Clutch Magazine posted an article recently entitled "Is She Even Black?" in reference to black Latina actresses, models and status climbers like Zoe Saldana, Amber Rose and Sessilee Lopez. I've often heard black people gripe about Saldana in particular (also Rosario Dawson), accusing her of passing or claiming mixed heritage or whatever magical thing people think "Latina" means other than being a descriptor for being from a place in the Americas where people speak Spanish.
There’s something to be said about our racial placement of Zoe Saldana outside of her largely Black female film roles. Many of us get a kick out of keeping her in an exclusive, no exit, Latina territory. “Is she even Black?” one reader slammed, even though the rising actress has repeatedly laid claim to her Afro-Latina background. The “Avatar ” star has been vocal about the difficulties faced by actresses of color in Hollywood, and she was the cover of the April issue of Essence magazine. Yet somehow, there’s this odd expectation for Saldana to choose. “Does she want to be Latina or Black?” one reader wrote. Zoe Saldana was born to a Dominican father and a Puerto Rican mother. Her cocoa skin looks like yours and mine, why is that not enough?
I personally blame Richard Nixon. His administration created the term Hispanic in an effort to give people with Spanish surnames a "racial-lite" label even though "Hispanic" or "Latino" is not a race. Hispanics and Latinos can be of any race or color and the word doesn't even exist outside of the states.
From The Future Uncertain:
(A)s soon as one crosses the Rio Grande from the north there is no such thing as "Hispanic." There are instead races: "whites," and "Indians," and mestizos, and "blacks," and all of the above together. And there are nationalities: Dominicans, and Salvadorans, and Hondurans, and Mexicans and Brazilians. But in the United States these disparate nations and people, who sometimes go to war at least proximately because of soccer games and who argue over the racial stereotyping in their television soap operas, through the waving of a bureaucratic wand in an obscure office at the end of an obscure hall in Washington magically become a single demographic group.
If you're Chinese and were born and raised in Cuba, you're, shock-shock, Chinese Cubano, aka ... a Chinese Latino. This does not make you any less Chinese. When a black person says they're also Latino it's honestly no different than a black person saying they're French or German or Senegalese or Cape Verdean or Dominican. They're still black. They tell you as much when they say things like "Afro-Cuban." But still, people will accuse Saldana and others of some fancy form of 2010 passing.
I don't know how you pass when you're on the cover of Essence and you're that, frickin' brown and you say things like "I'm black" or lament about how hard it is to make it as a black actress in the states.
But because American's often treat Hispanic as a race when Hispanic is like saying "From Spanish speaking countries in North, Central and South America," there is this confusion and accusation of a black person being a sell-out if they proudly claim their Latino heritage. This is like cursing out Obama for big upping Kenya. Or hating Idris Elba for being a black Brit. THIS MAKES NO SENSE. Many Latin countries participated in the Atlantic slave trade. Millions of blacks wound up all over the Americas and adopted the language and culture of their captors. What else can you do considering the circumstances? But the black American reaction at times to Saldana, Dawson and Rose is almost like when I meet the occasional African native who thinks black Americans aren't really African and bristles at those who over-eagerly embrace African cultures in their pursuit for a better understand of themselves.
After all, like black Latinos, black Americans aren't exactly "pure." We're mixed people who married and impregnated other mixed people after hundreds of years of rape, love and lust, racial strife, anti-racial mixing laws while people "mixed" any-ol-damn-way, often living in the same crappy neighborhoods as poor whites and early Irish and Italian immigrants. It's true that in some Latin countries blacks are treated horribly. Which, AGAIN, makes the slam at Saldana for claiming their black Latin roots more bizarre.
There is no advantage to saying "I'm black" in most of Latin America. Especially if you're dark. None. There are black people in Latin America now who look at CNN's Soledad O'Brien like she's a crazy person for telling folks she's Afro-Cuban. Most people who are that light, based on the rampant discrimination against black Latinos, wouldn't have acknowledged the "Afro" part at all and gladly would have passed as light Creole, mixed or Spaniard.
Case in point: I had a good friend who's wife was Latina. She was Mexican and Cuban. We were the exact same complexion (golden brown). We had the exact same hair texture (frizzy, wavy, kinky in the back). She had a short fat nose, also like mine, and was married to a black American man who was half Puerto Rican. She was older than me and would sometimes, jokingly, tell people I was her daughter. IT IS VERY OBVIOUS THAT I AM A BLACK PERSON. One day I was at their home hanging out, chatting with her and she was complaining about her hair. How everyone in her family had straight her but her and how unfair that was. I said, "Ah, but that's where the black comes from, right?" thinking I would get some "Yeah, great-grandma was Negra" bonding time. Her face scrunched up like I called her the bitchiest black bitch in the history of black bitches and she INSISTED she did not have a drop of black blood in her. Her husband then looked at me and rolled his eyes.
"She black," he said after she left the room in a huff.
Her reaction to being brown and "nappy" headed, but not blue black blackity black is the NORM in most Latin American countries. There is no skin tone paradise in Latin countries and there is no advantage to shouting out "I'm Negra" if you look "mixed." If you look mixed you start naming yourself after color gradations. And none of those gradations are called black.
It's actually AMAZING that Rosario Dawson, Amber Rose and Soledad O'Brien all loudly claim their black heritage. They totally could just say "I don't know those black people hiding in my gene pool" like so many other "brown" people do from Latin America.
If I moved to another country and if they told me I had to deny my Midwest/Southern black American roots to be fully accepted as a "real" black person in that country I would laugh. I can't not be a black person. My roots are African slaves, some white slave masters and random Native Americans who wandered in and out of the picture. It is who I am. It is my culture. It is how I identify myself. People who claim black and Latin are just explaining their background, not grasping to some false identity in order to assimilate. This isn't a Tommy Mottola tells Mariah Carey to describe herself as mixed and say her Harlem-born father was Venezuelan to cross over to a mainstream (white) audience situation. These are women claiming their heritage and proudly saying they're black as well.
Zoe Saldana is black and Latino. You can be both. This is not a trick. Zoe is not trying to pull a fast one on you. She's just trying to rep for her fellow Afro Latin peeps who people treat as if they are a myth, who face their own discrimination and rarely, if ever, see one of their own on the cover of magazines or on television in their native countries.
For contrast: I'm black and American. Also not a trick. I'm not trying to "hide" my African heritage behind an American label. I have a friend who's half Jamaican and half American. Also black. I once dated a guy in college who was black American, white British and Kenyan. Also black. I had a good friend high school who was black and Creole. STILL BLACK, ALSO CREOLE. Same with most Haitians I know, both dark and light. All Creole. All black. I have quite a few long-time French African readers and one German woman who is half African American. Despite the fact that she could have passed for white and knew very little about her black American heritage, she still claimed her father's side, wanting to learn more about black American culture. My half Puerto Rican friend with the "I ain't black even though I look black" wife. BLACK! These are not a tricks! Just pronouns to describe a background.
Stop being all mad at my internationally black peeps. Them being something other than American has absolutely nothing to do with you.
Celebrate the Diaspora.
(H/T reader Kim for the link)