Damn, Gina: Gina Rodriguez Falls Short in Apology for Anti-Black Sentiment

Damn Gina Rodriguez 2019 Belatina Sway

Gina Rodriguez, Latina actress beloved for her leading role in Jane the Virgin, has been under fire on social media for what critics are calling out as anti-Black rhetoric. For the first time this week, Rodriguez addressed these criticisms in a tearful interview with Sway on his radio show.

Many of her critics are still unsatisfied, disappointed, and exasperated. Here’s a breakdown of how Rodriguez’s recent allyship went wrong, using as a guide a simple acrostic shared by queer Black activist @ikaylareed on twitter.

A- always center the impacted
L- listen & learn from those who live in the oppression
L- leverage your privilege
Y- yield the floor

Episode 1: Black Panther is Great, But What About the Latinos?

Prior to its release, Rodriguez praised Black Panther for its inclusivity on twitter, but the praise was cut short by her baffling critique. “Marvel and DC are killing it in inclusion and women, but where are the Latinos?! Asking for a friend…” Many people pointed out that there are, in fact, Latina actresses in the comicsphere in high-profile roles. They just happen to be Afro-Latina: Zoe Saldana plays Gamora in the Guardians of the Galaxy franchise and Tessa Thompson stars as Valkyrie in Thor: Ragnarok among other examples.

Furthermore, while most allies were busy acknowledging the precedent that Black Panther was setting for future films and audiences, Rodriguez’s tweet failed to yield the floor to the Black talent who brought the movie to life and the fans who had long been waiting with bated breath for this film to be made. “It’s as if it never occurred to Rodriguez, a Puerto Rican from Chicago, that Black people with Latin American roots might also have identified with Wakanda,” writer Marjua Estevez pointed out in a piece for BET.

Episode 2: Rodriguez All-Lives-Matters Her Interviewer

During a press interview with Xilla Valentine for the animated film Smallfoot, Rodriguez failed to yield the floor to both fellow actress Yara Shahidi the interviewer as he posed a question specifically to Shahidi. “You are just goals for some many young black women who look up to you…” he began, before Rodriguez forcefully interjected: “So many women. Women.” Many of her critics have described this as the moment that Rodriguez “All-Lives-Mattered” the interviewer.

“Yeah… for women too,” emphasized Valentine after a beat, “but for Black women we NEED people on a whole ‘nother level.” By taking Valentine’s praise out of context, Rodriguez may have intended to revere Shahidi as a role model for a universal audience. What instead took place was Rodriguez’s failure to center the impact on an audience craving more representation and an on an artistic field sorely lacking in role models who are Black women. That’s clearly what Valentine was getting at with his question, and Rodriguez’s interruption read as trying to disrupt that narrative.

Episode 3: Myopic Vision on Net-A-Porter

At a Net-A-Porter discussion, Rodriguez joined a few other leading actresses to discuss the issue of pay disparity in Hollywood. In this discussion, Rodriguez again failed to center the impacted by insisting that Latina women were the least paid demographic in a space where “white women get paid more than Black women, Black women get paid more than Asian women, Asian women get paid more than Latina women, and it’s like a very scary space to step into,” she said.

Rodriguez was more or less correct, on a national scale, about Latina women facing the biggest wage gap. Asian women have the smallest pay gap at $0.87 for every dollar paid to non-Hispanic White men in the United States, White women at $0.79 to the dollar, and $0.63, $0.57, and $0.54 for Black, Native American, and Latina women respectively. In the context of the big screen though, she failed to acknowledge that the uber-talented Sofia Vergara is the highest paid actress in the world through her role on Modern Family as well as from commercial endorsements.

She shared with her peers that she was actively leveraging her privilege by setting the culture at her company I Can and I Will Productions. “Which is cool, but maybe she should sit and sincerely unpack her comments and how they mirror the very anti-black language spoken by white people all the time,” wrote Tonja Renée Stidhum in a piece for The Root.

Episode 4: An Insufficient Apology and Playing the Victim

Finally, in her interview with Sway this week, Rodriguez opened up about how shaken she was to have been criticized as anti-Black, offering a tearful apology…of sorts. “If I have hurt you, I am sorry and I will always be sorry, but you have to know that, until you know my heart, there’s no way that we can live off clickbait, you guys.” Hardly an unconditional apology.

She went on to explain that she had never intended to hurt or divide marginalized communities through her vocal Latinx advocacy, and also explained that she grew up steeped in black and Afro-Latina culture and communities (though some people disputed her characterization of her father as a dark-skinned Afro-Latino).

Gina Rodriguez Damn Photo Credit Getty Belatina
Gina Rodriguez Photo Credit Getty

Her apology has been insufficient for many social media users who feel that she is dismissing their critiques as uninformed or incited by clickbait rather than acknowledging their own experiences with oppression, playing the victim by deflecting responsibility for her anti-Black words.

These are the moments — perhaps the most difficult ones for people of privilege, including myself — when self-proclaimed allies can grow by listening and learning from oppressed voices rather than resisting being called out as racist. Yes clickbait is real; yes the intentions may have been good; yes Rodriguez has a life story that users on the internet don’t know; but if she wants to be an ally to her Black fans and followers, the boldest thing she can do for them is listen and learn.