For Actress Gina Rodriguez is the problem Cultural Semantics or Anti-Blackness?
The cancel culture surrounding Gina Rodriguez’s choice words causes me great pain, mainly because you can’t inspire change by attempting to beat knowledge or sense into someone while publicly humiliating them. For every ten insightful and intelligently laid out arguments, there are hundreds of comments that follow that read: that racist c**t should die #Cancelled. Followed by the many, “Oh my god, I love her. What did she do?” Then someone acting as the town crier attempts to recap the events, truth notwithstanding, in the hopes of gaining another mob member. Then that person lets out a huge pink thank you reeked in validation-seeking confetti because, laziness. Look, I’ll be the first to admit, my tact is non-existent on Twitter. My first reaction to trolls is a nice hearty Fuck You party because who the hell has time to engage in discourse with someone who thinks Latinxs should be grateful we got Miles Morales. And if that isn’t bad enough, the teen at home says, “Mom. I don’t have your back on this one.” Which then leads to a 30-minute heated debate between Mom, Dad, and Son about extremist behavior, language, and why the fuck does everyone on Twitter sound the same? So this got me thinking: Is the cancellation attempt of Gina Rodriguez less a racial problem and more a cultural semantics problem or is it both? Are folks forcing Gina Rodriguez to ascribe to a racial identity when she is speaking from an ethnic identity?
This is how it started:
Marvel and DC are killing it in inclusion and women but where are the Latinos?! Asking for a friend…(@HereIsGina) — LINK
Some Latinx will not admit this is how many of us speak when we are together. I just had this conversation a few weeks ago where a group of us, Afro Latinxs included, talked about the amazing work coming from the African American film-making community. Followed by what the fuck is going on with Latinxs in Hollywood? It isn’t much different than what Gina tweeted. However, I believe that this is the difference: Gina is naive in thinking that everyone knows the Latinx struggle and the language. She seems unaware of how she frames her comments in the presence of many. For me, her comments sound more naive than anti-black. And many feel as I do, but the narrative in most articles written about her focus on her anti-blackness even though half the writers say they don’t believe she’s actually anti-black. So then, what’s the issue? Is her language anti-black or is she? I personally think that’s not possible. If you speak anti-blackness then you are about anti-blackness.
According to my son, it appears that the issue is she didn’t big up Black Panther before inserting herself. I imagine this is what folks wanted to hear: Black Panther is the most beautiful display of black representation I have ever seen. One day I hope that I can experience the full Latinx diaspora represented in the same beautiful way. Is this about semantics then? Is it bordering on pettiness. I think to some degree it’s both. I don’t think she’s anti-black and I don’t understand the extremist behavior and hate for her.
I remember when Beyonce’s “Lemonade” came out and folks were writing think pieces about how Latinxs can’t claim “Lemonade” as theirs. That shit made me crazy. I was obsessed with “Lemonade” and fell in love with the artistry, female empowerment themes, and the unapologetically black tone. And yet, lots of folks and some in my own community were telling me, this is not for me. Then what is?
For many Latinx who don’t fall neatly into racial categories, based on physical traits only, it appears that we all need to choose or force ourselves into A or B categories of race. I’m sorry, I too don’t self identify as black or white. As I have mentioned many times, I have an affinity for American black culture, I was born in the United States, I don’t identify with white culture but I am not black and neither am I white. If I walk into a black space, I am told I’m not black enough and yet yesterday, someone I respect and know for quite some time couldn’t understand why I didn’t identify as either because how can I possibly complete a census form if I don’t know who I am. Damn.
So the assumption is, I’m guessing, people who look like Gina and I are self-hating because we don’t claim to be black. So what is blackness and who can co-opt it? And I don’t want to hear about how blackness is defined in the Caribbean because I don’t live there. I live in America where black is defined differently than in Puerto Rico or the rest of the Caribbean and Latin America. And let’s keep in mind that I have to deal with the aftermath of co-opting a race that many feel I should not be co-opting. Let’s not forget how Amara LaNegra was dragged and accused of wearing blackface. Again who gets to co-opt blackness? But that’s a whole other issue. Let’s move on.
Then there was that moment where Sofia Vergara was used as the bar to show that Latinx actors do in fact get paid more than others.
Re: regarding Gina Rodriguez saying Black actresses are paid more than Latinx actresses — Sofia Vergera is the highest paid according to Forbes ($42 .5mil). Kerry Washington is the only Black actress on this list at #8. (LINK)
Right. However these are the statistics that nobody wanted to research. For many, Sofia Vergara, apparently the highest paid Latina actress, should be enough for Latinx Hollywood. But I can counter that with this: are Sofia and the other Latinx actors as rich as Letitia Wright who is billionaire rich? Wanna go tit for tat here? Nah, that would be petty.
Again, I believe that Gina is not talking about white or black but she may be referring to the lack of Indio or Mestiza aesthetics in Hollywood, which I assume is the experience in which she is speaking from. In Hollywood, if you’re a white Latina, thanks to white supremacy you too are an overvalued stock. If you’re a Black Latina, then you are placed in the Black box valued on a different scale. So where does someone who is not black or white fit in? If there were more directors like Alfonso Cuaron, who turn Mestizas into superstars like he’s done with Yalitza Apacio in the film, Roma, maybe others would be satisfied. I don’t know. But I do know that Gina wasn’t completely wrong when she said, Latinxs (in general) get paid less than their female counterparts. And here’s the statistics to prove it:
White women make 77 cents for every dollar that white men make, according to the National Partnership for Women & Families, while Asian women make 85 cents, black women make 61 cents, Native American women make 58 cents, and Latinas make 53 cents. (Indie Wire: Michael Nordine, Nov 24, 2018 1:47 pm @slowbeard)
Framing it in those terms, in the interview that also featured fellow actresses Ellen Pompeo, Gabrielle Union, and Emma Roberts was simply echoing the article. But that’s not what others believe, they believe the problem goes deeper. Like my friend, writer, Sofia Quintero who tweeted:
It is quite possible for Gina Rodriguez to advocate for better Latinx representation without constantly evoking African American advances in a way that implies they’re part of the problem. If she refuses to learn that, her cultural activism actually perpetuates the problem. (LINK)
Yes, that is partly true. There are many ways to advocate for better Latinx representation. However, I didn’t get that particular implication. I didn’t feel that her statement was making African Americans part of the problem. Instead my take is, her attempt at advocacy was whiny AF and it sounded more like this: Why is everyone else getting put on but we aren’t? We, meaning, Latinas who look like me. Problematic? Of course. But in a room full of Latinas, that statement would have received applause. So does Gina have a responsibility to change the language so not to offend all folks? I guess if she wants to continue to exist or be a leader (eye roll), yes. As an international star, and a frequent social media user, she needs to be mindful of her international audience and the political correctness of the day.
As for the Smallfoot interview with Yara Shahidi and Gina’s all lives matter moment, had an Iranian actress made the same comment, would everyone still be up in arms? Yara is Iranian and Black and for Black people not to acknowledge that is interesting. I’m curious. Who isn’t inspired by Yara? And how is acknowledging someone’s greatness by saying she’s an inspiration to all women, all lives mattering? That actually does a disservice to Yara and to those who adore her. And that interview is much longer than what is being shared on Twitter. The full interview is wonderful. I witnessed love and respect throughout until someone decided to share a clip, out of context and change the narrative to anti-blackness. Isn’t this how Russia gave us Trump? Isn’t this how a lot of smart people got bamboozled into voting for Jill Stein. Politics aside, you can see where I’m going with this. Narratives are often manipulated on social media to further an agenda. Rarely do these narratives take into account the old adage, to err is human. On social media though to err is to be cancelled.
And lastly, has the jerk in chief made us all jerks? When someone comes at me with, “Why aren’t there any black people on Jane the Virgin?” and doesn’t check IMDB, don’t assume that the little Puerto Rican flag next to my name means I know all the answers to all things Latinx. And to that person who said Gina didn’t give a big ups to Miles Morales, the Marvel animated “Spiderman” who is Black and Puerto-Rican, really? This is petty and it’s not working for us. The cancel culture is going to destroy us and turn us into like-minded robots who are afraid of going against the grain. So, I need to dig deeper for answers, and stay off the bandwagon, because none of this is accepted discourse for me. This is not the way to learn about anti-blackness, because it’s divisive and unproductive.
As for the Latinxs who possess the intelligence and proper understanding to redirect narratives, be more mindful of your power. You can fix this by speaking to Gina in a less condescending manner. Remember the youngins are watching and taking notes. We can do better. Present company included.
Linda Nieves-Powell is a professional writer and a member of the Writers Guild East. Her novel “FreeStyle” is published by Simon and Schuster, her short story, “The Fly Ass Puerto-Rican Girl from the Stapleton Projects” is published by Akashic books. In 2013, Linda was commissioned by Proctor and Gamble to write the “Nueva Latina” monologues, a stage play for Orgullosa, the company’s social media brand. The “Nueva Latina” monologues were performed at LULAC and Hispanicize. Her award-winning play, “Yo Soy Latina” has performed at over 400 colleges in the U.S, off Broadway, and at the Tony-award winning regional theater company Crossroads. Her full-length screenplay “Six of Me”, was a semi-finalist at the 2013 Sundance Screenwriting Lab. Linda has studied TV Writing with Alan Kingsman. Currently she is working on her Masters in Education and is writing the comedic TV pilot, “English as a New Language”.