I’m not sure Debrahlee Lorenzana counted on her case becoming a Trojan horse for the media rolling out their usual racialized sexism.
The situation: Lorenzana is suing Citibank because she claims that the company fired her for being “too hot.” The Village Voice, various Fox News subsidiaries, and the New York Daily News interviewed her. Other news outlets and blogs have picked up the story—especially the salacious description of her face and figure.
Everything about Debrahlee Lorenzana is hot. Even her name sizzles. At five-foot-six and 125 pounds, with soft eyes and flawless bronze skin, she is J.Lo curves meets Jessica Simpson rack meets Audrey Hepburn elegance—a head-turning beauty. (Village Voice)
A Latina lovely says her bosses at Citigroup canned her for flaunting her ample assets at a midtown bank.
Dangerously curvy Debrahlee Lorenzana contends her ex-bosses at Citibank in the Chrysler Building banned her from wearing sexy outfits or heels deemed “too distracting” for male coworkers. (New York Daily News)
This is how the Trojan Horse Approach* works when dealing with oppressions: instead of having members of a privileged group say/do the –ist comment or action in question, have a person from a marginalized group—preferably from the same marginalized group as the person who is being spoken about or acted upon, say/do the same thing. So, goes the idea, the statement or deed couldn’t, therefore, possibly be construed as bigoted because a(nother) marginalized person said/did it. As if 1) marginalized people are inherently free from prejudice or internalized oppression vis-à-vis their status or identity and 2) this gets the privileged people off the hook. Another example of this ploy is analyzed here.
In this case, the person who wrote the Voice piece was a white woman and the New York Daily News scribe was a Latino. (And I’m going to call out anyone who attempts to argue “machismo” as reason or excuse for what the Daily News reporter did. Don’t insult my intelligence, and don’t waste your time and intelligence. And you feel like you just can’t help it, I recommend reading sexologist Bianca Laureano’s take on the topic before you roll in with your feelings on this thread, dig?) Same stereotyping damage disguised as a “real” conversation coming from otherwise “unheard from” voices.
And the stereotypes they bring aren’t only, as Jezebel pointed out, sexist, but also dovetail with race: the “spicy” Latina and the “beautiful” mixed-race person. The Voice story already sets up the “spicy” part in the beginning paragraph, which is where I pulled the quote. Then the Dwoskin, the author, drops this fact: Lorenzana’s mom is Puerto Rican and her father is Italian. As I said to Maegan La Mala Ortiz, owner/publisher Vivir Latino, Dwoskin gets away with this because she –and several other media which picked up and/or produced their own related items—offers no explanations or histories on how many Puerto Ricans view themselves as mixed-race or how Italy and/or Italians figure into the history of Puerto Rico…or, for that matter, any discussion of race or ethnicity. What the Voice author seems to implicitly assume is “Puerto Ricans” are a categorically phenotypically and culturally different group. The same, I said, with stating Lorenzana’s dad being Italian. I’d go as far to state that the whole “Italians, especially Italian men, are sexy/handsome and passionate” meme is at work.
When I see facts like that, I continued, dropped into stories describing a person’s physical attributes–especially if the author wants to emphasize the person’s beauty without a larger context around race and ethnicity, the subtle message is “this person’s pretty/sexy/physically perfect because zie is mixed-race.” This plays into the stereotype that “all mixed-race people are always physically beautiful because of their racial make-up.”
La Mala Ortiz agreed. “Some whites in the US are still unable to differentiate between issues of race and ethnicity and where/how they intersect. [Puerto] Rican is not a race, [and] Italian falls on the white side of the spectrum. As you’re presenting it,the writer makes Lorenzana a ‘best of both worlds’ [example] in regards to physical looks which [sic] happens A LOT when talking about mixed-race peeps.”
La Mala Ortiz then offered her perspective on Lorenzana’s case and how the media are handling it.
I, like Lorenzana, was a young single mother who did well and who was “traditionally attractive”—and, yes, part of that attraction no doubt was the “possibility” factor. I wasn’t quite white but close enough. When it wasn’t jokes about being Puerto Rican or Latina, there were sexist jokes.
The banking world is still very much a man’s world, even with more women in it, it is played by men’s rules and there are even fewer women of color there. When you’re in that world part of succeeding is playing along, playing the game. So, yes, I was always the one that had to sing “Living La Vida Loca” when we had karaoke with clients and the like. I was also the one who went into my managing director’s office, fully expecting to either be fired or given a raise, and instead I was asked to give instructions in Spanish to the managing director’s maid who only spoke Spanish.
So, I read the way so many of the articles that have been written about the case as actually repeating the sins of the bank. Making sly little comments about rags to riches, light skinned enough, with good enough hair, woman who uses the word “spic” to describe her work ethic, a woman who has to go into Spanish when talking about “Spanish style”. It’s what Sex and the City would try and do if they ever had a [Puerto] Rican woman thrown in the mix.
Even now, she said, the developing media coverage “still [sic] portrays [Lorenzana] as a woman who sort of had it coming to her (the leaked video, her speaking out) because she can’t control reign in her tendencies, which can be racialized.”
I said to La Mala Ortiz I think it already has by implication: Lorenzana is now seen as a “fiery-tempered, loudmouth” Latina. The net result is the same inflicted damage–a woman of color framed in racist/sexist conventions and who may be getting her legitimate issue with her employers dismissed because of it.
The Trojan horse rolls on.
A bouquet of gratitude to Maegan La Mala Ortiz for helping me with this post!
*Yes, I take credit for coming up with this concept. So, if you’re going to use it, attribute it to me by name and where you found it, namely on Bitch and on Racialicious, where it first appeared. Thanks!