Dascha Polanco’s interview on The Breakfast Club on Friday included an unprepared lesson on race, nationality and cultural identity when host Charlamange tha God questioned the “Orange is the New Black” actress’s blackness after she described herself as Afro-Latina.
The schooling occurred about five minutes into the discussion, when Polanco was asked her thoughts on Puerto Rican-Dominican Zoe Saldaña’s controversial role as Nina Simone in the forthcoming biopic. Polanco, who is also Dominican, agreed that Saldaña wasn’t the best fit and suggested that her darker-skinned OITNB co-star Uzo Aduba would have been a much better choice.
Charlamange then said that people are upset about the casting because Saldaña isn’t African American, which isn’t exactly true. Most critics recognize Saldaña’s blackness, but feel that someone who more closely resembles Simone should have been chosen to play her. That Simone look-alike could have been African American, Panamanian, Brazilian, Haitian or any other national-cultural identity.
This is when Polanco had to give a lesson that just about every Black Latino makes at least once (often every damn day) in their life: some Latinas are Black, too.
Polanco tells Charlamange that she is Afro-Latina, and the host asks, “What’s that?”
She responds: “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.”
Here, Polanco is talking about her race, which is Black, much like other folks from her isla of the Dominican Republic and neighboring Caribbean and coastal countries like Cuba, Puerto Rico, Venezuela and Colombia. As writer Kara Brown explains for Jezebel, one of the major differences between Black folks in Latin America and those in the U.S. is the stop of the slave ship.
Charlamange, still confused, queries: “You said you consider yourself a Black woman, like why not just be Dominican?”
"Because I'm from the Dominican Republic," she answers, before returning with a question of her own.
"Are we talking about where you're from, like your country, or we're talking about race and ethnicity," she asks, noting to Charlamange, and any other clueless listener, that there are significant differences between the three identities.