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Gina Rodriguez apologizes, amid backlash, for saying the n-word on Instagram

The fiasco is part of a larger pattern for the Jane the Virgin star.

Gina Rodriguez in March 2019.
JB Lacroix/Getty Images
Aja Romano writes about pop culture, media, and ethics. Before joining Vox in 2016, they were a staff reporter at the Daily Dot. A 2019 fellow of the National Critics Institute, they’re considered an authority on fandom, the internet, and the culture wars.

Jane the Virgin star Gina Rodriguez found herself facing a social media backlash Tuesday afternoon, after she posted an Instagram story in which she used the n-word.

Rodriguez has since deleted the video and apologized in a follow-up Instagram story, which many dismissed as insincere. That story, which remains live on her profile, was followed by a second, more emotional apology Instagram text post. Neither apology satisfied skeptical viewers, however, whose side-eyeing at the actress is inspired by Rodriguez’s history of making statements that seemed to paint her as having a less-than-respectful attitude toward black people. Consequently, many black social media users have taken Tuesday’s n-word incident as concrete evidence that the actor is anti-black.

In the now-deleted post, Rodriguez, who has Puerto Rican heritage, was rapping along with the Fugees’ song “Ready or Not” — including a line in which vocalist Lauryn Hill sings the n-word, a major breach of etiquette on Rodriquez’s part.

Social media users quickly lambasted the video, flooding Twitter with negative reactions and advice for the actress:

Rodriguez quickly deleted the offending post and replaced it with what was deemed a backhand non-apology by many. “I am sorry if I offended anyone by singing along to The Fugees, to a song I love that I grew up on,” she said. But onlookers pointed out that she didn’t actually apologize for using the racial slur, making the post seem patronizing and disingenuous.

The “gotcha!” vibe was strong on Twitter, where Rodriguez became a trending topic, with many users literally reacting with variants of “we finally got you,” alluding to the actor’s history of controversial moments regarding race.

Meanwhile, supporters of Rodriguez lamented “cancel culture” for claiming someone over what they viewed as either a clear overreaction or an inconsistently applied moral standard:

Rodriguez updated her Instagram on Wednesday with an additional, fuller apology, this time writing that she “thoughtlessly sang along” and that “whatever consequences I face for my actions today, none will be more hurtful than the personal remorse I feel.” She said that “the word I sang carries with it a legacy of hurt and pain that I cannot even imagine,” and added that it is “a much deserved lesson ... I have some serious learning and growing to do and I am so deeply sorry for the pain I have caused.”

But many social media users are just as unmoved by this second apology as by the first. Though many of Rodriguez’s fans were supportive, many upset observers were quick to point out that this is just the latest in several incidents in which Rodriguez seemed to dismiss black issues.

Rodriguez has a history of raising speculation about her attitude toward black people — and putting her foot in her mouth

Wariness of Rodriguez’s attitudes toward race dates back to 2017, when Rodriguez tweeted, in what seemed to be an implicit response to the predominantly black cast of the Marvel film Black Panther, to ask where the Latinx actors were in such blockbusters.

“Marvel and DC are killing it in inclusion and women but where are the Latinos?! Asking for a friend...” Rodriguez tweeted in July 2017. The tweet has since been deleted.

Fast forward to September 2018, when Rodriguez raised eyebrows again during a press run for the animated film Smallfoot. When Rodriguez and her co-star Yara Shahidi spoke with entertainment journalist Blogxilla, Blogxilla commented to Shahidi that she was an inspiration to “so many Black women.”

“So many women,” Rodriguez interjected, at which point Blogxilla, who is black, explained that “for black women, we need people on a whole ‘nother level.” Many critics interpreted Rodriguez’s comment as an attempt to co-opt a conversation about black identity.

The interview sparked conversations and speculation about Rodriguez’s seemingly critical views on empowerment of black people in the industry. Those conversations continued the following month, when Rodriguez co-hosted, with the Latina actor America Ferrera, a Latina “power lunch” whose attendees were noticeably light-skinned; with the exception of Rosario Dawson, it appeared that no Afro-Latina women were present, raising questions about how many the two hosts had actually invited.

Then, in November 2018, Rodriguez incorrectly claimed while participating in a roundtable discussion about diversity and pay equity in Hollywood that black and Asian actresses are paid more in Hollywood than Latina actresses. At the time Rodriguez made the claim, the highest-paid actress on television was a Latina actress — Modern Family’s Sofia Vergara — while only one black woman, Scandal’s Kerry Washington, made the list of TV’s highest-paid women.

In response to the backlash she received for this error, Rodriguez subsequently appeared on the radio show Sway in the Morning, where she tearfully described the reaction as “devastating.” But then she went one step further by describing her father as ”dark-skinned,” rather than apologizing for the mistake, in a speech that many read as tone-deaf:

The black community was the only community I looked towards growing up. We didn’t have many Latino shows, and the black community made me feel like I was seen. To get [called] anti-black is [like] saying I’m anti-family. My father is dark-skinned, he’s Afro-Latino. My cousins — Puerto Ricans are African, Taino, and Spaniard, and it’s in my blood. So that was devastating to me. And I know my heart. I know what I meant. And I really wish we weren’t living in a culture where we’re clickbait, because I’ve never said anything controversial about anybody.

Rodriguez’s father, Gino Rodriguez, is a well-known boxing referee, and some found Rodriguez’s description of him as “dark-skinned” to be a stretch.

Others pointed out that Rodriguez seemed unwilling to simply say she was wrong and apologize.

It was a theme that resurfaced after this week’s n-word incident, when many fans not only read her apology as insincere but also voiced the frustration that not only do these types of moments keep happening, but that Rodriguez seems unwilling or unable to learn why they are hurtful.

But as many people were also quick to point out, the rumors swirling about Rodriguez’s anti-black sentiments have yet to hurt her career; Netflix cast her as the lead in its reboot of Carmen Sandiego, and she starred in the Netflix rom-com Something Great earlier this year.

The latest incident seems to have sparked a larger conversation about Rodriguez’s controversial past comments regarding race. But if her latest apology is anything to go by, it’s also created a new opportunity for Rodriguez — a chance to listen and learn.