Gina Rodriguez
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Opinion

On Gina Rodriguez and the Meaning of Color

“You’re not really Puerto Rican,” my Latinx middle school classmates would say to me. “You’re an African booty scratcher.” And though my Latinx relatives didn’t vocalize it, they agreed: No one with a skin complexion as dark as mine had the right to claim anything but black. One of my lighter relatives even went the distance of posting an offensive Facebook status that read, “Black bitches love calling themselves mixed. What are you mixed with, gorilla and horse?”

At a very young age, Latinx people bullied me out of a culture I never asked to be a part of. I remember begging my teachers not to use my last name, which means “stairs” in Spanish. Anytime someone referred to me by my last name, it led to a discussion about race and ended with colorism. I never posted pictures of my much lighter-skinned family members because people accused me of Googling pictures of light-skinned people to make myself “look better.” I refused to learn Spanish from my late grandmother, who often referred to black women as “ugly black bitches.”

I did not want any parts of my Latin heritage. It has brought me nothing but ridicule and embarrassment from strangers, friends and family members. I feel safer just calling myself black. Not claiming my Latin roots means never having to defend my blackness to people who deny their African ancestry until it’s convenient for them—people like Gina Rodriguez.

A few days ago, a video of the Jane the Virgin actress being interviewed on Swayuniverse made its way to my Twitter timeline. I instantly rolled my eyes as I watched the actress summon all of her acting skills to produce three crocodile tears, in response to her being called “anti-black.” She, of course, denied being anti-black by saying, “if anything, the black community is my community. When I speak about Latino advocacy, people think I’m only talking about people who are my skin color, but little do they know that I’m very aware of what my culture is.” That particular response to being called anti-black was perhaps the most anti-black thing she has said thus far.
If I was the same color as Gina, I could celebrate my Puerto Rican side, and my Puerto Rican relatives and friends would celebrate me.
After watching that video, I felt nothing but outrage. She went on a black person’s radio show to play the same card many non-black people of color play, the ew, I’m not black, but I conveniently have some African blood somewhere in my ancestry card. This is the same card pulled by the Latinx people who forced me to deny a large part of my identity—the ones who steal from black culture, use the n-word, and navigate life with such anti-black views.

If I was the same color as Gina, I could celebrate my Puerto Rican side, and my Puerto Rican relatives and friends would celebrate me. I wouldn’t be forced into spaces where I have to prove my Latinx background by speaking Spanish or showing photos of my lighter family members. Furthermore, someone who claims that they are black would never preach “Latino advocacy” on the backs of other black people, especially black women.

Part-time Afro-Latinas like Gina Rodriguez are not well-wishers for the black community. I noticed this when she came under fire for ‘All Lives Matter(ing)’ an interviewer who referred to Yara Shahidi as “goals for many young black women.” Before the interviewer could finish his sentence, Gina interrupted him and said, “So many women!” In other words, she’s not just an inspiration for young black women.
Someone who claims that they are black would never preach “Latino advocacy” on the backs of other black people, especially black women.
Initially, I assumed she meant well. Yara Shahidi is a phenomenal actress, and she should be celebrated by everyone. However, Gina forgot to remain consistent in her ‘women in general’ mindset during The Big Television Debate with Ellen Pompeo, Emma Roberts and Gabrielle Union. After claiming that Latina women are paid less than black and Asian actresses (despite Sofia Vergera—a Latinx woman—being the highest paid actress according to Forbes), she asked: “How do we break that cycle?” The part-time Afro-Latina said that she asked that question for the “young Latinas that [she’s] supposed to be speaking to.”

Why is Gina allowed to “speak to” young Latina girls, but Yara Shahidi has to speak for “all women” in general?

It doesn’t stop or start there. Back in July, Gina tweeted: “Marvel and DC are killing it in inclusion and women but where are the Latinos?! Asking for a friend…” While I totally agree that Marvel and DC still have ways to go in terms of inclusivity, I think it’s incredibly anti-black to use a victory for black actors and actresses and the black community in general (the Black Panther film) to make that point. Why couldn’t you make this point during the majority white male Avengers: Infinity War? Does the lack of inclusivity only bother you when black actors and actresses are being celebrated?

Gina, the only way to grow is through accountability. No one wants to be called anti-black. However, if that’s what you are, we’re going to call a spade a spade. The biggest insult to someone like me (an Afro-Latino who is denied the right to call himself Afro-Latino) is Latinx people claiming blackness when it’s convenient for them. If you really “look to black culture,” you wouldn’t be so eager to erase the black women in the culture.

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