The problem with the fight over Gina Rodriguez is that it’s even a fight at all. Rodriguez, an outspoken progressive known best for her starring role in “Jane the Virgin,” is on the receiving end of some intense ire for issuing a string of allegedly “anti-black” remarks.
Much of the backlash can be traced to at least July 2017, when Rodriguez tweeted, “Marvel and DC are killing it in inclusion and women, but where are the Latinos?! Asking for a friend…” That was considered erasure by critics who accused her of ignoring Latino actors in relevant films, and of shifting the focus away from celebrating “Black Panther’s” importance. Rodriguez also earned scorn for interjecting when an interviewer asked her “Smallfoot” co-star Yara Shahidi about being a role model for “so many young black women” to say, “So many women.”
Then came her comments on equal pay. “I get so petrified in this space talking about equal pay especially when you look at the intersectional aspect of it, right? Where white women get paid more than black women, black women get paid more than Asian women, Asian women get paid more than Latina women, and it’s like a very scary space to step into,” Rodriguez said during a roundtable discussion. Because there was confusion over whether she was speaking specifically about Hollywood, where Sofia Vergara was the highest-paid actress of 2018, or the general workforce, this elicited another round of criticism.
That brings us to today. Now people are angry at Rodriguez because she apologized for all of it— but not exactly to their satisfaction. In a Tuesday appearance on “Sway in the Morning,” Rodriguez described the controversy as “devastating” and launched into a pretty emotional apology. Here’s an excerpt:
If I have hurt you, I am sorry and I will always be sorry, but you have to know that, until you know my heart, there’s no way that we can live off clickbait, you guys. You are allowed to feel pain and I empathize with your pain, and I’m sorry if I caused your pain because it is the last thing I want to do … We don’t need to fight each other and if I caused that notion, please forgive me because that is not my intent at all.
It was not accepted. Rodriguez’s conversation with Sway was long, and critics were further irritated because the actress invoked her “dark-skinned” father and shifted some of the blame to “clickbait” that stripped her words of context.
To be clear, I very much understand the frustration of celebrities wading into charged political debates without doing their homework and then looking for sympathy when people react badly. But given her clear display of good faith, there’s plenty of room to criticize Rodriguez without labeling her “anti-black” or implying she’s racist.
At worst, Rodriguez is insensitive. At best, she’s fully on the side of her critics. The point is that we blunt the edges of these very important definitions when we apply them to someone like her, who may be guilty of misspeaking but is almost certainly not guilty of personally harboring any racist attitudes.
These pile-ons also deter good-faith debate. Perez Hilton, for instance, hesitated to back Rodriguez, for fear of being called a racist. A lot of people probably decided to stay out of it entirely for the same reason.
We live in a world where I was afraid of even commenting on this new Gina Rodriguez clip for fear of, like her, being called racist or anti-black. Well, I'm not! And I don't believe these are crocodile tears! Donald Trump is racist and anti-black. @HereIsGina is FAR from that!!! pic.twitter.com/pKVbMpm5eA
— Perez (@ThePerezHilton) January 23, 2019
If anything, Rodriguez’s comments gave her critics an opportunity to air their disagreements, and further what they perceive as a critical conversation. But these instant tides of vitriol intimidate people out of expressing viewpoints within perfectly reasonable boundaries, and snuff out that process of debate before it can even begin. That’s not healthy for anyone. Of course, this is also all exacerbated by the structure of social media, which incentivizes dunking over nuance, and more easily facilitates attacks over conversations.
The whole ordeal is another reminder that we’ve fallen into a pattern of debate that’s not at all constructive. When someone comes to the table with wrong-minded opinions clearly rooted in good intentions, meet that person there if you want to actually solve the problem— whether she’s an entitled celebrity or a misguided Twitter user.