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Complicating Latinx (Anti)Blackness in Media

Complicating Latinx (Anti)Blackness in Media

"Complicating Latinx (Anti)Blackness in Media"

By Diana Melendez and Solange Castellar

As if Latinidad was not complicated enough- there is so much work to be done around addressing anti-blackness within people who identify as Latinx, Latino/a, hispanic, Latin, Spanish...and how Blackness is even defined. Our collaboration took us from a quick review of the celebration of African roots within Salsa and the way this space allowed for visible Black singers to rise during times of overt racism and segregation in Diana’s presentation Salsa y Azucar! The infiltration of blackness through music. After Diana used Celia Cruz to problematize the impossibility of political neutrality for singers/artists of color, Solange engaged class in looking at Celebrity Culture and Tackling Anti-Blackness in U.S. Latinx Communities using Gina Rodriguez as the focus of our conversation.

Both conversations looked at how Latinos/as/x folks act in navigating anti-Blackness. Diana explored the spaces that both allowed an Afro-Cuban woman who did not fit the “traditional standards of beauty” to become a Queen while also at times limiting her choices around race and political representation. The class looked at some of the ways colorism and anti-blackness have shown up in casting choices (sometimes controversial) and some of the ways different media sources deal with Blackness as a separate identity from Latinidad. On the flip side- the burden that is placed on the shoulders of artists/singers of color based on their proximity to Blackness as well as how Blackness can itself becomes a performance for some Latinx celebrities to “tap into” when serviceable to their careers.

Solange focused on celebrity culture and building up a representational figure. We discussed the concept of having one celebrity that acts as your own racialized and gendered identity, and assimilating them as being a reflection of your own representation.  The interesting part is to look at what happens when that person’s politics are not aligned with your own, and how social media has now acted as a driving force to deconstruct these figures. In this case, we looked at Gina Rodriguez, who is known in her career for being a voice for Latino/a/x people, while saying seemingly ignorant comments towards the Black community. We talked about how people in Latino/a/x communities might view Blackness (skin tone vs race/ethnicity), the influence of social media apps (Twitter, Instagram) and the creation of un-fact-checked threads, why we put pressure on celebrities of color to do additional labor, and how to critically talk about celebrities of color when they might have “problematic” critiques.

 

The class was asked to review various sources of media (below) prior to class which led to very lively discussion throughout the presentations. As a concluding activity, the class was asked to use art to explore their own experience of the themes being discussed throughout class. The task was for all to draw/illustrate their own “media persona”- taking into consideration choices around how race, gender, and other identities were represented in their artistic choices. These are choices public figures in media must contend with as part of their daily lives once they reach “celebrity” status- with choices then being read in both predictable and unpredictable ways.

Here are some discussion questions we didn’t address in class, which might help you with your comment:

·      What can the use of media like music or social media help us create a space to talk about our own representation?

·      How can we make sense of a celebrity who is a representational figure that is seemingly "problematic" or “canceled”?

·      Why do audiences rely on celebrities of color to do additional labor, like talking about pay gaps, politics, etc?  Do we need to have celebrities that are apolitical like Celia Cruz, or offer politics within their work like Gina Rodriguez? Who do you find is doing a majority of this work?

·      What does ethnically/racially unifying people do when it comes to media representations of ourselves? Does help or deter community building?

Salsa y Azucar! The infiltration of blackness through music[Diana]

Videos:

Celia Cruz and La Sonora Matancera- 1956

Celia Cruz “La Negra Tiene Tumbao” 2009

“Salsa Diva is Buried” 2015 [AP Archive]

Short reads:

Jeimy Osorio Talks Skin Darkening to Play Celia Cruz, Congratulates Zoe Saldana on Her Transformation for Biopic [Billboard]

Amara La Negra Talks Culture, Colorism, Anti-Blackness and Celia Cruz [Latino USA]

Cardi B is Taking Style Notes from Celia Cruz and I’m here for it [Fader]

Additional reading (not required):

On Celia’s once classified FBI file [The Harold]

Celia Cruz: The Voice from Havana [NPR]

Celebrity Culture and Tackling Anti-Blackness in U.S. Latinx Communities [Solange]

What does Addressing Anti-Blackness in the Latinx Community Look Like in the Age of Trump?”[Medium]

“What is a Problematic Fave?” [The Mary Sue]

Isabel Molina-Guzmán, “Disciplining J.Lo: Booty Politics in Tabloid News”

Additional reading (not required, but can be useful): Gina Rodriguez profile in BUST Magazine

 

Thanks all!

 

 

 

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9 comments

I am going to focus my response on this question: “Why do audiences rely on celebrities of color to do additional labor, like talking about pay gaps, politics, etc? Do we need to have celebrities that are apolitical like Celia Cruz, or offer politics within their work like Gina Rodriguez?”

The use of the word “apolitical” to describe Celia Cruz brings up many questions. The most important thing to address here is the time in which she was alive. I wonder by whose standard is she apolitical? Is this person looking at Celia Cruz with their present day assumptions? What does that tell us about the time that we actually live in where a celebrity like Gina Rodriguez is seen as having to do additional labor as a woman of color? Was that additional labor put on Gina Rodriquez because of the time we live in now where that labor was not expected from Celia Cruz during her time? What does it mean for people today to put celebrities as the center of what should be grassroots struggles against racism? The emphasis is put on making sure celebrities are “woke” and it distracts from actually dealing with the issues. It also takes voice away from local activists doing the real work. Why do we need celebrities to validate our struggles, our activism, our political, and our spirit for liberation?   

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HI Diana and Solange,

You have done such a beautiful job.  There is so much here for others to learn from, just as we learned in class.  You took us from specifics to general, from examples to theory.  You tied ideas to our key media studies text (Double Negative) and added other perspectives, other disciplines, and then ended with a perfect exercise (especially perfect on the last day before Spring break:  it was revelatory, important, and engaged pedagogy and even fun, when everyone was burnt out and needed something lighter).  Really a great job!  Also, your coordination of your topics and rendering into one whole class and one blog was exemplary. 

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Here is a question about your blog post:

Let me ask about naming.  Solange, do you want your last name visible on this?  I have added an interior title and byline so you can include this on your CV's but refrained from adding your last name in case you wish anonymity.  If you wish to be named publicly, you can log in to HASTAC.org, go to this blog, hit the edit button (or Diana can, since she posted it) and add your last name.  Or one of us can since we all have edit permission for the class blog.  

On a CV, you could have a section called "Digital Publications":

Digital Publications

Meledez, Diana, and Solange ______.  "Complicating Latinx (Anti)Blackness in Media," on HASTAC (Humanities, Arts, Science, and Technology Alliance and Collaboratory), April 24, 2019. 

What this does is gives you a publication and allows anyone who wants to see your work to click through and see this thoughtful, engaged blog, in an academic setting, and with others who are studying and doing research on this area contributing comments to the conversation. 

 

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I look forward to reading the comments from the other students now.  Thanks again for such a great, engaged, thoughtful discussion that complicated  all the ways we are "mediating race." 

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Hi Professor, 

Yes, I would like to have my last name here. Diana and I were uncertain how to do a joint post, a question I will inquire in class! Thank you for checking in. 

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Seems in the era of black “wokeness” (or awareness of issues impacting the black community on an immensely large yet even more subversive level), it has become an expectation of many that people of color maintain a firm stance in the progressive against imperialism, white nationalism, classism, sexism, and any other form of unjust prejudice or suppression. Though this is a view that has become the mainstream in the black community, this community is not monolithic. We all come with different experiences, grow up in varied backgrounds under an array of circumstances that inform how we identify. The racial identity of Dominicans who are darker skinned than I am, while identifying themselves as “not black” is a very real phenomenon (one I struggled with intensely). Their history creates realities (for them) that can  look totally different from our own. If a person makes celebrity status, my initial question is who brought that person to the forefront? And I look at where the person is going to have the impact before asking why this person’s opinion and perspective is so striking to me. Each person is entitled to Who they are. The bigger question, or the biggest question is why we need everyone to see things the way we do. These are the kinds of values that have put this country in a place of intense violence and adversarial stance taking. We are not accurately represented in the media. But if we were to be, there would be so many voices that each perspective would be represented which is not very likely anytime soon. Person of color looking at it is a step in the direction of their particular ideas do not need to be aligned with everyone else’s for the representative value to still take hold.  Again, we are not monolithic. The more people that are there the more representative of us the media would be.

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Thank you both for the discussion questions. What I loved most about this presentation is that Gina Rodriguez's actions have to be a little further analyzed because like Prof. Gates said, the perspective from which someone argues can be completely different from ours and tha can teach us a lot from where that person comes from. When Gina apologized on the radio show, her response (to me) sounded similar to when racist people argue they're not racists because 'they have a black friend' but we learned that although her dark-skined father doesn't look that dark skined to us, he was wherever they're from.

Also, answering the question of 'why do audiences rely on celebrities of color to do additional labor, like talking about pay gaps, politics, etc?  Do we need to have celebrities that are apolitical like Celia Cruz, or offer politics within their work like Gina Rodriguez? Who do you find is doing a majority of this work?', Ellen Pompeo showed that the priviledge that white people have in our society can be used for good. She was the one that said "I don't see enough color" addressing the whiteness in the movie industry. Maybe if more white people from the industry denounce more disparities like this one, maybe the Academy would look different. 

Lastly, How can we make sense of a celebrity who is a representational figure that is seemingly "problematic" or “canceled”? Celebrities are just that, celebrities. They're not experts on political affairs or other realms from which they are often asked about. They just have the platform to be heard from millions of people and sometimes we have to remember that they can also make mistakes. This is the way I'd say we can make sense of a celebrity that it's problematic, like the Kanye we've seen these last months.

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I'm going to focus my response on this question:

What does ethnically/racially unifying people do when it comes to media representations of ourselves? Does help or deter community building?

This question has been a major one in every single class I've ever taken with any sort of themes around race, and especially surfaced in discussions about the Latin and/or Latin American communties. I think there is a distinction to be made once a community has been grown in the United States versus those that still grow in their own countries. For example, Black Americans are somewhat distinguished by their histories as Americans from those whose families have remained in their ancestor's countries for generations. Much of what we perceive as Black culture in media is as much of/from America as it is from particular traditions of "homelands." In other words, some aspects of the culture represented in Black American media is as tethered to its Americanness as it is to its Blackness. In this aspect, unification has ways of working positively. If we can perceive this media as a larger more unified message, perhaps it is easier to join together for the purposes of gaining rights and basic freedoms. However, even in this case it is difficult to be sure that all identities or sub-identities within that realm of unification are being served in the best possible ways. This is where the importance of unique representations comes in to play, issues such as intersectionality.

This is definitely not a question that can be tackled in a short comment, particularly without all the careful sensitivities it deserves to all identities. However, I am very glad that we brought up the subject of different kinds of Blackness, as the inclusion of Black Latinx media gets to the heart of an argument for that unification.

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This discussion was super interesting, and I was especially drawn to questions related to celebrity personas and fandom. Celebrity figures are shrouded in myth despite the attachments we feel to them as anchors in our media-filled society. I have had my fair share of attachments to celebrities for all sorts of reasons - because I identified with some aspect of the identity they portrayed to the world (even if that identity was through a fictionalized character), because I was attracted to them, because their art spoke to me, because I admired or wanted to be like them, because something about their persona annoyed me, and so on. I am super interested in what it means to be a celebrity now that we live in a social media universe - on the one hand, given the internet there is now far more opportunity for various people to share their arts and skills with the world. Thus, even though not everyone will achieve celebrity status, the fact that more is out there seems to perhaps shrink the fantastical bubble that celebrities have long been placed inside. And while Instagram and the like are forms used to further create celebrity's personas, the fact that everyday people use these forums as well, also seems to humanize celebrities to a degree, or at least gives the illusion of humanization. Following our discussions of Celia Cruz and Gina Rodriguez, I was left wondering how the blurring between celebrity persona and "real" identity creates more pressure for those who become spokespersons, whether they want to or not, for a minority group. The representational pressure is far less for white celebrities.

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What struck me as odd was an interview on the Breakfast Club with Charlemagne tha God and Amara LaNegra. In that interview, Charlemagne starts with "What are you? Like Race wise?" Come on bro! This speaks to the idea that Blacness cannot be explained only felt. We all experience Blackness in different ways, but most compare Blackness to the African American experience. 

Ultimately, no matter what one may say about Blackness, show Blackness or explain Blackness, it will never be represented correctly according to someone else. Just as there are various shades of skin, there will be varying shades of understanding and presentation.

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This class was very interesting to me as my current studies around identity is evolving. What I really appreciated about both of the presenters was the dialogue and the thought provoking questions of race and color. As an adjunct professor, I struggle with teaching students about identity with such binary scholarship. The ideas surrounding identity as it relates to Blackness and the Latinx community is intruiging. What we discussed in class is how complex identity is  outside of whiteness and blackness. Tradtionally, latinX folks are lost in between and their identity is often times deemed " confusing" depending on the scholarship or even the literation. With the new wave of AfroLatina transcending, the LATINX community can also associate with Blackness. Now what was interesting was how Professor Gates stated that "Blackness" can be an ambigous term and within America, it is known as "African Amerian" which is totally true! Most of our scholarship relates blackness to African American and misses the difference between race and ethincity. I wonder if this is a strategic move to promote capitalism and prohibit organizing. As a person who has traveled the world, my definiton of blackness is outside of the idenity of being African American. But the question is: arent all people really African American since we all orginiated in Africa? 

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