As a black woman displaced into the Americas, it was an interesting experience to listen
to Amara La Negra on the breakfast club with Angela Yee, Charlemagne, and DJ Envy. Their conversation illustrates the duality of denial and representation without actual reconciliation.
“I thought you were black until you opened your mouth”
The interview gets off to a provincial start, as DJ Envy, a black man, articulates his initial perception of Amara. He states that he thought she was a black woman until she started speaking, and revealed an obvious Spanish influenced dialect. His admission, while certainly crass, reveals that most perceive black and “latin” as mutually exclusive despite race and ethnicity as always occurring at the same time.
This confusion is a deliberate method of colonialism, where the stolen siblings of mother Africa fail to recognize one another due to mythic categories and attributes created by our shared oppressor. Amara, a Miami-born black woman of Dominican ethnicity, like countless of other black bodies displaced throughout the diaspora, share the same African mother as the black bodies displaced the states centuries ago. But as illustrated in the dissonance birthed from Amara’s speech, there is a line of demarcation between what constitutes blackness and what functions as blackness.
So while skin complexion is a large component of blackness, it is not the sole identifier. Amara’s dialect shapes how she is perceived, and though on first instinct she takes a place beside Lauryn Hill, Pam Grier, and others perceived as “black,” her dialect births an ambiguity that in a North American setting, allows Amara to fall into attempts implemented by oppressors to divide the race into ethnicities that function as central and displace race as peripheral. Envy’s admission illustrates how exoticism functions as Afro-Latinas leave the nest and travel beyond the diaspora, as attributes that constituted subjugation their hometown, are symbols of difference, and thus a means to place others in the very base placement they assumed in their native country. Thus, though an overtly black woman who will undoubtedly face similar abjection in the American market as she did in the Latin market, Amara’s speech, Diasporic displacement, in addition to her heavy investment in nationality namely her proclamation that she is “100% Latina,” function as a privilege or exoticism that fictively places her above those not given the option to choose their placement in America.
Inadvertently, Envy’s initial comment and the comments Charlemagne would go on to make, illustrate America as a source of escapism. Where those displaced in countries where their are more of “us” and less of “them” their features are easily dismissed and demeaned in favor of the lighter skinned and the straighter haired. So while Amara outlines the problems she faced as a black artist in the Latin market, she speaks of the issue Diasporic Africans have, but seldom admit to having, towards blackness. This proves that despite the colonists attempts to convinced the colonized that “it’s different” other places in the diaspora, the plight is very much the same.
Colorism: A Problem of the Past?
Despite the shared experience of systemic racism, Envy and Charlemagne insist that racism and colorism are matters of the past. Charlemagne evokes the age old argument where a mentally enslaved member of the black collective tosses out one or two examples that appear to challenge ideas of prejudice and racism. This very act, of course, illustrates racism. Naming one or two token black faces that exist in still very white spaces is not progress. Particularly, Charlemagne references Issa Rae and Sza, Issa Rae, who authors a series sullied in black female stereotypes, and SZA who is grammy nominated for what many are calling the “side-chick anthem,” exist in traditionally
white spaces as tokens of black inferiority—women who sacrificed their bodies to the entertain the oppositional gaze. Their discussion also erases the plight of Normani of Fifth Harmony, a clear standout from the group, that in her solo career will most likely be under-promoted, not due to a lack of talent, but what the world would deem an “overrepresentation of melanin.” Their consistent downplay of colorism and racism is ironically undermined by the presence of co-host Angela Yee— a light complected woman of Asian and African ancestry who occupies a position largely unattainable for those not deemed exotic.
An Unintentional Activist
During the interview, Amara La Negra is clear to state that she is not seeking to be an activist. Yes, she is vocalizing colorism as a conflict in the Afro-Latin community, but she clearly articulates that her intentions are to be Amara La Negra the artist and not Assata Shakur. The admission is a significant one, because it illustrates the desire of a black and seemingly Afro-centric body to separate itself from the militancy many associate with said image. Hearing Amara articulate herself as activist adjacent prompts me to ask” Why don the style then? As her comments reveal her 4c hair as an attribute of “Amara,” and not intentionally Africana, and certainly not a “black power” initiative.
#metoo, I’m Black
This query evokes the ever-present issue of action and image. One of the reasons why Assata Shakur was such a force was because she breathed blackness. Though some are not that transparent. Thus, a “woke” woman with a press, states a similar cognitively dissonant image as Amara, who embodies blackness but whose sole objective is to get the masses to look past it. This makes me wonder if her shift to the American market is an exploitive one. Namely, we are in a “black” moment. By “black moment” I mean that “blackness” is a fad. It is now cool to don natural hair and talk about “black” oppression and disenfranchisement, as long as your actions are to not provoke serious thought. Amara La Negra, though at the beginning of her career, is already performing a similar function. Her looks provoke a conversation that certainly needs to take place. However, her objectives are to foment the discussion as a means to capture the oppositional gaze—to center her peripheral presence, not to centralize blackness, but to be perceived as a white person would.
Do you think she is lighter than you?
Cardi B is a predictable talking point for this conversation. There is a weird part of the interview where DJ Envy asks Amara La Negra to explain Cardi’s success, in her discussion of colorism. This part was interesting as it seems that Envy and Charlemegane saw the two women as interchangeable since both have Dominican roots. Envy stirs the pot by asking Amara if she felt that Cardi was “lighter than her.” To this Amara does not dignify with a response. Now, overtly Amara’s response suggests an obvious answer to Envy’s question. But, given Amara’s deliberate pseudo activism, it is apparent to the conscious gaze that if Amara could be Cardi B, in terms of eschewing dialogues of color and hair texture, and be a “superstar” before she is black, she would.
So what does this all mean? First, please allow me to clarify my contemplation.
I like Amara la Negra. She’s easily one of the most beautiful women I have ever seen. I am also indebted to her part in orchestrating this conversation of diasporic blackness. However, as an Afro-Latina seeking to succeed in the American market—her objective functions to further objectify and oppressed the black woman displaced in America. As an American artists she becomes one of the many abducted Africans marketed as a “black heroine” who checks hispanic and not black— who become an ethnicity and not a race— leaving the black female body cheering for the wrong team.
Admittedly, it is also hard to completely empathize with Amara, because she highlights colorism as an aspect of racism that remains unextinguished, yet overlooks the racism that garnered her the fame she presently enjoys. Love and Hip Hop succeeds because it foments racist perceptions of black people. Her casting on the series is not due to her sophistication, but an effort to reinforce stereotypes about black people. Her presence of the series functions to market her to a specific demographic where she, like Evelyn Lozada, becomes a representative of a race despite her heavy nationalistic investment. The issue with blacks like Amara, and there are plenty of them, is that racism is individualistic and is only cited when presenting a personal burden. Racism is a collective problem, and anyone who does not see racism as a ubiquitous conflict is not an ally in its abolishment.
On one hand, Amara highlights what happens when a black body seeks to exist beyond color in the spotlight of the oppositional gaze. On the other hand, she illustrates the significance of choice. Namely, that accepting blackness as innately intersectional and all-encompassing disables the separated siblings of the black diaspora from functioning against one another. Namely, in simply declining to celebrate our “drop-offs”–or what functions as nationalism– and denouncing traits that prove reminiscent of our master or conquest, we assume a place alongside one another, and imbue the pro-black initiative necessary to extinguish white attempts to ensure their supremacy remains stagnant. In this same breath, had Amara, like the countless others who become ammo against the African diaspora, make her pro-black ideology clear, she would not be a cast-mate on Love and Hip Hop, and she would not be on the road to main stream stardom.
The embedded lesson is that the black collective must remain skeptical of white media and who they designate as black heroes and allies, because white media is inherently anti-black. Namely, in becoming mainstream in American culture, the black body becomes not an agent of African-ness but a weapon used against black people. So when Amara quotes producers instructing her to be “more Beyonce and less Macy Gray” they are demanding the black female body don an stance that “apologies” for her blackness and becomes a solider of white supremacy. Beyonce, although a black woman, does not function as black. As a public figure she has a specific purpose, and that is to implement oppression behind the veil of entertainment. Amara, as a diasporic African with varying functionality, will function to diversify the means of oppression onto the black collective. She, like the black female bodies that came before her, will function to make the black female body feel represented to distract from the “feel” of the rope around their collective necks.
Black Power ❤