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.