By Nadiyah Fisher
It was supposed to be a typical afternoon in my home. I would take a shower after work and relax before I tended to my other responsibilities. I turned on the TV for my regular dose of reality television and was met with pearly whites, a head full of curls and skin that glows. I had never seen her before, but her presence caught my eye. Her aura was powerful and unconsciously demanded attention. This was the first time I was introduced to Amara La Negra.
Diana Danelys De Los Santos, also known as Amara La Negra, is an Afro-Latina singer and performer from the Dominican Republic (Meraji & Richmond, 2018). Her stage name, Amara La Negra, directly translates to Amara the Black Woman; her stage name is an act of resistance on its own. Rarely in Latin media do entertainers identify themselves as negra or as a black woman. Due to the different qualifications of blackness in Latin America and the Caribbean, words such as morena and amarilla are more appealing to Latina women and provide greater distance from blackness (Gates, 2011).When I first encountered Amara La Negra, she was on Love and Hip Hop: Miami, a reality show on VH1 geared toward the lives of singers and rappers in Miami. Some of her co-stars were familiar faces like Trina and Trick Daddy, but I was introduced to a new set of faces as well. Due to Miami’s proximity to the Caribbean and South America, a large majority of the cast were Latinx, such as Veronica Vega, Florence El Luche, Young Hollywood and Neri Santiago. In contrast to her other Latinx counterparts, Amara is Afro-Latina and has dark skin. Previous Afro-Latina cast members, like Joseline Hernandez, were lighter and wore their hair straight. While her presence served as representation for some, it posed a threat for others who saw her look to be a threat to conventional beauty standards or envious of her resistance to white ideologies.
Amara may be new to American television, but she is not new to performing. Amara began performing at four years old. One of her first gigs was on Sabado Gigante. Sabado Gigante, or Giant Saturday, was one of the longest running variety TV shows ever (American Post, 2021). This show served as a “one-stop shop” for entertainment for Latin American families across the globe. Although the show was an amazing opportunity for Amara to showcase her talents in singing and dancing at an early age, she faced a lot of discrimination while serving as a co-star. She was the darkest cast member and was often put in the back of the stage (American Post, 2021). This situation runs parallel to themes of discrimination in American culture as well, such as the Rosa Parks story. Even in the same spaces as our white counterparts, Black people are not treated the same way or given the same opportunities. Additionally, Amara La Negra’s hair posed a problem for the stylist on the show. In an article in Madamenoire (2018), Uwumarogie quotes Amara La Negra’s interview with Ebro in the Morning. She explained how the stylist would ask her to get a perm or chemical relaxer for “easier styling.” Chemical relaxers use hydroxide and thiols to straighten hair permanently. They were used to give the appearance of naturally straight hair and avoid the care of naturally curly or kinky hair. Often, relaxers would cause chemical burns, scarring, and hair loss (White, 2018). Due to the increased peer pressure by stylist and her co-stars, Amara’s mom permed her hair. Her straight hair made her acceptable and more palatable to a white audience, but at what cost?
Even with a predominately Black and Latin cast in the Love and Hip Hop Franchise, Amara La Negra still faced backlash in her adult career. Amara’s storyline in the franchise consists of her pursuit to breakthrough in the American music scene as a means to provide for her family. One of the major conflicts in her storyline was her interaction with a producer, Young Hollywood. Young Hollywood is a Puerto Rican producer who focuses on Latin Trap music. When inquiring about doing business with Young Hollywood, he asked Amara to look a certain way to work with her. He claimed that her Afro was not “elegant” and suggested that she straighten her hair. Amara refused and claimed that her Afro was representative of her Afro-Latina roots. Confused about the difference between race and ethnicity, Young Hollywood asked if she was Latin with an Afro or African; she couldn’t be both. In the scene, Amara exits and instructs viewers to stay true to themselves and to keep their look no matter what. This scene in Love and Hip Hop is far from unique. In Latin America and the United States, whiteness is the beauty standard. Light skin and straight or loose hair is seen as marriage material (Ferreira, 2020). In the entertainment industry, not only is the talent of the performer being criticized, but also their physical appearance. Many Latina actresses are white or have lighter skin. Actresses with darker skin are often made to be villains, are unmarried, or perform domestic duties in television (Ferreira, 2020). Latinas are encouraged to reproduce with lighter men to have pretty children with pelo bueno instead of pelo malo or bad hair. Pelo malo is classified as hair that is kinky or curly instead of straight. Afro-centric features in partners are to be avoided (Ferreira, 2020). Amara’s pride in her African features like her skin and hair is political for her. After years of being denied as beautiful or even present in the media, she chooses to embrace who she is. Despite Young Hollywood’s remarks, she has a multi-album record deal and plans to be on American television again (Meraji & Richmond, 2018).
Racism and colorism against the Afro-Latino and the African diaspora is not a new concept, and Amara’s experiences are not unique. Black women across the diaspora are instructed to “tweak” themselves to fit the “standard for beauty.” Amara’s bravery and courageous pursuit to maintain her identity serves as a model for all Black women, and especially Afro-Latina women. The question I pose is: why do Black women have to be courageous when embracing who they are? Why is our presence an act of political resistance? In order to combat these complex and higher level issues, we as a community need to redefine beauty standards aside from societal norms and amplify dark skin women in our communities. Simply put, “if they don't give us a seat at the table, bring a folding chair.” -Shirley Chisholm. Instead of looking for a seat at their table, I challenge us to make our own. A table full of folding chairs.
Brazil: A Racial Paradise? Black in Latin America, with Henry Louis Gates Jr. (2011). PBS. https://www.pbs.org/video/black-in-latin-america-brazil-a-racial-paradis...
Meraji, S. & Richmond, J. (2018). ‘Se Que Soy: Amara La Negra Embraces her Afro-Latinidad. NPR. https://www.npr.org/2018/03/14/592870320/se-que-soy-amara-la-negra-embra...Latinidad
American Post (2021). Amara La Negra confessed to having been a victim of discrimination on Sábado Gigante and today she speaks of the death threats. American Post. https://www.americanpost.news/amara-la-negra-confessed-to-having-been-a-...
Uwumarogie, V (2018). “It’s Unmanageable”: Amara La Negra Told She Needed A Perm As Child Star On Sábado Gigante. Madamenoire. https://madamenoire.com/1014405/amarala-negra-hair-perm/
White, B. (2018). What to Know Before Getting a Chemical Relaxer Treatment for Natural Hair. Teen Vogue. https://www.teenvogue.com/story/hair-relaxer-falls-out-video
Ferreira, J (2020). How Latin America’s Obsession With Whiteness Is Hurting Us. HipLatina. https://hiplatina.com/latin-americas-obsession-with-whiteness/