The interview with Amara La Negra and The Breakfast Club was so hard to watch not only because it represented a complete lack of awareness from Charlamagne and DJ Envy but also because it wasn’t the first time the two personalities, Charlamagne specifically, had talked about Afro-Latinx identity.
I remember watching an extensive interview on Afro Latino Activism featuring Charlamagne, his co-host Andrew Schulz and two Afro Latinas Venessa Marco and Marjua Estevez.
While some were able to dismiss Charlamagne’s conversation with Amara La Negra as lack of exposure or ignorance, I knew that wasn’t the case. In 2016, over a year before he spoke to Amara, he had a similar conversation. He had been introduced to the concept, he simply chose not to listen.
So when Charlamagne questioned Amara’s identity and whether or not her struggles with colorism were real or imagined, I immediately thought of Marjua, who just so happens to be a former coworker of mine.
Sure enough, she took issue with his treatment of Amara.
I reached out to Marjua to get her thoughts on that first conversation she and Venessa Marco had with Charlamagne and Andrew Schulz, the interview with Amara and the Afro Latino identity in general.
Her conversation with Charlamagne
It was probably one of the most difficult conversations I had to have because I’m used to writing about this. Back then, I wasn’t used to talking about this, much less on a public platform. And even less, with two people whom have no idea where we were coming from. If I didn’t get taught my own history in school, you didn’t get taught that history. So it was tough to try to explain in an hour and a half. And it was tough to explain with Andrew White-boy-colonizing that conversation.
It was very difficult because there was no genuine interest in trying to understand, there was no eagerness in trying to learn anything. It was just Andrew attacking us and C tha God let him. He let him attack two women of color. That’s not cool in any way shape or form. So I already felt a sort of way internally. I didn’t want to wear my heart on my sleeve but it was a very emotionally taxing conversation to have. It’s sad enough that people think that this term “Afro Latino,” that history, that culture doesn’t even exist. So for someone to further perpetuate this erroneous lie, it’s tough to unpack that. Especially, and I have to say this--we tried to talk to about this and again, Andrew negated all of it and even made fun of it: There’s a privilege to looking like me and Venessa. We have light skin privilege. We have the privilege of being IDed as Latina or other or exotic or whatever. Not everywhere that we go will we be IDed as Black. That’s another layer that we have to constantly unpack and not everyone is for it.
So it was tough for Andrew to tell us ‘You should be ashamed of yourself for saying you have light skin privilege over your friends.’ That wasn’t me dogging anyone. That was us saying this is the reality of the situation. If we walk into a room, I’m going to be treated a certain way that my darker skinned sister isn’t.
There’s a privilege in me reclaiming my Blackness. There’s a trauma, yes. There’s a trauma that comes with that also but there’s a privilege in me because I can choose. I don’t have to claim shit. I could walk in this world and just ID as Latina, whatever it is that the government wants to call me. But reclaiming Blackness that’s a political act, that’s a political gesture and it’s an ancestral one.
So speaking to those two guys, it was really frustrating.You know, on one hand, I understand Charlamagne, back then, had questions. And that’s genuine because if you’re not being taught this history, ‘Ok, let me teach you.’ But then to fast forward so many years later and to attack Amara La Negra, who is visibly and globally IDed, who is discernibly IDed as a Black woman until you hear her speak. Until you hear her speak Spanish, then she’s less Black for some reason.
For him to tell that woman that she’s making these struggles up in her head, that was very a irresponsible reaction. That’s irresponsible rhetoric. That’s dangerous language. Because you’re further perpetuating this thing, this idea that there is no such thing as Afro Latino, there is no such thing as Negritud, as Blackness throughout Latin America. And that whole conversation brought me back to this man that I’m studying now. His name is Arturo Alfonso Schomburg. He is a Black Puerto Rican man who is credited as the godfather of the Black Renaissance here in the United States. Here, not in Puerto Rico...which says a lot.
He left the island at 17 and came to the U.S. My man had to change is name three times in his lifetime order to survive the crusade that he was trying to champion which is the Diasporic Black histories of people who are Afro descent, particularly in the Caribbean and Latin America. There was something that happened to him and he wanted to prove that person wrong, that there were Black scholars and Black figures period in Latin America. So he spent his lifetime doing that, collecting articles, collecting artifacts, collecting art, collecting literature from Black figures. And in order for him to succeed in doing that, while championing Blackness in the United States, my man had to change his name three times because everyone would ask him ‘Where are you from?’ They would ID him as a Black man visibly but once he started speaking Spanish, they would diminish his Blackness.
And to me that’s crazy! We have Black people who speak French, we have Black people who speak Creole, but all of a sudden if you’re speaking Spanish, you’re all of a sudden less than. And that’s what I want to help dismantle.
And it’s frustrating. I didn’t know what to do with myself when I saw Charlamagne did that to Amara La Negra because I was like, really, of all people?
I didn’t realize this because I didn’t watch his interview but someone said “Jermaine Dupri was just on The Breakfast Club a week before Amara came on and said, ‘It’s really hard for dark skinned women in the industry.’ And there was no pushback, there was no questioning of it.
So do you have a problem with what she said because she’s a woman? And Charlamagne has a history of, when women from reality tv shows come on, he just doesn’t take them seriously. I don’t even know if he’s listening to what they’re saying, he does no research...it’s just very ignorant.
But that’s why I went on the rant that I went on Twitter. And I said to myself, ‘You know exactly where you’re doing. You can’t sit up here and pretend like you don’t know. That’s a lie.’ And that’s why I took it as personally as I did because I know you lying and you still out here perpetuating this lie. You act like you don’t know but you know. You’re not about having these progressive conversations, you really, really, really want these views. And I get it my brother, you got bills to pay, you got a name to upkeep and that’s cool. But that’s why I wrote you off because you not bout that life. You got a book called Black Privilege, which by the way I have not read, but you really not bout that life. So don’t try to have these progressive conversations and be fake woke and shit .But you really sat up there and lied and pretended like you didn’t know what she was talking about!
A lot of people were saying there are a lot of us who don’t know about this identity if weren’t taught about the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade in school. If you don’t study it yourself, you don’t know. But at the same time, you can’t claim to be for the culture. And if you had these conversations before, at what point do you take it upon yourself to do some research?
Exactly! First, you’re not paying me to teach you. That’s one thing. You’re not running me no kind of money. So I can only tell you so much. But you know, you know for a fact that this is real. I don’t understand why--me when I go to interview someone, I prepare. Especially if it’s going to end up being something culturally significant. So if you’re going to interview Amara La Negra, already you know that Afro Latinidad is real because we had a two hour discourse. Me and Venessa tried to school your ass. So you’re going interview Amara La Negra, go read a book, dog. Go read a fucking book! Seriously, you’re a grown ass dude. Your excuse can’t be, ‘I didn’t know anymore.’ First of all, you got Google. You got money and you got privilege and you got access to spaces that I don’t have access to, spaces that Amara still doesn’t have access to and never had back then. So, that’s not an excuse for you.
Even after the podcast, I’ll never forget that night. Me and Venessa got pissy drunk because we didn’t know what to do after that. So now, returning to this topic and for you to blemish it in the way that you have again, I’m writing you off. I can’t even support your shit anymore because you don’t even see me!
On a more personal note, there’s no incentive for you to identify as Black...
Hold up. Hold up. It’s not that I don’t have an incentive. It wasn’t like I didn’t grow up knowing that I wasn’t Black or that I wasn’t “other.” I wasn’t raised in a household that called it that. There was no language for that. There was no Afro Latino. There was none of that. There was no celebrating Blackness in that term. Everything we ate though, everything we listened to, everything that we did, was Black. What we ate was Black. What we heard was Black. The fact that in my household I have what’s called pelo malo “bad hair.” Having to go to the salon every other week, every other month to get my shit permed or relaxed. That’s a Black life. Because my parents come from a country that is so inherently anti-Black, that shit passes down generation to generation. We’re taught, as a collective, not to be Black because we won’t survive. A mechanism of assimilation has always been a mechanism of survival. Silence has always been a mechanism of survival.
My mother, who is discernibly Black, is not going to go around calling herself Negra. Even though, the mindfuck is even though in our family households, behind closed doors, in family functions and when we’re ki-ki-king, and having a good time and dancing, we’re calling each other those names.
My father, who is a passing Latino, who has light skin privilege, who has more Indigenous features than anything else, called me morena my entire life. And what is morena? Nothing but a word that indicates Black. There’s a whole bunch of words that indicate Black, there’s mulatta, anything but Negra, right? But they all mean the same thing because otherwise you wouldn’t be coming up with these words.
When I went to college, when I went to FAMU, it wasn’t until I was 19-years-old that I learned who Trujillo was. Nineteen! A whole 19 years of my life went by before I knew the full history of who Trujillo was. He was a nasty, nasty, terrible dictator of the Dominican Republic for 30 years. He was known for the Parsley Massacre. He would ask darker-skinned Dominicans and Haitians how to say a specific word in Spanish, the parsley word and if they didn’t have a specific accent or they couldn’t roll the r, they were killed right then and there. He was also known for lightening his skin and his mama was Haitian!
Shut up! I never knew that.
That type of self hate, when you believe in that so much, when you hate yourself that much, you pass that on. And anti-Blackness existed way before Trujillo but he was someone who really implemented that shit in the islands. So, I didn’t know any of this until I went to a historically Black university. It took so long! And to me that’s nuts. I didn’t learn about that in school. I didn’t go to schools that taught those kind of histories. I didn’t know about Arturo Schomburg. Where are my Black heros? And when I say mine, I mean from the Caribbean, from Latin America. My heroes have always been Malcolm X. He was always my hero but I didn’t get taught my own history, my family’s history.
So when I learned that, I was like ‘This is my charge. I’m charged with breaking a cycle.’ When I have kids, I’m going to instill in them Negritud. I’m going to tell them, ‘You need to celebrate this and here’s why. And don’t ever let anyone strip you of that experience, of your ancestral right.’ When I say I can walk into a room and not have to ID as that, that is my privilege whereas darker skinned Black people don’t have that privilege. So that’s what I mean by that so, I absolutely know that I’m charged with this task.
To me, it would be very easy just continue living life not acknowledging certain things because you’re going to be questioned by people who don’t understand. So what made you feel like this is something you need to take on?
I read books by Junot Diaz and Edwidge Danticat who have further fueled my love and pride for the parts of me that have always been denied of me. Like I said, silence. We come from a history of silence and I’m trying to undo that history. And it is frustrating because at the end of the day, I could just be like, ‘I don’t want to to talk about this shit. I’m out. I’m done.’ But then what? Those are just my responsibilities. Now that I know what I know, those are my responsibilities and I have to carry that out. It was that point in my life, as a sophomore at FAMU where I was like, ‘I have to celebrate and expand and further nourish my newfound Blackness. I have to further understand what that means.’
Now, it’s become a hashtag and it’s a good and a bad thing and it’s super frustrating because now you have people claiming this thing. And it’s not just the Charlamagnes of the world. You have light skinned Latinos who appropriate the term Afro Latino and then, in the same breath, say ‘Oh, Afro Latino doesn’t mean Black.’ Nah. That’s what it means. That’s exactly what it means. I need you to understand that you’re calling yourself Black and if you’re not, then stop. We’re in a time where all this conscious conversation is coming to a pop culture forefront. And that’s a good and a bad thing because we know that anything that makes its way to pop culture, then becomes mainstream and then becomes commodified.
I can’t wait to get past this phase. This phase where it’s like, ‘I’m proud of my curly hair.’ I’m proud of this...but can we talk about group economics? What are we going to do for Black people in Latin America, as far as economics are concerned.
Let’s talk about ownership. That’s why it is incredibly important, which is what a lot of Latinos don’t understand still, to thank African American people, to not only thank them but exalt them because they have paved the way. And we don’t do that. When I say “we” I mean Latinos. We need to take notes. That’s not happening on a global scale. That’s not happening on a national scale.
I want us to get to that point where we recognize, our histories have been speaking to each other for eons. How are we going to work? What are we going to do?
My maternal grandparents are Caribbean too, they’re Jamaican and there’s definitely this mentality that Black Americans are less-than, are beneath, we come here to prove that we are unlike them. We’ve all been exposed to Western messages and when you are a part of that community and you want to distance yourself from it, you do so in very detrimental ways. It is really sad when people from the Caribbean, from Africa come to the U.S. and don’t want to be associated with that type of Blackness, when it’s all the same.
There’s this Western ideology that says Black people from this country are the worst. You mentioned Africans, it’s so funny. I went to the LES (Lower East Side) the other day, I went to this corner store to get a slice of pizza and the owner was from Nigeria and we started talking and it was a really fun and great conversation and I forgot where it was mentioned but I said, ‘You know I’m Black too.’ And he cut me off, ‘Oh, I’m not Black.’
I was like ‘Wait, what?’ He was like, ‘Yes, I’m from Nigeria.’ I was like, ‘Look, I get what you mean. I understand what you’re saying right now but in this country, you’re Black.’
You’re Black. The cultures are different but you’re still Black.
And he was just real quick, he didn’t want me to assume he was African American at all and that’s a problem.
So you’ve completely written Charlamagne off, is there anything he could do to redeem himself?
I mean, look. Last year, he tweeted out “I would really like to see a Hispanic (By the way, I hate that term.) or a Black woman have a platform like Tomi Lahren.” So my thing is, Ok, so fund that. Put your money where your mouth is. Go find those women. Put them at the forefront. Don’t just root for them from the sidelines. Give them money. Make space for them. Call them into the room. Give them a seat at the table. You have that benefit, you have that privilege. So do that. Don’t just talk about it and scream from the margins. You’re not in the margins anymore, my brother. You’ve got privilege and you’ve got money. You have the means to be like ‘I want to see two women of color do some bomb ass shit. Here’s a check. Here’s a meeting with so and so. Let’s do this.’ But he’s not going to do that.
Or at the very least listen to them when they’re in your presence.
Exactly. What a concept.