“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]
Additional reading (not required):
On Celia’s once classified FBI file [The Harold]
Celebrity Culture and Tackling Anti-Blackness in U.S. Latinx Communities [Solange]
“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