During an interview on The Breakfast Club, Orange Is the New Black star Dascha Polanco found herself having to explain her identity as both a Latina and a black woman.
The exchange—which begins around the five minute mark—between Dascha and Breakfast Club host Charlamagne (Tha God), was spurred when Dascha was asked about her thoughts on the new Nina Simone biopic starring Zoe Saldana, and whether it was insensitive to Simone’s legacy to cast a black woman with very different features from Simone.
She was largely diplomatic and noted that, like everyone else on Earth, she would have loved to see her Orange Is the New Black costar, Uzo Aduba, play the role.
From there, the conversation took an odd turn. Charlamagne suggested that because Nina Simone was African American, perhaps people are upset that a Dominican woman is playing the role. This, of course, is wrong—if only because being Dominican does not actually preclude someone from resembling Nina Simone. Dascha touches on this point by explaining that as an Afro-Latina, she is both Dominican and a black woman. This confuses Charlamagne, who retorts, “What’s that?”
She explains: “I consider myself to be a black woman. And I think a lot of Dominicans should, because from what I see, that’s what we are.”
Of course, she’s right. There is a tendency to try to disconnect African Americans from Afro-Latinos from and in countries like Brazil, the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico—which ignores the fact that the primary difference between those groups of people is that their slave ships from Africa made different stops.
I can look at myself in the mirror and clearly see that I’m the result of some degree of mixing between African slaves, colonists and native peoples—as are most black people in North America, South America and the Caribbean.
Because Charlamagne’s whole schtick is to play the devil’s advocate when the devil is doing just fine on his own, he pushes Dascha on her explanation: “You said you consider yourself a black woman, like why not just be Dominican?”
Because those are not mutually exclusive terms, which Dascha explains in a breakdown of the difference between her nationality and her race.
It’s hard to tell if Charlamagne was genuinely ignorant to the existence of Afro-Latinas or if he was just trying to get a reaction out of his guest. If it’s the former, might I suggest the NBC special, “Black and Latino” with commentary from women like Gina Torres, Tatyana Ali and Christina Milian explaining what it means to be exactly that.
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Image via Monica Schipper/Getty.