Thoughts on Zoe, People of Color, and 25 Things #4

So, I was just scrolling through my Facebook Newsfeed and came across an article from the Clutch Magazine website. In this article, actress Zoe Saldana proudly claims that "there is no such thing as people of color."

Sigh. Well. Naturally this comment sparked some serious discussions in the comments panel, and it certainly caused me to do a bit of a side-eye myself. Most importantly, though, it prompted me to write; so this is a side-eye I am most thankful for. Now...let's discuss! :)

So...apparently, Zoe was interviewed by BET and at some point, they asked her how she identifies herself, as far as her race/ethnicity is concerned. Here was her response:

I find it uncomfortable to have to speak about my identity all of the time, when in reality it’s not something that drives me or wakes me up out of bed everyday. I didn’t grow up in a household where I was categorized by my mother. I was just Zoe and I could have and be anything that I ever wanted to do…and every human being is the same as you. So to all of a sudden leave your household and have people always ask you, “What are you, what are you” is the most uncomfortable question and it’s literally the most repetitive question. I can’t wait to be in a world where people are sized by their soul and how much they can contribute as individuals and not what they look like.

Now, for those of you who have been following my posts on here, you know that I recently wrote about this same "issue". So, I was with Zoe 100%. It can be a bit uncomfortable to be asked to define your race to those who, in their unfortunate ignorance, feel that you don't display the more "obvious characteristics" of an African-American. And by obvious characteristics, I am speaking from the perspective of those who feel that being Black is equated only with having darker skin, fuller lips, wider noses, etc. Like I said, unfortunate ig'nance. They gon' learn one day.

In Zoe's case, however, I am sure the question is if she identifies as Black or Latina or both; and while the question is more "understandable" in this context (I thought she was Black until I found out what her last name was), I know from experience how annoying the question can be.

Additionally, I agree with her idea that we should be defined more by who we are within than what color we represent on the outside. It's a bit idealistic, to say the least, as we live in a world where this sadly will never happen. I mean, true, I don't feel as if it is my race that my friends and peers think of first when identifying me. I'm outgoing, fun, intelligent, talented, beautiful and a little bit crazy first. My race is added as an afterthought, if even mentioned at all, I'm sure. However, in the bigger scheme of things, the color of our skin is the ultimate defining factor in how we are perceived as a whole, as a collective. It is how it's always been and how it will always be.

So again, a bit idealistic, to say the least.

But still, I was with her. I felt her. I was all, "I hear ya, Zoe. I hear ya."

Until she added this:

I literally run away from people that use words like ethnic. It’s preposterous! To me there is no such thing as people of color cause in reality people aren’t white. Paper is white. People are pink, it’s a bit ridiculous when I have to explain to a human being, that is an adult like I am, that looks intelligent but for some reason I have to question his intelligence and explain to him as if he was a two year old, my composition in order for him to say, “Oh I guess I can chill with you, I can work with you.” I will not underestimate a human being and I will not allow another human being to underestimate me. I feel like as a race, that’s a minute problem against the problems we face just as women versus men, in a world that’s more geared and designed to cater towards the male species.

I have mixed feelings about the above paragraph. Let me get the questionables out of the way first.

First of all, I happen to cringe at the word "ethnic" as well. And I think it comes from an experience I had overseas (Oh hell, there she goes talking about her time overseas again...there. I said it. So you don't have to.) I was at an awards ceremony at the international school I taught at and I had my hair tied up in a turban E. Badu circa Baduism days style. The Early Years Coordinator (I think she was either Irish or Scottish) brought her cankle-having ass up to me and said: "Kristen, you look very lovely; very ethnic. But not very professional at all."

Inner monologue at the time: 

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What I said aloud though was: "Thank you. I too feel that I look very lovely and this style is a representation of my ethnicity and African culture...much like our Arab female co-workers who wear their hair covered as a symbol of their religion and culture. And we can represent ourselves in this way and still look professional...which I do." And with that I looked down at the too-small clogs she was weighing down with her excessive ankle weight, gave her a look that said, "Now THAT is both unprofessional AND offensive," and walked the hell away.

Ethnic. I know what ethnic groups are but what does it mean when you are defined simply as "ethnic"? A friend of mine suggested that what Miss Cankles probably meant to say was "exotic" but still. Am I to believe that looking "exotic" (whatever that means) AND professional is something that cannot happen at the same time? Sigh. I'm sorry. I'm digressing. We're talking about Zoe right now. Let me teleport back into the Now. I was back in that place for a minute. *woooooosaaaaaaaaaaah*

Zoe, though. I am not sure what she meant exactly with her comment. I am not sure if she was referring to the word ethnic in terms of it being used to define her as an individual, or as a means to describe which group she belongs to. If it is the latter, then clearly she does not feel that "ethnic groups" exist; hence her follow-up claim that "there is no such thing as people of color."

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And that's all I have to say about that.

Zoe, Zoe, Zoe. That is a very powerful statement you've made there. If she would have kept with her idea that we are much more than what our skin color dictates, I would have continued to be supportive of the points she was hoping to get across. However, she finishes off with: "...because in reality, people aren't white. Paper is white. People are pink."

People are pink.

People are pink.

People are pink.

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I ain't pink, boo. I've seen white people who are pink. These individuals on the photo above are, for whatever odd reason, pink. But I ain't pink. *sucks teeth*

All jokes aside, though, it seems that Zoe's true cause of frustration has come to a head here. I could be wrong; I could be reading too much into it. But it sounds to me like Zoe is having, or has had some "Man, sometimes I wish I was white" moments.

I get it. She is in a business where the whiter your Black ass can be, the better. So it is understandable that she doesn't view her being asked of her ethnicity as a question of whether she is Latina or Black. She sees it as a measure of whether or not she is good enough. Good enough for the role. Good enough to be taken seriously in this industry. Good enough to "chill with", to "work with". And in this perspective, I feel a bit sad for her as I understand her frustration. To have to wonder what it is they want to hear, what it is she has to be. It's all bullshit, really. But it's the business. It's Hollywood. It's what the hell she signed up for.

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At the same time, though, these are opportunities that she could seize as those in which she can represent who she is "ethnically" with endearing pride and grace. I'm not in this business so it's easy for me to sit back and say what I would do in a similar situation. Still, I'd probably walk into auditions and meetings wearing a t-shirt with the following inscription displayed in large, legible writing >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

You know...so there won't be any confusion.

I am a Black woman. An AFRICAN-American woman. A Woman of Color; a person of Color in an international, GLOBAL group of PEOPLE OF COLOR. And Zoe, your melanin-having ass is a part of this group as well. Embrace it. Accept it. And when people ask, loudly proclaim it. It's who we are and there is nothing more beautiful than it. People are pink? The hell outta here.

I started off this post simply wanting to get my feelings about this article off my chest and as I neared my conclusion, I decided to make this number 4 on my list: I am bothered by Women of Color who don't embrace their color. Who make excuses to justify their hidden desires to disassociate with it in order to appeal to those who may view said color as a setback. Yes, there is a stigma surrounding the roles of men vs. women in damn near every aspect of life. But to refer to the issue of race as one that is minute in comparison seems to be a bit of a cop-out.

It's a strange internal tug-of-war, though. On one end, one may feel that they do not want to be defined by their color. They'd rather be, as Zoe said, "sized by their souls and how much they can contribute as individuals." Fair enough.

But then on the other end, we have the pride and strong sense of self that comes from the way we identify ourselves, particularly as it pertains to our ethnicity. So how do we find that balance? And is Zoe trying to find that balance or is she disregarding her background altogether, perhaps to not be reminded of how it can potentially be a hindrance in the line of work she's chosen?

I don't know. I have a great respect for my sisters who are finding success in an industry that aims to white-wash them as best they can. Additionally, I am a fan of Zoe as an actress, and even defended her when everyone was in an uproar about her being cast to play Nina Simone. No, I didn't think it was the best choice aesthetically but I have come to expect such from Hollywood. Of course they will get someone with fairer skin and silkier hair and now, having read this article, I can add to the list damn near detached from her African roots (she's Dominican...them niggas Black) to play one of our Queens of Blackness. It's Hol-ly-wood. And to her, it's a J-O-B.

This article has me on some serious side-eye with her now. Yet I recognize that I may be off in my interpretation of the message she was trying to convey. Again, she had me in the beginning, but then kind of fell off when she chose to completely disregard the existence of Color, and her justifications seemed more based on her hopes of being accepted in this color-struck business. What do ya'll think? Holla back.

K.

Posted on May 20, 2013 and filed under skin tone.