Like many Empire fans, I am in love with Jussie Smollet. But I have a bone to pick with him.
Contary to popular belief, Empire‘s Jussie Smollet is not an Afro-Brazilian. I will admit it. I got excited when I saw “Born in Brazil” on his bio. Here is one of my favorite actors, from one of my favorite countries. While he can easily be Brazilian (because we know Black people are everywhere), Smollet was actually born in California.
When the actor was asked about his background, he proudly proclaimed his origins but when talking about his falsified bio he tossed around the words “exotic” and “cultured”.
“My family is from Elmhurst, Queens, 54th Avenue, but I was born in Northern California. It’s really funny, you know, [my bio] says ‘Brazil’ making me feel really exotic and cultured, but actually, I was born in Santa Rosa, California. I’m from Sinoma County, and they’re saying ‘Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil,” says Jussie.
As much as I love Jussie, this interview made me think of the term “regular Black” and “just Black” to describe African Americans. Phrases like “You’re regular Black” or “You’re just Black” reinforce the stigma that Black people from other countries are some how better, more unique and cooler.
I have a problem with the term “regular Black”. All the time, strangers assume that I am Afrolatina or Carribean and when they ask I proudly proclaim my Black American heritage. In high school, I used to tell people I was a “Black Puerto Rican” because I was trying to grasp some cultural knowing, even if it wasn’t my own. Now, I revel in the fact that I come from a lineage of leaders. People who strived, thrived and created. There is nothing “regular” about that.
Traveling to Brazil in 2012 opened my eyes to how valuable my identity is. My Afro-Brazilian friends were enchanted with the history of African Americans. While Native Amercan and European blood runs through my veins and I identify as Afro-Native as well, I proclaim my central identity as “Black American” because of what it stands for. Pride. Beauty. Strength. Talent. And there is nothing “regular” about that. Don’t get me wrong, Black Americans, like our Latin@ brothers and sisters, have a mixture of European, Indigenous and whatever else in our blood too. But my choice to proclaim Blackness is a choice rooted in A) I inhabit the earth as a fierce Negra and B) The history of prizing our “other” blood over Blackness.
Now. Now. Jussie, if you happen across my blog, know that I am your biggest fan. “You’re So Beautiful” has helped me to appreciate who I am. Maybe we can talk more about this over a cup of coffee while I’m writing your scene or running lines with you on the set of Empire? One day, right? One day soon.