Can I get a Cha-Cha

By Malena Amusa May 18, 2007

Not that the winner of Tyra Banks’ America’s Next Top Model is a key issue in racial justice. But because millions of people around the world tune in to this show every week, I couldn’t help but do a racial analysis of its developments. With the the universe watching, I wanted to make sure the program would break norms, and not enforce racial and gendered stereotypes like many other reality TV shows. Sadly, what I found was little to cheer about. While I applaud Tyra Banks for turning her struggle being one of the few successful top Black models into an award-winning show, I don’t so much support her tactics of maintaining her Top Model’s audience. Since the beginning of this last season, cycle 8, Ms. Banks set out to include among her contestants, almost everyone who represents a historically oppressed group. So in addition to her standard women–a picking of skinny white and Black contestants–she also had two big-boned women; an English-as-a-second-language Russian immigrant; and a Latina sensation–Jaslene, who Tyra affectionately renamed "Cha Cha Diva," and who later, won it all. This past Wednesday, Jaslene was crowned America’s Next Top Model. But to be so, she had to endure constant pigeon-holing as Tyra kept saying the only reason people liked Jaslene was because of her Latina flare. Week after week, Tyra chided Jaslene for not being Latino enough, because Jaslene had stopped breaking into random Salsa and saying things in a spicy street Spanish. And during the season finale, many times when Jaslene would come on screen, Salsa music would come out of no where to accompany her to remind us all… again. In her attempt to say: Look, a Chica Latina can become a model too, Tyra goes too far in forcing Jaslene to embody a stereotypical and generic framework of Latino culture. The very environment Tyra tries to foster, one that accepts models of all colors and sizes, is the very environment that fails to acknowledge the different versions, shades, and hues of those same colors. I’m just sayin…