Originally Published in September 2010
Zoe Saldana, Amber Rose, Sessilee Lopez. These are women who identify themselves as Black, but, for many of us, the question that follows them in the context of Black culture, fashion, and beauty is, “Is she even Black?” The tenor of an accent, and the textures of their hair, often propels questions regarding whether these women belong in the context of Black cultural commentary.
It is, moreover, because some of these women are not African-American that we are moved to question the validity of their Blackness. Is there no room in Black conversation for Zoe Saldana from New York/Dominican Republic?
Why does the mention of Amber Rose or Rosario Dawson get under our skin? Why do these women fall short on our Black authenticity measuring stick?
We are quick to call a White person to task when they stereotype or make sweeping generalizations about Black people, but why does it seem to be okay for some Black people to impose rigid definitions of Blackness upon ourselves?
Last week, we featured Amber Rose as the “Look of the Day” on our new fashion and beauty site Coco and Crème. Let’s just say our recognition of Amber’s salmon colored sweater dress received more than its share of abomination. One reader said, “I don’t understand why she’s celebrated at all, especially by Black women.” Another reader agreed, commenting, “I just don’t understand why sites like this (Coco and Crème) are obsessed with a woman who doesn’t project anything positive and doesn’t have anything to do with Black culture other than sleeping with Black men.”
Whoa. I guess we didn’t get the memo that acknowledging someone’s style choices makes them the woman of the year. We liked her look, plain and simple.
Amber Rose has become one of the most contentious and ambiguous female bodies in America. Aside from her alleged gold-digging rise to the top thanks to Kanye West, there is an undercurrent (or not so below the surface) query around Amber’s racial makeup.
According to the model’s Wikipedia page, her father is from Barbados and is of Italian descent, and her mother is of Cape Verdean descent. Cape Verde is a formerly colonized island off the coast of West Africa whose population generally consists of creoles mixed with Black African, and European descent. Amber was born in America and reps her city hard. I think it’s safe to assume Amber Rose is a mixed American girl from Philly. If we’re not questioning Halle Berry’s Blackness, why question Amber Rose?
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?
La La Vazquez spoke out about America’s ignorance of dark-skin Latinos. La La wrote an essay for Latina magazine asking, “Since when does being Black and being Latina have to be mutually exclusive?” The popular VJ continued, “For me, not looking like some people’s idea of a typical Latina has been challenging and often painful. I constantly find myself trying to justify who I am, and why should I?”
Our rampant cultural categorizations can distance the very women we claim to embrace—while we can often exclude some of these women from “pure uninterrupted Blackness” just because we don’t agree with their behavior.
In a so-called “post-racial America,” why are we still caught up in the often insignificant nuances of Blackness?