Uncovering Anti-Blackness in Casual Conversation: Young Hollywood’s Words to Amara La Negra

Last week’s premiere of Love & Hip Hop: Miami has sparked a few debates that have been airing since on social media. One focus is an interaction between music producer Young Hollywood and rising Dominican star Amara La Negra, who declares herself a proud Afro-Latina. The scene left many viewers squirming in their seats and others feeling unclear on what the big deal was. Most discussions about the episode, though, are centered on some accusing Amara La Negra of blackface, and others defending the artist against these absurd claims, and the racism behind them. I want to give attention to the kinds of associations Young Hollywood makes in casual conversation with Amara La Negra because they perfectly capture widespread, beneath the surface biases and prejudices that exist in the Latinx community, and amount to anti-blackness.

 

What Young Hollywood says: “In the music industry, they’re looking for cookie cutter poster childs.”

What his words do: They imply that Amara La Negra, as she is and markets herself (an Afro-wearing and proud woman who brings attention to herself being Latina and black), is not what people want to see. She does not fit a desired prototype that will ensure her success.

What Young Hollywood says: Amara La Negra’s look needs to be “a little bit more Beyoncé, a little less Macy Gray. You know, you gotta be a little bit more sensual.” His comments refer to her Afro hairstyle as being in need of change. Amara La Negra’s fashion otherwise can be described as more similar to Beyoncé’s than Macy Gray’s anyway.

What his words do: They position Macy Gray and Beyoncé as polar opposites, with one pole (Beyoncé) being visually appealing and the other (Macy Gray) not. Macy Gray, who often sported an Afro in her height of fame, stands in as an example of Afro-centricity. Beyoncé, stands in as an example of a woman with a preferred, and notably Eurocentric, appearance. She is a more ideal representation of a black woman. We must note that Beyoncé is also widely considered beautiful, and desirable. On the other hand, Macy Gray is not known for her beauty, but rather her eccentric style.

What can we understand from this binary Young Hollywood makes and his equating Amara La Negra’s look with Macy Gray’s? That her effort to fully put forth an image of proud blackness by wearing her hair in an Afro is not appealing or pretty. That there is a more acceptable black woman’s appearance, and like Beyoncé’s it is mostly long straight/wavy-blonde-haired, sensual, and embraces Eurocentricity, if not light-complexioned. He implies that Blackness shown otherwise is not sensual, elegant, or beautiful. It is deviant and undesirable, like Macy Gray’s and Amara La Negra’s style. A simple Afro has made the Dominican singer’s look eccentric and undesirable because, we can assume from the conversation, proudly rocking Blackness when Latina is certainly not in style.

“Oh, so you saying I can’t have an Afro and be elegant?” Amara La Negra asks.

“Yeah, I guess so,” Young Hollywood answers.

What Young Hollywood says: “What made this whole Amara ‘black and proud Afro’ thing?”

What his words do: They point to the idea that to take pride in blackness is something that people do and is made (read invented), rather than it being an emotional state people simply exist in. More importantly, his attitude shows that he finds this annoying and unnecessary.

So, what can we conclude?

Young Hollywood uncovers a double standard: celebrating whiteness is a taken for granted norm whereas celebrating Blackness is not. Pride in whiteness and lightness is always already assumed. No one has to do anything. Being white (or light) is to have unquestioned value so people do not need to actively take pride in it, though of course people do anyway by applauding straight hair and fair skin. But still, taking pride in whiteness is not noteworthy in the way that taking pride in blackness is. White (or light) already includes pride. No one needs to point to or question the pride that people have in fair skin and straight hair. I doubt Young Hollywood has ever questioned other Latina artists in this way about why they might make curly hair (or weaves or wigs) straight.

In his view, to celebrate blackness is an effort, and apparently an annoying and unnecessary one. To take pride in blackness is to actually do something, rather than to simply be and love oneself. It is also an effort that leaves somebody stumped (why ever would anyone do this?), which brought him to his question in the first place.

The long response is outside of the points I’m making about everyday conversation and anti-Blackness. In brief, being black (or Afro-descendant) in Latinx communities has historically been (and continues to be) considered ugly, undesirable, and shameful, and a source of social, economic, and political inequality. Given that—sometimes embracing blackness is a daily effort and important act of self-love. One that is very necessary. Young Hollywood may have accurately pointed to Amara La Negra’s intentional expression of pride in being Afro-Latina, where he missed the mark was in his effort to shame her for this.

What Young Hollywood says: “You’re just a little intense about this whole African thing.”

What his words do: They make her frustration an “African” thing (she is not African!), instead of acknowledging that it is a Latinx thing. They indicate that feeling emotionally affected and angered by being bombarded with people’s biases and prejudice is wrong, and a “problem.” In fact, it is the problem, instead of his biases. Young Hollywood minimizes Amara La Negra’s feelings, and ignores the straightforward and subtle anti-blackness in Latinx communities, which he has undoubtedly witnessed and the singer says she has experienced first-hand, like most Afro-Latinx people. In effect, Young Hollywood’s words are degrading, just as it is degrading to accuse Afro-Latinxs affected by personal experiences with discrimination of being “angry” or delusional.

What Young Hollywood says: In efforts to calm Amara La Negra’s growing agitation, Young Hollywood refers to her as a “beautiful Afro-Latina queen… Nutella queen.”

What his words do: Maybe an effort towards kindness, his words end up being patronizing. Associating Amara La Negra with Nutella is a humiliating commentary on her blackness—that hopes to make it appealingly tasty and sweet for his indulgence.  In that move, viewers got a nice dose of patriarchy’s machismo, a touch of misogyny, all wrapped up with the disrespectful boiling of her blackness (which she clearly takes very seriously) down to a creamy spread.

How did this conversation end?

What Young Hollywood says: “I gotta keep it 100, you’re psychotic.”

What his words do: They claim that Amara La Negra could only be crazy. Not rightfully proud, intelligent, vulnerable to prejudice, protective of her womanhood and Latina identity. Not a woman who is holding her ground in a rather insulting conversation with a man in an industry known for its sexism and colorism. No, of course not that. She is psychotic.

I think we can forgive Young Hollywood for his ignorance that “Afro” paired with Latinx refers to a Latinx person of African ancestry—people who form sizable populations in countries like the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Colombia, Cuba, and Puerto Rico, and are also in Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, Peru, Mexico, and beyond. It may not be fair to blame him for what he does not know. What we can fault him for is how he so effortlessly wields that ignorance to try and put down the beautiful songstress before him, and her proud afrolatinidad.

This LHH Miami interaction so clearly reveals that anti-blackness can be captured in a few simple words of the most unassuming minds. Young Hollywood was honestly saying what many across Latinx communities really think and feel without realizing its ugliness or harm. His words were everyday conversation in my world and because of that, were not in the least bit shocking when I saw the episode.

But that does not mean we shouldn’t bring attention to them in hopes that they can change. The producer had no bad intentions necessarily. That is the deep part—how much he did not even realize he could possibly be saying anything offensive. Simple phrases like “she’s dark/black/negra/morena/prieta BUT pretty” are heavy with the racism that is a part of our communities. The kinds of negative associations that are made with blackness are so deeply rooted and widespread that they are invisible swords inflicting pain on Afro-Latinxs and teaching people to be prejudiced.

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Sabia McCoy-Torres is a Ph.D. of social and cultural anthropology, and Assistant Professor of Anthropology and Africana Studies at Tulane University. Her research focuses on the African Diaspora in Latin America and the Caribbean, race, popular music and culture. She is a proud native New Yorker hailing from the Bronx. She tweets from @AcademicHustla.

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