I Spy Stupid: Zoe Saldana Thinks There’s “No Such Thing” As People of Color?

Generally speaking, I’ve had no beef with Zoe Saldana; but nowadays I think she mostly exists just to raise folks’ blood pressure and prompt collective facepalms. In a recent BET interview, when asked about her racial identity, said:

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 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….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..

Sigh. Girlfriend needs a hug and some psychological evaluation. Clearly, she’s delusional.

We usually hear this silly post-racial rhetoric from white people who think it makes them sound progressive and hip to say they don’t “see race”–despite its empirical falseness and inherent denial of the history, culture, policies, and personal realities inextricably attached to race.

But its particularly interesting when a person of color–who is undeniably affected by said color–embraces color-blindness. Especially someone like Zoe Saldana, a celebrity and actress, whose craft is entirely dependent on visual aspects–namely, her body.

I definitely think Zoe’s comments reveal of lack of understanding of race as a social construct but I also know it benefits her, career wise, to intentionally trivialize the implications of race entirely.

Zoe is Dominican and Puerto Rican. She’s light-skinned with straight hair, a slender build, and a slightly broad nose; she doesn’t phonetically present as any definitive racial category. This essentially gives her a major advantage in Hollywood: racial ambiguity that allows for multicultural appeal.

Her ability to occupy the murky grey areas of “racelessness” is evident in her film roles. She was cast as a Latino women in “Columbiana” and a black woman in her portrayal of the great Nina Simone. What racially homologous actress would have had this option?

Women of color are accustomed to fighting for roles beyond raical typecasting: black women as Mammys/Sapphires, Latino women as hot-headed vixens, Asian women as geishas or nerds, and South Asian/Desi women as unassimilated overachievers.

Zoe Saldana, like other mixed-race celebrities (Halle Berry, Kimora Lee Simmons, Jessica Alba, Shay Mitchell) have the luxury of reinventing themselves. They can negotiate their public image and racial marketability based on what they decide to be that day. And in slipping through the strictures of race, they gain access to more career opportunities, nuanced iconography, and greater recognition.

What’s funny is that even in Saldana’s supposed color-blindness, she simultaneously admits that the subject of race constantly confronts her:

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.

That’s the thing about race, Zoe, even if you pretend like it’s invisible, it inevitably appears. Dude from The Sixth Sense will metaphorically emerge from nowhere, whispering “I see Colored People“.

I think it would’ve been far more interesting if, instead of rejecting the concept of color and race, Saldana questioned why said color and race so profoundly affect the course and quality of our lives. If she had critically examined why the stripping of our ethnic language, beauty, and heritage gets us farther in the world. Why being “insufficiently” black/latino/asian/south asian makes people more comfortable but also more confused. I wish she woud’ve critiqued the way that mixed race people are pressured to self-identity as “one or the other” precisely because of America’s obsession with applying mythology to color, not because we simply inhabit the color in and of itself.

And while I never expect celebrities like Saldana to be the face of radical racial discourse, I don’t expect them to be mouthpieces for stupidity either.

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5 thoughts on “I Spy Stupid: Zoe Saldana Thinks There’s “No Such Thing” As People of Color?

  1. I’ve always hated the whole “I don’t see color” thing no matter who it’s from, but it’s especially annoying/damaging coming from POC. We can acknowledge the problems that come with our race-obsessed society without ignoring race altogether. In fact, it’s the only way TO address said problems and have any hope of fixing them. If Zoe wants to help bring her dream world to fruition, she can start by recognizing her own racial complexities and all that they imply.

  2. While appreciating your comments, I don’t think it’s fair that every black/mixed race/person of colour/whatever actor or actress should have to be a representative for their particular ethnic background or ‘people of colour’. Like Zoe, I am mixed race and also have a problem with the term ‘people of colour’. It’s not because I don’t recognise colour or think that it’s not relevant anymore (it clearly is), it is because of the inherent assumption that ‘white’ (not even white, as Zoe says – more of a pink/peach) is the natural basis from which to work. I think that this is what she was saying, as opposed to supporting the post-race ideology.

  3. I should also mention that here in the UK, ‘people of colour’ is never really used

  4. […] ‘What’s Wrong With the Term ‘Person of Color’ Saldana is an up and coming actress and the protagonist in a new film about Nina Simone, so a lot of attention is being paid currently to her comments on race and racial identity. From the essay ‘I Spy Stupid: Zoe Saldana Thinks There’s “No Such Thing” As People of Color… […]

  5. Wrotetoomuchagain says:

    We’re in the part of the world that, from time to time, cherishes freedom and choice as ever-receding but achievable goals. People don’t always view themselves the way you want them to. If someone says “I don’t see myself as a person of color. I see myself as a person. Period.” Are you you going to tell them how they have to see themselves for the rest of their lives? How they should teach their children to view themselves? “No. You have to raise your children to constantly worry about whether their skin is black enough. We don’t want them to be mistaken for a whitie.” Your conclusion that some people are constantly bothered by not fitting in to a given racial profile would seem to refer to Zoe Saldana’s own comments.

    “What are you? What are you?” You boldly accuse her of being raceless, and blame her for disliking it when people bother her about her race. Is she supposed to say, “oh, sorry. I’m actually raceless. I’m not black enough to be denied an acting job”?

    Zoe Saldana might not speak in academic prose, but it sounds like she’s hoping for a world where people don’t judge one another’s characters based on skin color. It sounds like she doesn’t like the idea of race being a social construct any more than we do. It sounds like she’s hoping for a better future for everyone, not just raceless people. Does a scot have to remember to wear a kilt everyday? Who gets to decide how she views herself personally? How often should she advertise the fact that she’s black/raceless? Two times a day, or twenty? When does it become too often?

    Star Trek she got because, for some folks, she could be mistaken for a black girl, but she probably had to go to…what do they call them…auditions? Maybe she gets acting jobs because she’s a half-decent actress, and she actually appears to have a brain as opposed to the usual stick-legged bond girl. How much of her acting career can we attribute to the shape of her nose? Or should we just accept the notion that she worked hard to get where she is, and Hollywood being Hollywood is to blame for the construction of racial stereotypes and unfair expectations of women, rather than Zoe Saldana?

    Anyway, I don’t mean to be truly offensive or anything, but I disagree with this jab at Zoe Saldana, who seems like an actress who relies more on her charisma [and her fitness level] than her skin. Seriously, there are bigger fish to fry for racism. I personally choose not to keep a lookout for traitors.

    In conclusion, I love Zoe Saldana from the bottom of my heart and if only she would just, drop her handkerchief at my feet as I walked passed, I would go happily to my grave.

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