There's been a lot of chatter about why Zoe Saldana—a fair-skinned Latina—is playing Nina Simone, the African-American (and chocolate-complexioned) jazz icon.
Orange Is the New Black's Dascha Polanco was asked to weigh in on the controversy Friday during an interview on The Breakfast Club radio show in New York City, since she, like Saldana, is Hispanic. Both Polanco and Saldana are Dominican; Saldana is also Puerto Rican. Polanco said that she thinks an African American should have played Simone and agreed with the idea floating around on social media that her OITNB co-star Uzo Aduba would have been a great choice.
Even still, Polanco said that she identifies as a black woman.
"I consider myself an Afro-Latina," Polanco started out by saying. Radio host Charlamange tha God asked what that was, and Polanco explained that it was a "black Latina."
"I consider myself to be a black woman," Polanco continued. "And I think a lot of Dominicans should, because from what I see, that's what we are."
"But why not be Dominican?" Charlamagne asked. "You said you consider yourself a black woman; why not just be Dominican?"
"Because I'm from the Dominican Republic," Polanco answered.
Charlamagne had a hard time grasping how a Latina could be black. The simplest explanation is that many Latinos who live in and are from places like the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and Cuba are descended from the enslaved Africans who were brought to those places during the trans-Atlantic slave trade.
Those Hispanics are a mixture of the enslaved Africans, the Spanish slavers who colonized them and the indigenous groups who were on those islands before any outside group ever got there.
Despite all the mixing, some say their African ancestry makes them black, just as African Americans, who are also descended from enslaved Africans (with many of them also descended from their European colonizers), are black, too.
It's also why Brazilians (enslaved Africans plus Portuguese colonizers) are black. There's a difference between nationality (American, Dominican, Mexican, Brazilian) and race (black, white).
Looks like Charlagmagne had a hard time grasping that Polanco was black, because to him—and, it seems, many Americans—to be black appears to mean to be black American.
"Are we talking about where you're from, like your country, or we're talking about race and ethnicity?" Polanco asked Charlamagne, further driving the point home.
It was a great exchange, and super helpful for those who may be confused about race and nationality and about how the black Diaspora works and self-identifies.
Diana Ozemebhoya Eromosele is a staff writer at The Root and the founder and executive producer of Lectures to Beats, a Web series that features video interviews with scarily insightful people. Follow Lectures to Beats on Facebook and Twitter.