Earlier last month, George Lopez interviewed Jessica Alba on his new TLC show, during which he made public the results of a DNA test he ran on her to find out her "real ethnicity".
The footage is painful to watch, as is the remedial effect it’ll have on understandings of race and ethnicity in Hollywood and beyond.
Apparently we're going backwards here; maybe Ellis Island-type head measurings are next. This is not 21st century 'post-racial' America, but rather plain, old-fashioned, institutionalized racism.
Perhaps what’s most disappointing is to hear this from a Chicano hard-liner bent on the politics of inclusion. Latino culture is built on mixture, and for Lopez to do this is to shoot that legacy in the foot.
Lopez looks all but ecstatic to tell her, "Jessica Alba: You're whiter than Larry David." (The same - rather questionable? - DNA tests that revealed that Alba is 13% Native American while prominent Jewish director Larry David is 37% Native American.)
Jessica Alba is not whiter than Larry David, and that's because she doesn’t look it.
People are treated based on how they look, and Jessica Alba was put in ESL as a child because she was brown. (Her teachers assumed she only spoke Spanish.)
I doubt Larry David had a similar experience.
Let’s face it: genes do not always equal phenotype. And a lot of people know this. Growing up in and around mixed white/Latino families, kids like me thought it a funny little secret that we could all play together – some with blond hair, some with black hair – and have the rest of the world not know that we were actually all of the same “racial” mix.
If Lopez is going to do DNA tests, he needs to at least acknowledge that they don’t mean what he thinks they do. Whatever it is he sought to prove, the only thing he will end up proving is that this type of “only if” Latino belonging is exactly what made Jessica Alba reluctant to identify as Latina in the first place.
The sort of “only if” litmus tests - the only if you’re Latino ‘all day, every day’, the only if you speak Spanish, tests - is what disqualified Jessica Alba from Hispanicity in Southern California but made her Latina to everyone outside of it. In the greater U.S., to be half Mexican is to be Mexican, but in many places in Southern California to be half-white, half-Mexican is to be white.
How do people expect her to accept something she is constantly rejected from? (And okay, maybe I’m partial to her because she has a castiza baby. But she can never seem to win Hollywood’s race game, and I don’t think she needs to.)
And why does someone have their own show if their favorite thing to say is, “You can’t play in my sandbox!” on network late night?
Please. In “GLo” terms, that is so MP: más puto.
I mean, where can he go from here? Run a DNA test on former Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori and announce to everyone that this Latin American man is not Latino because he's East Asian? Or better yet, run a DNA test on himself? What would Lopez do if his results said he was part European - or, as he put it to Jessica Alba, part 'Oh My God'? Say...oh, my God!?!