I like Charlamagne. I read and thoroughly enjoyed Black Privilege. His voice in pop culture is an important one. But y’all know the saying with great power comes great responsibility. Not to mention, now is the time to call men out, to hold them accountable for the detrimental things they say and do. And since we’re Black women who are invested in Black women, we have a particular interest and responsibility to Black women.
Yesterday, we wrote about Amara La Negra’s sit down with The Breakfast Club. In the piece, Victoria focused on Amara’s stance on relationships and infidelity. But today, I want to discuss another part of the interview where Amara was speaking about her racial identity, her Blackness, being an Afro-Latina and the struggles she faces being a darker skinned woman in the Latin community.
Before the interview had even gone a single minute, Charlamagne asks, “What are you? Like race wise.”
It was a rude and crass question. And while she bristled at first, she answered.
DJ Envy asked.
“What is an Afro-Latino was half Black, half something else.”
Amara immediately put her educator hat on. But let’s pause here. The American educational system, especially in regards to Black history is generally garbage. Still, I find it hard to excuse grown people not understanding the fundamentals of the Trans Atlantic Slave Trade. It covered the entire Atlantic Ocean, which means African people were sold as slaves to other nations outside of the U.S.
Later, Charlamagne tries to modify Amara’s identity. “You can always just say you’re a Latina with an afro.
She responds: “Even if I didn’t have an afro, I’m still Afro-Latina because I come from African descent, that’s what it is.”
Then Angela Yee, probably annoyed by the trajectory of the conversation said, “We had Dascha Polanco up here from “Orange is the New Black” and she said she’s Afro-Latina too and we had this whole discussion with her.”
A little bit later in the interview, DJ Envy asked if everyone in the room was clear on the definition of Afro-Latino.
Charlamagne said, “I’ve had it explained to me several times so I’m familiar.”
Then Amara started speaking about the lack of representation of darker skinned Latinas in the industry. Colorism. It’s a thing and it exists outside of the context of America.
Amara said, “We come in so many different shades that why is it so hard for people to understand and accept me? 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 has 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, ‘You don’t look Latino enough.’ What does that even mean? There isn’t a Latin American country that doesn’t have people that look like myself. So why aren’t we on magazines? Why aren’t we in movies? It bothers me. I went to do an audition for a Latin soap opera and they told me I had a special look. Special look means you’re Black. And they were like, ‘Honestly, because you’re so cool, we’re just going to tell you the truth. If we have any roles like a prostitute…Bible… or a gangster or maybe if we do a slave soap opera, we’ll definitely have you in mind.”
Charlamagne: “You should have told them, that’s not how you treat special people.”
Amara: “But at that moment, just to hear that you don’t even know how to react. It’s really hard. We don’t have a Black Lives Matter movement. We don’t have Martin Luther Kings, we don’t Malcolm X, we don’t have the voice.
Charlamagne: When we talk about Black and Brown people and police brutality, y’all are included in that.
Then Angela Yee asked about colorism amongst Dominicans.
Amara: “I wouldn’t say amongst the Dominicans because that’s very limited. I would say amongst the Latin community, there is. As far as the Latin community, we kind of just shut up and sit back. That’s why no one has really heard about us.”
Charlamagne: “I don’t know much about this situation but I cannot believe people are still tripping off image in 2018. We live in this industry now, like, I don’t even know what HER looks like. I just know her music is jamming. I feel like if you put out dope music, people rock with your music.”
Amara: “People focus on what’s happening in this part of the world but over here, there’s more people. There are more things happening.”
Angela Yee, trying again, “Who did you look up to when you were a little girl?”
Amara: “When I was little, I used to look up to Celia Cruz. She was the only Afro-Latina that made it worldwide. She was like our Michael Jackson. Unfortunately, when she passed away, I had to look at the American market, Whitney Houston, Donna Summer, Tina Turner. The new generation coming up doesn’t have anybody. It’s my place to make that difference. As much as we think we have advanced, we have a long way to go.”
Charlamagne: “What exactly is the struggle that you’re facing?”
It seems like a thoughtful question. But it illustrates just how much he had not been listening during the entire 40-something minute interview.
Amara: “It’s very similar. They’ll always pick the lighter. Who cares if you’re talented, who cares if you’re educated. You’re always going to be the last option.”
Envy: “That’s so crazy to me because I don’t see that.”
Amara: “You don’t see it where?”
Charlamagne: “I don’t even see it in Hollywood no more, times have changed a loooot.”
Amara: “The same thing I go back to, I’m coming from the Latin market into the American market.”
Charlamagne: “You sure it’s not in your mind?”
Angela Yee: “We just saw it happen on Love and Hip Hop!”
Charlamagne: “But that’s Love and Hip Hop… But what is Cardi B? How do you explain her? Her teeth was messed up. She came from the strip club now she’s America’s darling.”
Amara: “You just said it she’s America’s darling. She popped up in the American, not the Latin market and now the Latin market is accepting her.”
DJ Envy: “Do you think it’s because she’s lighter than you too?”
Amara gives him a knowing look.
When Envy pressed her again, she said, “We don’t look the same.”
It was hard to watch. So much so that Laz Alonso, another Afro Latinx offered this comment to Charlamagne.
If this were the first time a conversation with Charlamagne took a turn for the ignorant I might have been able to explain it. But this is far from the first time. Like Angela Yee mentioned there was the sit down with Dascha Polanco. Later, in 2016, Charlamagne, on his podcast “The Brilliant Idiots” sat down with Marjua Estevez and Venessa Marco to discuss the identity. And if you thought the conversation with Amara was cringeworthy, this one was absolutely painful. I mean I felt true anger afterward. Not because Charlamagne didn’t know but because instead of trying to LISTEN and learn, he’s comfortable leaning on ignorance.
Even choosing to be willfully ignorant and not conduct any research about your guest because she’s on “Love and Hip Hop” is a choice. But then he should have been quiet in the corner. To one, completely miss that she was making a distinction between Latin and American markets shows a lack of effort. But to then discredit her experiences, asking if they were in her mind, to point to examples like Cardi B., SZA and Issa Rae is the exact same thing White people do. What Charlamagne did was mansplain the entire interview after admitting his own ignorance. It’s classic patriarchal and misogynistic behavior. It’s American centered. But more than that, it represents yet another incident when Black men fail to listen to Black women and our struggles, even when we are patiently explaining.
And while Amara was speaking about colorism specifically in the Latin market, Charlamagne’s insistence that it doesn’t exist here in America is not only blind, with his platform, it’s detrimental. Maybe he didn’t hear about the casting call debacle with Straight Outta Compton, where darker skinned women were to be cast as low class. Maybe he didn’t pay attention to Kodak Black’s comments. Perhaps he missed the news about Rickey Smiley’s own thoughts on darker skinned women. He obviously wasn’t listening when Sevyn Streeter sat down and spoke about the same issue. Maybe he hasn’t counted the number of darker skinned women consistently working in Hollywood. There’s a chance even though he works in radio that he hasn’t noticed the prevalence of Black men stating their preference for redbones. Lil Wayne comes to the forefront of my mind and there was a stretch of time, not too long ago, when he was spreading those messages on the radio for years.
Charlamagne, unfortunately, like so many Black men fails to identify the struggles of Black folk who don’t share his gender and sexual orientation. If it’s not directly affecting Black men, or not as badly, it’s not worth their time.
But the culture is more than straight, Black, American men. And if Charlamagne’s going to continue to be embraced by it, he’s going to have to take the time to listen, educate himself and do better. There will come a day when people get tired of asking and waiting for him to grow. We’ll just move on to someone who is invested in the liberation of all Black people.