Amber Riley: Being a plus-size black woman is hard

Amber Riley says being a black woman is “already hard” in itself, but being “a plus-size woman on top of that” is even harder.

“Getting respect from people, you have to demand it,” the performer, 35, told Page Six in a recent interview. “I’m an advocate for myself. I stand up for myself, and I speak the truth.”

Case in point: Riley recently got into a spat on Twitter over a user repeatedly calling her Mercedes, the name of the character she portrayed on “Glee” from 2009 to 2015.

“I despise when ppl call me Mercedes. Put some respect on my name. Call me AMBER or RILEY,” she tweeted on Jan. 15.

“It’s wild that I even have to say that,” the Los Angeles native continued. “No shade to the show/character that gave me a career, but please stop this s–t. I don’t answer to it, and if you do it facetiously I’ll block you.”

Riley told us her stern post was a “response to something someone said to me about my character,” adding, “It’s really interesting to me, as the only black character on that show, I’m the only one they do it [to]?

“It’s the ones who are using Mercedes like a derogatory term. And I didn’t respond in the tweet to that person because I wasn’t going to give them any clout or shine, but they called me some very nasty things, and they were saying Mercedes like it was a slur.”

Amber Riley and Raven Goodwin in "Single Black Female."
Riley, seen here with Raven Goodwin, stars as a creepy assistant in “Single Black Female.”
Donna Permell

The evening before she posted the tweet, Riley had a lengthy conversation with her friend and confidante Angelica Ross, a black trans actress and advocate. (Ryan Murphy created “Glee” as well as “Pose,” the pioneering series that Ross, 41, starred in.)

“We understand the work is going to be harder and it’s a drain and it’s a job that we love that doesn’t necessarily always love us back,” Riley said of their connection.

“We are also two very outspoken black women, and people do not like that,” she continued. “A lot of people try to humble black women all the time. And I think it’s fine to be grateful and it’s fine to walk through this world understanding that nobody owes you anything — I don’t think that anybody owes me anything — but I will demand respect because I respect other people.”

The “Dancing with the Stars” Season 17 winner will next star in the Lifetime thriller “Single Black Female,” in which she plays Simone, an assistant to Raven Goodwin’s character, Monica, who harbors a dark secret.

“I really loved the original [‘Single White Female’],” Riley enthused. “And it was an opportunity to do something different that I never got to do. It’s been on my bucket list to do a thriller. It’s rooted in reality because these things really do happen, but it’s also fun.”

Desean Black kissing Amber Riley's head.
Riley announced her engagement to Desean Black in November 2020.
amberriley/Instagram

Riley, who is currently working on an EP, is happy in her personal life, too, having gotten engaged to Desean Black in November 2020. She is in no hurry to walk down the aisle, though.

“It’s probably going to be one of those things where we’re engaged for a really long time. We’re in the middle of a pandemic, and it’s just, you know, there’s no rush for me, to be honest,” she said with a laugh.

Riley is also not in a rush when it comes to using the word “curse” to describe the many tragedies that have befallen the “Glee” cast, including the premature deaths of Cory Monteith, Naya Rivera and Mark Salling.

Kevin McHale, Chris Colfer, Jenna Ushkowitz, Amber Riley, Cory Monteith and Lea Michele in "Glee."
Riley played Mercedes Jones in “Glee.”
Fox/Courtesy Everett Collection

“Unfortunately things happen,” the Laurence Olivier Award winner noted. “There was definitely some energy that happened on that show, but people had lives before ‘Glee.’ ‘Glee’ wasn’t our whole entire lives.”

She added, “Life is unpredictable and it’s short, which is why I make it a point to get the most enjoyment out of life and do what I want to do.”

“Single Black Female” premieres Feb. 5 at 8 p.m. ET on Lifetime.

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