Damn Gina! The uproar on social media about Gina Rodriguez using the N word have been wild to say the least. If you haven’t already heard, Rodriguez posted an Instagram video of herself singing a Fugees song which included the N word. Twitter lost it. Her name started trending with a quickness. She was labeled anti-Black (again) and opportunistic among other things for saying the word. That was in a song lyric.
So, let’s hold that thought for a moment, shall we? Just a few weeks ago, rapper Fat Joe went on Hot 97’s “EBro in the Morning” show to discuss music, and Latin music’s roots, which led to the following statement. “All Latinos are black.”
His logic was compelling and his facts mostly accurate. Latinos from Spanish speaking Caribbean islands like Cuba, The Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico all have Black communities that were brought to the islands during the Trans-Atlantic slave trade. The intermixing is plainly obvious in the way people look, the music they make, and for some their religion.
The feedback was met with plenty of agreement.
Some people took issue with his blanket statement because it acknowledged one culture (African) over another (Indigenous and European). We’ll shelve the fact that people have been emphasizing one culture over another (Spanish over African) for years because that’s a whole other conversation.
So, based on Fat Joe’s logic isn’t Gina Rodriguez, a Puerto Rican woman from Chicago, black? Her repeating the N word, a racial slur for African Americans for centuries, would be a moot point if she was considered black. Except that she’s not and probably never will be.
The need to transform this word has been a debate for decades. How do we know? Let’s consider that the N word is still used and accepted in the Black community whether as slang, a pronoun, or a “term of endearment.” People even claim its use is exclusive to African Americans. This persists despite the fact that no one person, or group, exclusively “own” language, words or access to them. Those who are not Black and use the N word have “conditional” Blackness. In other words they’re given a pass.
The reactions to Gina prove that most Latinos are not viewed as Black– conditional or otherwise–and that the Black pass is as exclusive as Willy Wonka’s golden ticket. Exhibit A: Rodriguez has been trending for days because she sang a song lyric.
Conditional blackness can be issued, revoked, traded and celebrated depending on the person and circumstance. In other words, some people get a Black card, and some people don’t.
To make matters worse, this isn’t the first time the “Jane the Virgin” actress has been accused of being anti-black. In 2018 she questioned Marvel’s employment of Latino actors after the success of “Black Panther,” and incorrectly stated Black women make more money than Latinas. People take her advocating for Latinos as anti-Black or stirring the pot between communities. This latest round of publicized obliviousness, while comparatively harmless, is more gas on the fire.
It also shows that being viewed as Black largely depends on place and space. Fat Joe belongs to the world of hip hop–a music born and raised by Blacks and Latinos in New York City. Gina is a Hollywood actress. Joe makes music where using the N word liberally is the norm, not the exception. Gina has portrayed straight laced virgins and cartoon darlings like Carmen San Diego. Even though Joe is light skinned, he has been given the “Black” card. As far as he is aware, history supports his thesis that “All Latinos are Black.” But Gina, who has a darker complexion, does not. In this case physical appearances are largely irrelevant. No matter how many apologies she publicizes they’ll largely be ignored. The pass is all about perception. And what they’re “allowed” to be at any given moment by those who see them in different contexts.
Let me be clear, even singing the N word in a song is tired. I don’t support or condone it — from anyone. So maybe the word itself should be retired from our lexicon rather than being redefined and re-imagined. The logic of reclamation seems to have caused more conflict than when it was exclusively a slur. Maybe that is what will bridge the gaps among people rather than continue to divide us.