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Opinion: J Balvin is the new face of an old tradition: Black erasure in music

J Balvin has been named the Afro-Latino Artist of the Year. If you are confused by that sentence, you haven’t been paying attention to anti-Blackness. The White Colombian artist was given the “honor” on Dec. 26 by a New Jersey nonprofit, the African Entertainment Awards, established to “celebrate and uplift African entertainment.”

J Balvin accepted the award, first clarifying that he wasn’t Afro-Latino but still thanking the organization for recognizing his “place in the contribution of the Afrobeat music and movement.” After a swift backlash, he deleted his social media post without another word. Typical. This episode was yet another symptom of the ongoing gatekeeping that erases and excludes Black creators — and J Balvin, one of world’s most famous reggaeton performers, has built his success on that erasure and exclusion.

For years now, Afro-Colombians have been calling out Balvin for his flagrant appropriation and constant dodging of meaningful accountability. In October, he halfway apologized for a music video that featured him walking Black women on leashes. In September, he told an interviewer that he decided he had a path in reggaeton when he saw another White person, “Latino, like him,” perform. He did not feel “represented” before, because the genre and its creators and artists were predominantly Black. Nowadays, one can hardly tell that it has Black roots since many of the most famous performers are White, such as Balvin —Rosalía, Maluma, Karol G.

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