent sun exposure), social context, or intimacy among speakers
(see Godreau 2008). Due to factors such as these the racial/skin color categories in the
U.S. Census have been critiqued as highly inappropriate for Latino and Puerto Ricans
populations specifically (Rodríguez 2000; Duany 2002; Vargas-Ramos 2005; Godreau,
Lloréns and Vargas-Ramos 2010; Roth 2012).
With these, we wanted to see whether their having experienced racism was related
to being “dark-skin” vs. “light-skin”, or “black” vs. “white” (i.e., whether there was a
difference between self-reporting being black or being a “dark skin” Puerto Rican in
terms of reporting personal experiences of racism), and whether, in general, darker-skin
respondents were more likely to have personally experienced racism in their lives.
Our online-survey data methodology precluded us from relying on interviewers’
perception of respondents’ skin color, but allowed us to ask respondents about their
self-perceptions of skin color. Although these challenges are not completely solved
when using emic, culturally meaningful categories, relying on respondents’ self-
descriptions allowed us the opportunity to rely on triangulation of coding schemes
and statistical comparisons to attempt to replicate the ways and dimensions in which
skin-racial categories are enacted in Puerto Rican life. We used four (4) different
coding schemes for the respondents’ descriptions of skin color, which are explained
below. Then, we ran tests looking at respondents’ reports of having experienced
164 centro journal volume xxix number iii 2017
racism personally, while grouping the respondents in several ways according to
self-described skin color. With these, we wanted to see whether their having experi-
enced racism was related to being “dark-skin” vs. “light-skin”, or “black” vs. “white”
(i.e., whether there was a difference between self-reporting being black or being a
“dark skin” Puerto Rican in terms of reporting personal experiences of racism), and
whether, in general, darker-skin respondents were more likely to have personally
experienced racism in their lives. In each case, after agreeing on skin color terms for
the coding scheme, two authors coded skin color descriptions separately and then
met to compare coding results and adjudicate any difference in coding results. This
supported the reliability of our coding results.
In the first scheme, we coded the responses depending on whether they used
terms that we know are used in Puerto Rico to refer to “dark skinned” (e.g. black,
trigueño, dark) vs. “light skinned” (e.g. white, light, crema/cream, etc.) and grouped
respondents based on whether they reported their skin color to be dark or light
skinned. Grouped in this way, we found that dark skinned Puerto Ricans were signifi-
cantly more likely to report personal experiences of racism than light skinned Puerto
Ricans (Phi 0.239, P-Value: 0.0026). Correspondingly, 50.7 percent of dark-skinned
respondents reported having experienced racism compared to only 27.4 percent
of people who self-reported as light-skinned. Also, 72.4 percent of “light-skinned”
respondents did not report having personally experienced racism.
Second, we tested whether people who self-described their skin color unequiv-
ocally as “black” (Negro) experienced significantly more racism than those who
described their skin color using any other term than black. People who described
themselves as black were significantly more likely to report having experienced racism
personally (Phi 0.330, P-value 0.000032). Seventy-one percent (71 percent) of those
who self-described to be black reported to have experienced racism personally; in
contrast, the other 29 percent who self-described as black reported they had not
personally experienced racism. Of those who did not self-described as black, 30.5
percent said that they had experienced racism; while 69.5 percent said they had not.
Third, we compared whether people who self-described their skin color
as unequivocally “white” experienced significantly less racism than those who
described their skin color using any other term than white (Phi 0.178, P-Value:
0.025). Only 27.1 percent of the self-described white respondents reported having
experienced racism. Of those who used terms other than white (including light-
skinned terms such as claro/light, tan, crema/cream, etc.), 45 percent reported
having experienced racism.
Other respondent characteristics asked about in the survey did not have an
effect on whether people experienced racism, and these included: age (T-test
P-value: .659); income (T-test P-value .445); and, education (T-test P value .867).
However, the results show that gender was significant at the 10 percent level: 44.6
percent of females say that they have experienced racism versus 31.6 percent of
males (nominal by nominal Phi 0.134, P-value= 0.092).
Racismo en Puerto Rico • Hilda Lloréns, Carlos García-Quijano and Isar Godreau
Table 3. Reported experiences of racism
N=159 Coding Scheme
(black/not black)
(white/not white)
percent of darker-
skinned group reported
experiencing racism
50.7 71.0 45.0
percent of lighter-
skinned group reported
experiencing racism
27. 4 30.5 2 7.1
Phi nominal test 0.239 0.330 0.178
P-value 0.0026 .000032 .025
Finally, in order to test these differences using a non-binary, more gradual coding
scheme, we coded the respondents self-descriptions of skin color using a four4-point ordi-
nal scale from “White” to “Black,” computed as follows: (1) described their skin color as
White”; (2) used intermediate skin color descriptor that indicates relatively light-skin (e.g.,
“light,” “beige,” “light tan”); (3) used intermediate skin color descriptor that indicates rela-
tively dark-skin (e.g. “brown,” “dark,” “cinnamon”); and (4) described skin color as “Black.”,
Using the four-point scale, we ran Binomial Logistic Regression multivariate
model tests of the effect of self-described skin color, as well as other independent vari-
ables such as Gender, Age, Education, and Income, on the likelihood that the respon-
dent had reported experiencing racism personally. The results of these tests support
that there was a significant positive relationship between reporting darker skin color
and having experienced racism and are shown on Table 4. For each test, skin color was
the only significant (at the p<.05 level) positive coefficient in the model with moderate
to large effect sizes. Gender was also significant at the p<.10 level (P=0.07 to P=0.08)
in all tests, with females being more likely to report personally experiencing racism,
while the other variables were not statistically significant (see Table 4).
Our cumulative results, using various skin-color coding strategies, clearly point
to a positive relationship between darker self-reported skin color and reported expe-
riences of racism. In summary, we found that, as expected in a society with racism
related to skin color, in all, “dark-skinned” and “black” Puerto Ricans personally expe-
rienced significantly more racism than lighter-skinned respondents. Gender appears as
a borderline significant category in the different analyses. This result points to the
significance of the intersecting (i.e., race and gender) dimensions of identity, and in
our opinion warrants further study.
166 centro journal volume xxix number iii 2017
Table 4. Binomial Logistic Regression (BLR) model comparing the effect of five
independent variables on whether they reported to have experienced racism
personally. The independent variables were: ( a) respondents’ self-description
of skin color, b) Gender, c) Education attained, d) Income, and d) Age. Self-
descriptions of “skin color” were coded in a four-point ordinal scale : (1) “White”;
(2) Intermediate term denoting light-skinned color; (3) Intermediate term denot-
ing dark-skinned color; (4) “Black.” Analysis performed in SPSS version 24.
Respondent has personally experienced racism
BLR Model 1 2 3 4 5
Variable Coefficients
(4-point skin color scale) 0.537** 0.537** 0.549** 0.561** 0.542**
Gender 0.635* 0.629* 0.627* 0.646* X
Education Level -0.075 -0.085 -0.014 X X
Income Level 0.06 0.055 X X X
Age -0.002 X X X X
Model Statistics
Chi square 17.031** 17.006** 17.02** 18.138** 14.656**
Cox/Nell R square 0.10 3 0.103 0.102 0.108 0.088
Nagelkerke R square 0.14 0.14 0.13 9 0.146 0.12
Df 5 4 3 2 1
percent correct 66.2 66.9 69 69.2 69.8
*=p<.10 **=p<.05
in model
In your opinion, where does racism occur most frequently?
Now that we have established that there is a pattern of racism based on respondents’
self-reported skin color, we wanted to determine if people associated racism to spe-
cific social context or locations. Based on our knowledge of the ethnographic con-
text and analysis of the relevant literature (Rivera Ortiz and Lind 2001; Hernández
2002; Rivero 2005; Godreau et al. 2008; 2013; Lloréns 2008; Franco Ortiz et al. 2009;
Dinzey-Flores 2013), we derived a list of 19 social and physical contexts where rac-
ism might occur. The respondents reported that racism occurs, on average, of 8.5 of
the 19 places we provided on the list (max. = 19, mean = 0, std. dev. = 6.1).
Racismo en Puerto Rico • Hilda Lloréns, Carlos García-Quijano and Isar Godreau
Table 6. Response to Q9-Where does racism occur? (locations listed in the survey)
In employment 105
In the media 95
At school 94
In stores 93
In the street 88
In government offices 83
In the justice system 79
In dealing with the police 79
In the family 77
In the university 71
In the classroom 71
In restaurant 66
In the health care system 66
In hospitals 59
In places of entertainment 59
In cultural events 54
At the park 41
At the beach 39
In natural resources and/or the environment 34
We then asked respondents to rank the top five places (from the list we pro-
vided) where, in their opinion, racism occurs most frequently (Q10; See Table 7).
School was ranked as the number one place where racism is believed to occur most
frequently, with N=34 total answers in rank number one; moreover, it was ranked
in the top five locations where racism is believed to occur (a total of N=77 times).
Although employment only received N=17 mentions at rank number one, it received
N=79 total answers in the top five locations where racism is believed to occur most
often. Media (television, radio, newspapers and magazines) received N=16 total
answers at rank number one, and a grand total of N=61 mentions (see Table 7).
168 centro journal volume xxix number iii 2017
Table 5. Coding for skin color self-descriptors for binary comparisons.
Coding Categories in Coding Schemes
Emic descriptor used by informants In coding
scheme I
In coding
scheme II
In coding
scheme III
White (blanco) light-skinned not black White
Black (negro) dark-skinned Black not white
Trigueño dark-skinned not black not white
Light (Claro) light-skinned not black not white
Dark (Oscuro) dark-skinned not black not white
Ta n light-skinned not black not white
Cream (Crema/cremita) light-skinned not black not white
Bronzed (bronceado) light-skinned not black not white
Bronzed and cream (bronceado con crema) light-skinned not black not white
Coffee with milk (café con leche) light-skinned not black not white
Moreno dark-skinned not black not white
Mestizo light-skinned not black not white
Golden (dorado) light-skinned not black not white
Cinnamon (canela) dark-skinned not black not white
Mediterranean (mediterraneo) light-skinned not black not white
Olive white (blanco olive) light-skinned not black not white
Brown (marron) dark-skinned not black not white
Caramel (caramel) dark-skinned not black not white
Mixed (mixto) dark-skinned not black not white
Neither black or white (ni negro ni blanco) light-skinned not black not white
Beige light-skinned not black not white
African descendant dark-skinned not black not white
Light skinned light-skinned not black not white
Dark cinnamon (canela oscuro) dark-skinned not black not white
Mulato dark-skinned not black not white
Coffee (café) dark-skinned not black not white
Yellow light-skinned not black not white
White Boricua (blanco Boricua) light-skinned not black White
White Latina (blanca latina) light-skinned not black White
Racismo en Puerto Rico • Hilda Lloréns, Carlos García-Quijano and Isar Godreau
Table 7. Q10-Reported frequency: top five locations/social spaces where racism
occurs most often
Places ranked
# of times
in top 5
in school 34 14 11 11 7 77
at work 17 16 19 19 8 79
in the family 17 10 5 11 7 50
in the media 16 13 11 7 14 61
in government offices 10 8 11 9 7 45
in the justice system 9 15 12 4 5 45
in the street 8 11 13 6 16 54
in stores 7 11 8 10 15 51
in dealing with the police 6 11 8 9 5 39
in cultural events 3 1 1 4 5 14
in the health care system 3 2 4 3 4 16
in places of entertainment 2 4 6 8 4 24
in the classroom 1 1 4 3 0 9
at the beach 1 1 0 0 4 6
at the park 1 3 3 1 2 10
at restaurants 1 4 5 5 9 24
in the university 0 3 4 4 2 13
in natural resources and/
or the environment 02020 4
in hospitals 0 2 4 6 7 19
This ranking exercise (Q10, Table 7) correlates to the findings to question 9
(see Table 6), which asked “Where does racism occur most often?” To that question
informants answered, in order of importance that it occurs at work (N=105), in the
media (N=95), and at school (N=94). Qualitative results (See Table 8) offer a similar
correlation; informants wrote in their own words that racism occurs “everywhere”
(N=30), at work (N=24), and at school (N=15), in the family (N=16), in the streets/in
public (N=12), followed by the media (N=9).
In terms of the relationship between the spatial dimension of racism and racial
identification, we found that there was no significant relationship among the two.
People know about racism and about the places where it occurs in roughly similar
proportions whether they describe themselves as black or as non-black. There was
170 centro journal volume xxix number iii 2017
also no significant correlation between self-described skin color and number of spac-
es in which racism is experienced. There is a moderate positive significant correla-
tion (Kendall’s tau_b = .130, P = .032, N=158) between the respondent’s income and
the number of spaces where they report racism to occur. This might be related to the
fact that people with higher income have access to different social spaces and thus
are able to observe racism in a variety of social locations. We wanted to test whether
there was a relationship between self-described black skin color and answering “Yes,
racism occurs” to each of the specific spaces listed. Out of the 19 social spaces, we
only found significant positive correlations in four contexts (health system, media,
natural resources use, and government offices). It is important to underscore that
these four locations are public spaces, removed from close-in personal life such as
within the family, among friends, and other options available in the survey.
Qualitative Results
Question number eight (Q8) asked participants to answer whether they had person-
ally experienced racism or whether they had observed racism being directed at oth-
ers. In question number nine (Q9), participants were asked to choose from a list of
places where, in their opinion, racism occurs most often, and to that question they
could also write-in other locations in a blank space labeled “Other” (see appendix
A). When the qualitative (or write-in) portions of Q8 and Q9 were combined, they
yielded a total of one hundred and twenty-three (N=123) “write-in” responses, in
which respondents identified a total of thirty-four (N=34) places/locations where
they believe racism occurs. Respondents would often provide multiple locations in
their answers (see Table 8).
The majority of respondents mentioned that racism exists everywhere, in
everyday life, and/or in society at large. “It exists everywhere,” (en todos lados) was
an oft-repeated statement. Work emerged as a significant “hot spot” for racism, and
respondents wrote that “At work,” “In screening of job applications,” and “At job
interviews.” School and family were mentioned repeatedly by informants who wrote
that: “at school,” “at my private school they referred to blacks as ‘el prieto/la prieta’
and to male private parts as ‘morcillas’ (blood sausage), but people did not speak like
this about the whites at school.” Similarly, respondents wrote: “I experience rac-
ism in my family,” or “in family situations.” Public spaces were also mentioned as a
place where racism was experienced or observed: “I often hear racist comments in
public spaces.” Both print and television media were mentioned as a source of racist
stereotypes, bias, and prejudice, a respondent reported: “My greatest criticism goes
to the media which perpetrates racist images and stereotypes that propagate racial
discrimination.” The mall, the shopping center, and the store were also reported as
racist places, and informants simply wrote “at the mall,” “at stores.
Racismo en Puerto Rico • Hilda Lloréns, Carlos García-Quijano and Isar Godreau
One respondents wrote: “I have two daughters and they have skin that is darker than
mine, their dad is Puerto Rican like me, but people often ask me if they are my daughters.
Racist language, speech, and jokes were mentioned. One informant wrote
“Blackness is a joke for Puerto Ricans, blacks make them laugh (le damos pavera). It
is as if the darker we are the funnier we are.” Some people mentioned “social circles”
as a source of racism writing simply “among my social circles.” Others mentioned
that they had experienced racism as part of life in a mixed-race couple. One respon-
dent wrote: “I have two daughters and they have skin that is darker than mine, their
dad is Puerto Rican like me, but people often ask me if they are my daughters.” And
another commented, “My husband was black and I am white and everyone stared
at us.” The entry detailing the experience of a self-reported white respondent who
married a “mulatto” man at the Centro Judicial in San Juan is worth quoting at
Particularly striking at government agencies such as Centro Judicial where I was
married to my mulatto Dominican husband. The official form required that we identify
our race. The only choices were White or Black. When I attempted to express my
concern not only for the question but for the lack of choices (given we were signing the
form under statement that we indicate above is truthful) the official on duty looked me
in the eye and told me my mulatto husband was White. When I tried to insist that that
was not true she looked at me again, more sternly and said “He is WHITE.” My husband
never has nor would he ever describe himself or self-identify as white.
Thus, as the above statement shows there is a powerful attachment to a social
narrative in which individuals who can be “wiggled” out of blackness are discursively
distanced from, and placed in, another (non-black) racial category. In the case of this
particular informant, the State provided choices deemed inappropriate by the couple
and when they spoke up, in effect “breaking” the “docile citizen” script, they were
promptly put in their place when his racial label was chosen on his behalf. Another
significant category that emerged (with five responses or more) was xenophobia;
respondents wrote that: “Many Puerto Ricans do not like other Caribbean-islanders
because they are black. Puerto Ricans will not hang out or even pass through black
neighborhoods or where there are ‘too many Dominicans.’” Another respondent
wrote that: “Some Puerto Ricans believe they are better than African-Americans and
they say racist things about them.
Conclusion: Racism exists in Puerto Rico
These findings make evident that people are aware of the existence of racism in
Puerto Rico and among Puerto Ricans, and that it is an important social problem
172 centro journal volume xxix number iii 2017
Table 8. Qualitative answers filled in by informants to Q8 and Q9 (includes respondent-
identified locations other than the 19 offered in the quantitative portion of the survey).
Place/Location # of times mentioned
Everywhere/in everyday life/in society at large 30
At work 24
At school 15
Family 16
In the street/in public 12
Media (print & TV) 9
Mall, stores, shopping centers 8
In language use/speech 6
Socially/among social circles 8
As part of mixed-raced couples 6
Xenophobia 5
In Puerto Rico 4
In United States 4
Hospital/ Healthcare 4
Political parties/politics 3
Government (public) agencies/offices 2
Private agencies/offices 2
At church 2
In beauty standards 2
Opinions about black hair/skin 2
Among friends 2
Restaurants 1
Banks 1
Public transportation 1
Social networks (on-line) 1
Police 1
Beauty Salons 1
Perceptions of blacks as criminals 1
Elevators 1
White privilege as part and parcel of PR society 1
Classism rather than racism 1
Fraternities and private clubs 1
Construction work 1
Neighborhood 1
Racismo en Puerto Rico • Hilda Lloréns, Carlos García-Quijano and Isar Godreau
which the majority of respondents, whether black, white, or other, recognize. The
ideology of racial democracy was not upheld by respondents of our survey, pointing
to an evident disconnect between the official state-sponsored discourse and what
respondents perceive to be the reality. The results of our various analyses with experi-
ences of racism unanimously also show that, the darker the self-reported skin color, the
more likely respondents were to report experiencing racism. This pattern is consistent
with what would be expected in a society where racial ethnicity is not determined
via a rule of hypodescent, but where racism nevertheless affects those with darker
or most evident black phenotypes. In other words, defining racial/color categories
along a continuum does not preclude people from experiencing racism.
Specially concerning is that, time and time again, employment was mentioned
among the top three most salient places where racism occurs. Hernández’s research
about the utilization of Puerto Rico’s Law 100 of the Labor Code, enacted in 1959, which
prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of race, color, social or national origin
is revealing (2002, 1145-46). Hernández explains that after conducting an “electronic
database search of reported cases involving Law 100 since its enactment,” she found “a
paltry four cases alleging race or color discrimination” (2002, 1145-46). These findings
led Hernández to conclude that the underuse of juridical tools to prosecute racial dis-
crimination in employment results from Puerto Rico’s racial democracy ideology, from
race being a tabooed subject, and because it would be counterintuitive for victims to
identify with a denigrated social class (i.e., blacks) (2002, 1149–50). The repercussions
of this for the overall well-being as well as the economic and career opportunities of
black persons is significant given that in Puerto Rico racism has not been sufficiently
correlated to poverty, unemployment, school drop-out rates, incarceration rates, and to
the overall chances of leading a healthy, successful, and meaningful life. This indicates
that racist practices in employment is a social issue in need of immediate social policies
that both educate employers about racist practices and at the same time, that empower
black individuals to identify the issue, to report it, and to combat it. Given that the juridi-
cal structure to prosecute racism in employment has long been in place, the problem
remains a social one. In other words, policies have to be aimed at changing minds about
the injustices of racism and racist practices in everyday life.
This suggests that in Puerto Rico racism is both experienced externally, in the society at
large, and internally, within the private sphere of the home.
Schools were also identified as a common “hot spot” where racism occurs. These
findings also support those from previous action-oriented research by Godreau and col-
leagues (2008; 2013) and Franco-Ortiz and associates (2009). That research project led
to the production of a curricular guide aimed at teachers, social workers, school person-
nel and parents, and has been widely circulated in Puerto Rico. Said project has also led
174 centro journal volume xxix number iii 2017
to a grass-roots campaign aimed at combating racism in schools and to some individual
teachers revising the curricular material taught to students in their classrooms. Yet the
government has yet to acknowledge the problem and/or implement any wide-ranging
policies aiming to combat the racism experienced by black students in classrooms.
The media also emerged as an important source of racist practices. Rivero’s
(2005) qualitative study aptly documented racism in Puerto Rican television and in
print magazines. Yet, to our knowledge, there has been little research done on the
ways in which people perceive this to be the case or on the TV viewer’s awareness of
the problem. Further research is also needed on the role of disc jockeys, important
public figures in the Puerto Rican airwaves who can perpetuate racist language,
jokes and ideas. Public places such as stores, malls, restaurants, parks and the street
also emerged as important locations of racism. This was followed closely by govern-
ment agencies, the judicial system and in dealings with the police. According to these
respondents, the “public domain,” arguably constituted by all the locations outside of
the home, is fraught with racism and racist practices.
Finally, the family unit emerged as a focus of racism and racist behavior. This
suggests that in Puerto Rico racism is both experienced externally, in the society at
large, and internally, within the private sphere of the home. This internal-external
assault on black- and/or dark-skinned individuals paints a grave picture in which
individuals experience little to no respite from racism because it is ubiquitous.
The problem of racism is certainly multi-faceted, and our findings only scratch
the surface. More research, with larger, more diverse samples in terms of educa-
tion, economic class and residential patterns is sorely needed in order to confirm
our initial findings. Further ethnographic, as well as longitudinal, research can also
document the progress of black individuals across the lifespan, in order to more
fully understand the strategies this population uses to deflect the encompassing rac-
ism they experience throughout their lives. Our findings, nevertheless, represent a
significant initial advance into quantitative research about perceptions of racism and
racist practices and provide clues for areas of social intervention.
Overall, our results question the official discourse of racial democracy and racial
harmony that has hindered the systematic collection of demographic data about
the effects of racial discrimination in Puerto Rico and the implementation of public
measures to address it. They suggest that, rather than popular disbelief, it is the lack
of an “official” acknowledgement by the government that racism in Puerto Rico is
indeed a social problem—a problem that presents an obstacle for civil rights protec-
tions. Certainly, lack of official acknowledgment is not the only aggravating factor at
work. However, an official statement and plan to confront the problem would but-
tress community based-efforts to combat racism already in-motion by individuals
and grass-roots civic organizations. Such commitment and acknowledgement—as
supported by this and future research—would help advance the anti-racism cause in
Puerto Rico and give credence to the problem of racism as a real social ill rather than
one that is made up and felt only by a few disgruntled members of society.
Racismo en Puerto Rico • Hilda Lloréns, Carlos García-Quijano and Isar Godreau
We’d like to thank survey respondents for their participation in the on-line research
study Racism in Puerto Rico/Racismo en Puerto Rico. We’d also like to thank the
anonymous reviewers for the helpful suggestions. We are also grateful to Dr. John
Poggie who read an early draft and offered useful suggestions. Any errors contained
herein are the sole responsibility of the authors.
1 Our study refers to “dark skin individuals” or “black individuals” in Puerto Rico because
we mean to be inclusive of the distinct populations such as Afro-Puerto Ricans, Dominicans,
Haitians, other Caribbean islanders, Africans, African-Americans, among others, who reside
or visit Puerto Rico.
2 Because Facebook Pages are unique to businesses, causes, or organizations, rather than
associated with a person’s profile, we felt this was the appropriate option for advertising study.
Facebook Pages have “followers” or “fans,” rather than “friends.
3 Researchers were able to specify geographic locations and categories of interests in the
promotion site. The total cost of “Page” promotion services was $100.67.
4 Our on-line sample leaves out blue-collar and marginal populations. In efforts to reach a larger,
even more representative sample, the researchers plan to conduct the same survey in the near
future in person and on the ground in Puerto Rico at various locations throughout the island.
5 It is important to note that salary scales may vary drastically between Puerto Rico and the
mainland and within particular states.
6 In his “Major Folk Racial Terms Used in Puerto Rico” (2002, 238), Duany offers 19 racial/
color categories of ascriptions; in this study, our informants offered 29 categories. When we put
the categories from this study side by side with Duany’s, we found that our respondents only
coincided with the “Major Folk Racial Terms” in their use of (1) Blanco(a); (2) Trigueño(a); (3)
Moreno(a); (4) Mulato(a); (5) Café con Leche; (6) Canela; and (7) Negro. It is worth noting that
Duany’s taxonomy combines perceptual categories that individuals tend to use to both “self-
describe” (i.e., blanco, negro, mulato) and to describe others (i.e. jincho, cano, prieto, grifo). Some
of the categories used to describe others such as grifo (which is largely out of use), jincho, and
prieto, for example, are often used in derogatory ways to describe an individual and are thus
unlikely to be used to self-describe skin color. This also exemplifies the ways in which “perceptual
ascriptions” of racial/color categories possess important information about “relevant social
distinctions.” In other words, when a person describes another as “jincho” or “grifo,” for instance,
they also signal their own biases, antipathy, anger, or even humor, while at the same time “placing”
the individual in a specific social location vis-à-vis their race/color. This kind of racial/color
ascription is constitutive of “racial emplacement,” in which an individual’s perceived and ascribed
racial/color belonging can also signal other social categories such as class and nationality.
176 centro journal volume xxix number iii 2017
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180 centro journal volume xxix number iii 2017
This is a survey about the perceptions of racism in Puerto Rico. Your participation is greatly
If you are interested in the results of this survey, please send an email to its author and principal
investigator with the subject line "results" to hilda_llorens@uri.edu and we will gladly send you a
summary of results when they become available. **Please cite the summary of results appropriately
in subsequent publications.
Racism in Puerto Rico
Racism in Puerto Rico
1. Where do you live?
1. In Puerto Rico, please name your town.
2. In the United States mainland, please name your city or state.
3. If elsewhere, please name the place.
2. How old are you?
3. What is your gender/sex?
Racismo en Puerto Rico • Hilda Lloréns, Carlos García-Quijano and Isar Godreau
4. What is your level of education?
Primary School
Middle School
High School Diploma
Technical Course
University Courses
Associate's Degree
Bachelor's Degree
Postgraduate Education
Other (please specify):
Other (please specify):
5. What is your approximate income?
Less than $5,000
Between $5,000 y $9,999
Between $10,000 y $19,999
Between $20,000 y $29,999
Between $30,000 y $39,999
$40,000 or more
6. Please name/describe your skin color.
7. Does racism exist in Puerto Rico?
182 centro journal volume xxix number iii 2017
Where have you observed or experienced racism?
8. If you answered YES, please answer the following:
I have personally experienced racism
I have observed racism being directed at others
Other (please list).
9. Please check the boxes below to indicate the places in which in your opinion racism occurs in Puerto
In school
In the university
In the classroom
At work
In the stores when shopping
In cultural events
In the justice system
In the health care system
In dealing with the police
In the media (radio, television,
newspapers, magazines)
At the beach
At the park
In places of entertainment
At restaurants
In the street
In natural resources and/or the
In the family
In the hospital
In government offices
10. Using the list from question #9, indicate the five (5) places from that list where racism occurs with
greater frequency. Please list in order of importance (#1=most significant place in which racism occurs):
Racismo en Puerto Rico • Hilda Lloréns, Carlos García-Quijano and Isar Godreau
  • ... el efecto que esto pueda tener en su calidad de vida o salud no es trivial. En Puerto Rico la tarea se complica al no contar con categorías adecuadas en el censo poblacional ni en otros instrumentos afines que permitan producir estadísticas poblacionales confiables en torno a este tema (Godreau, Lloréns, y Vargas-Ramos, 2010;Ríos González, 2001;Vargas-Ramos, 2005;Lloréns et al 2017). El rechazo generalizado a una identidad "negra" e inclusive a la misma pregunta de "raza", que en ocasiones se interpreta como ofensiva o impropia, también complica la recopilación de este tipo datos en Puerto Rico (Berkowits y Brudvig 2001;Godreau 2008). ...
    ... Aunque este método se ha implementado en los Estados Unidos, la utilización de este tipo de escala de color de piel en cuestionarios es relativamente reciente en estudios realizados con latinos o comunidades hispanoparlantes (Perreira y Telles, 2014). Más aún, existen pocos estudios publicados sobre el racismo en Puerto Rico que utilicen estrategias parecidas (Lloréns et al 2017, Landale and Oropresa 2005, Gravlee and Dressler 2005, Borrell, Crespo y García-Palmieri, 2007. Con el propósito de arrojar luz sobre futuros estudios en torno al discrimen racial en Puerto Rico, en este artículo nos preguntamos: ¿Cuál es el estado de las investigaciones realizadas con esta metodología? ...
    Full-text available
    In this article the authors propose the use of a six-gradient skin color scale as an alternative to discern people's vulnerability to racial discrimination, pointing out its advantages vis á vis the methodological challenges posed by the standardized question of "race" used in population censuses and related demographic instruments. After conducting a thorough literature review of studies that have used similar methodologies and analyzing results from a pilot survey conducted in Florida, the authors conclude that the skin color scale is a suitable strategy to detect the effects of racism among Latino populations, validating its use for future studies in Puerto Rico. Key words: Latinos, skin color, racial discrimination, racism, health disparities Resumen En este artículo los autores proponen el uso de una escala de seis gradientes que ausculta la tonalidad del color de piel de los individuos como una alternativa para discernir la vulnerabilidad de las personas al discrimen racial, señalando sus ventajas vis a vis los retos metodológicos que conlleva la pregunta estandarizada de “raza” utilizada en censos poblacionales e instrumentos demográficos afines. Luego de hacer una revisión de estudios que han utilizado metodologías parecidas y analizar los resultados de una encuesta piloto realizada en Florida, los autores concluyen que la escala de color de piel es una estrategia adecuada para detectar los efectos del racismo entre poblaciones latinas, validando su uso para futuros estudios en Puerto Rico. Palabras claves: latinos, color de piel, discrimen racial, racismo, disparidades en salud
  • ... While the racial blending myth was meant to discursively promote racial equality, it instead outlined a hierarchy of racialized heritages with different levels of desirability and inhabitability (Feliciano-Santos 2011). This contradic- tion has led to a disjuncture between discourses of racial harmony and prac- tical relations of racism in Puerto Rico ( Hernández Hiraldo 2006;Lloréns, García-Quijano, and Godreau 2017;Torres 1998). ...
    In Puerto Rico, scholarly histories and common knowledge have presumed that the Taíno – the pre-Columbian population of the island – became extinct at some time between the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries. However, various people on the island challenge this assumption by claiming to be Taíno. The public reemergence of Taíno groups in Puerto Rico is highly disputed by scholars, governmental institutions and non-Taíno populations of the region, often on the basis of Puerto Rico’s long-documented history of creolization and state-sponsored ideology of racial blending. Within this context, the case of Taíno indigenous activism in Puerto Rico offers a critical lens through which to consider interactional challenges involved in claiming belonging to a presumably “extinct” ethnoracial category.
  • Article
    The catastrophic conditions after Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, homeland to the second largest US Latinx group, also result from a long history of colonial exploitation exacerbated by economic downturn, debt crisis, and federally imposed austerity. US policies affecting agriculture and attracting contaminating industries set the groundwork for extreme environmental degradation, which in turn has long motivated local community activism, coalition-building, and de-colonial praxis. The authors illustrate that in Puerto Rico, environmental resistance has been a vanguard terrain of struggle against the deepening insertion of multinationals and continued degradation. Culminating with a glimpse of how the very basics needed for survival—such as water—have been sacrificed to the logics of capital extraction, this essay points to the urgency of making an environmental justice perspective of central concern to US Latinx Studies.
  • If, according to turn-of-the-twentieth-century observers, black Puerto Ricans were destined to become racially white in a few generations, how did 12.4 per cent of the population manage to remain black in 2010? And how did they survive in the face of both national and everyday forms of racism? How is the persistence and even increase in black identity in Puerto Rico supported? This article argues that there is a covert and largely unexplored social current at work in regard to how black Puerto Ricans live and reproduce their blackness. This is the desire to maintain and celebrate blackness. Using ethnographic data gathered during nearly two decades, the article illustrate that many Puerto Ricans have chosen not to engage in blanqueamiento, instead affirming their blackness, marrying within their communities, and valuing their own cultural practices and beliefs.