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?

327 Comments

  1. Ameena

    I think what makes some Black people question someone’s race is that for SOME bi-racial celebs-they’re picking and choosing when to claim what side-which ever is more advantageous to them at the time.

  2. biscuit

    if i question someone’s blackness it’s only because i feel that those who do not embody blackness as i know it when i see it around me day after day in the streets, on my job, etc. are constantly selected for representation of me and those who claim the black identity like myself. To me it’s unfair and inaccurate portrayal of what your average black person looks like when media is all about promoting only the usual images of black people as mixed-looking, ethnically ambiguous persons, when the reality is that the vast majority of us are not racially ambiguous in the least. i’m sure white people would get tired of always constantly being represented in their media as being blonde-haired and blue-eyed, considering the vast majority of them do not fit that stereotype. so how come it’s called “hate” (puh-leaze) when black women demand accurate reflection of ourselves in all of our hues (including dark brown to ebony-skinned, which even black productions love to act like doesn’t exist for women even while they go over and beyond and outta their way to select men of these richer brown/black hues. double standard, much?) and features (so, closer to what we associate with black features. is that too much to ask? yet the women who look “black” are seldom selected for prominent roles even within our own community. it’s very depressing). no one’s hating on the mixed crowd but it’s not hating to point out the OBVIOUS that they over-represent black people in the united states, at least and are picked more often than not to play leading/desirable roles whereas when a dark-skinned, more “ethnic”-featured black woman gets a role at all, its some subordinate or undesirable role. this includes commercials, especially where girl children are concerned. mixed race seems to be the default.

  3. Mister Goddess

    Latino/a isn’t a race. You can be black, white, green, red and STILL be latino. I will never under the misconception (the same with being called African-American when one isn’t unless they are literally an emigrant from Africa; i.e. Charlize Theron or Lupita Nyong’O; one white, the other black, both African).

    I’m ethnically Middle Eastern Afro-Latino, but racially I’m black. Black, or people of negroid descent, don’t come in one shade or one form.

    If white people can come out with different types of hair (curly, straight, etc.), different eyes (blue, green, brown, etc.), different hair colors (red, blonde, black, brown, etc.), then the same applies to black people.

    • “If white people can come out with different types of hair (curly, straight, etc.), different eyes (blue, green, brown, etc.), different hair colors (red, blonde, black, brown, etc.), then the same applies to black people.”

      THANK YOU, OMG THANK YOU!!!!!
      not every mixed person comes out with olive toned skin and curly hair. there’s this one couple who refer to themselves as the rainbow family. the husband is black and the wife if white, they have five kids who each have a diff. shade of skin and you should see some of the comments. “Oh she cheated.” “she has some explaining to do” as if all mixed kids come out looking the same >:( i can’t stand the human race and they’re if i don’t see it then it isn’t true mentality. just because you don’t SEE a half white/black child who looks more white than they do black, doesn’t mean they don’t exist. -_- humans irk my soul i swear

  4. killer

    These women are not black and where does this leave true dark skin sisters in the equation black people always trying to claim people that hate them Dominicans hate us but you never picked up a book to know anybody cane be black so let’s adopt a few million mullotoes and change what it means to be african american shameful I’m ure another ethnic group for success while I’m a latino as soon as I leave the set and get favorite actresses are white women I wish Malcolm x was here today uncle Tom trying to help latino women take jobs from african american women

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