Like all of Tina Fey and Robert Carlock’s sitcoms, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is packed with so many jokes that it’s easy to let all of them wash over you without picking up on the references they're making. But one joke in Season 3 of the popular Netflix series stuck out to me — when Jacqueline White (Jane Krakowski) says her white-passing appearance is a “Heather Locklear situation.” So what does that mean? What is a “Heather Locklear situation,” exactly?
The exchange (well, it’s more of a monologue) takes place in Episode 10, “Kimmy Pulls Off A Heist!”, just before Jacqueline is about to go into the NFL owners meeting to convince them to change the name of the Washington Redskins.
“My family is Lakota Sioux,” she tells a statue of Peter Stuyvesant, mirroring a Season 2 scene where she berates the statue in the middle of Columbus Circle. “I know I don’t look it, but it’s a Heather Locklear situation. Google it.”
If you did what Jacqueline said, that Google search probably let you here — greetings, and you’re welcome! So here’s the scoop: According to the PBS series Frontline, the surname “Locklear” comes from a language of the Tuscarora tribes. It’s also an popular surname among the Lumbee, an officially recognized Indian Nation whose people are considered triracial, meaning that Native Americans, Europeans, and Africans all intermarried within their community. And when I say popular, I mean it; The Baltimore Sun once claimed that 20 to 30 percent of Lumbee descendents have “Locklear” as a last name.
The joke is a little wrinkled, however, by the fact that unlike Heather Locklear, actress Jane Krakowski does not have any Native American ancestry. This has been a contentious point throughout Kimmy Schmidt's history, with some critics saying that a woman of predominantly Polish extraction should not be playing a Native character, even if her complicated history with her own heritage (and her white passing privilege) is a fundamental part of her identity.
Too bad Heather Locklear wasn’t around to play the part herself, I guess — but at least Jane Krakowski totally knocks her Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt out of the park in other ways.