By Cheanna Gavin
Amara La Negra is a Dominican Afro-Latina artist popular in the Latin music industry. In an effort to cross-over to the American music industry, Amara has gained popularity through her presence on Love & Hip-Hop: Miami. On January 22, 2018, Amara made an appearance on The Breakfast Club, an American radio show hosted by DJ Envy, Angela Yee, and Charlamagne Tha God that commonly discusses topics around celebrity gossip and “progressive” politics. During Amara’s interview, she discussed issues around Afro-Latinism—specifically pertaining to the entertainment industry—including colorism and discrimination that she has faced due to her appearance and identity; however, throughout her interview her experiences were constantly challenged.
On the topic of colorism, Amara discusses how Latinas in the entertainment industry are expected to look a certain way, otherwise they will not be seen. Since she does not adhere to ideal beauty standards set forth, she is constantly having to prove herself. Amara said,
Why is it so hard for people to understand or accept me? ‘Cause I just feel like there’s this standard of beauty in the entertainment industry that you have to look a certain type of way in order to be “pretty.” Your hair needs to be straight and silky in order to be pretty. Or if you’re Latina, you have to look like J. Lo, Sofia Vergara, Shakira. But when you look like me, “Oh, you don’t look Latina enough.” […] There isn’t a Latin country that doesn’t have people that look like myself, so why aren’t we on magazines? Why aren’t we in movies? (Breakfast Club Power 105.1 FM 2018)
The illegibility and erasure of Afro-Latinas in the entertainment industry was reflected in DJ Envy and Charlamagne Tha God’s responses to Amara. Not only did they fail and refuse to acknowledge Amara as a Black woman, they also dismissed her experiences as an Afro-Latina. Charlamagne Tha God’s first question to Amara was, “What are you?” He then quickly adds “like race-wise.” Amara explained how she identifies as a Dominican Afro-Latina. However, both DJ Envy and Charlamagne Tha God continue to push back against her in saying what they thought an Afro-Latina was, including a “Latina with an afro” and someone who is “half Black, half something else—half Latino.” While watching the interview, I felt that it was evident that Amara was getting frustrated from constantly having to repeat and justify herself and her experiences.
Amara’s struggles both during this interview and throughout the Latin and American music and entertainment industries reflect the problems being addressed by Critical Race Feminism intellectuals, such as Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw. Crenshaw criticizes the ways in which the legal system fails to see the ways in which Black women’s identities intersect, and how that intersection alters their experiences. She claims neglecting the “multidimensionality of Black women’s experiences” distorts and theoretically erases Black women and their experiences (23). Amara’s existence as a dark-complexioned Afro-Latina was questioned, criticized, and ultimately failed to be recognized because of an inability to see the ways in which her multidimensional identities intersect and influence her experiences. Crenshaw also writes how “antidiscrimination doctrine essentially erases Black women’s distinct experiences and, as a result, deems their discrimination complaints groundless” (27). A similar phenomenon occurred throughout the interview as Amara’s experiences and identity were constantly dismissed, the issues she brought up were reduced to the individual and therefore seen as non-representational, and she was continuously asked to validate her existence. At one point, Charlamagne The God asked her, “You sure it’s not in your mind?” (Breakfast Club Power 105.1 FM 2018), then later went on to use Cardi B (another Dominican singer) as an example to how colorism isn’t a problem. The issues Amara were shedding light on were deemed invalid due to the inability and/or refusal to recognize how her experiences stemmed not only from her identity as a Dominican Afro-Latina, but as a dark-skinned Dominican Afro-Latina.
The dismissal of Amara’s struggle with colorism throughout the interview sparked backlash. This backlash has brought attention the very issues Amara was discussing and have brought them to the forefront of mainstream pop-media. Derrick Bell wrote, “many women of color derive strength from oppression, whereas many minority men use their oppression to justify unjustifiable behavior—often against women of color” (xix). Although Charlamagne Tha God responded to the backlash, it seems he still is ignorant or in denial of the violence and invalidation he was committing. However, Amara remained patient and poised throughout and continued to argue against the issues she stands by. In an interview the week before, colorism was also discussed among a group of all black men, and the same push-back and dismissal was not present. This further demonstrates the disrespect shown toward Amara because of her identity and exemplifies lingering colonialism within communities of color and the harm it does. As Bell also notes, “ Black men must stop trying to emulate the macho sexism of their white counterparts and work with women toward a more natural and healthy equality between the sexes” (xix). Hopefully the attention this interview is receiving will help further the discussion of colorism in entertainment and add to all of the discussions around the importance of being seen, heard, and validated as all that we are and all that shapes our experiences.