By Guest Contributor Tami Winfrey Harris
Finding the fails in Buzzfeed’s recent article, “34 Celebrities You Never Knew Were Multiracial” is truly like shooting fish in a barrel, yet I can’t resist going in on this ill-conceived list–a bold illustration that, despite post-racial protestations, having a biracial, black-identified Commander-in-Chief hasn’t made mainstream conversation about race a lick smarter. Or rather, it hasn’t made Buzzfeed staff writer Dave Stopera any smarter. He endorses four Race 101-level fallacies:
1. You can spot a person with brown ancestry. Why does Stopera assume we “never knew” the celebrities on his list were multiracial? Because the assumption is that mixed-racedness (and particularly non-whiteness) always tells on itself, and that members of a particular race always share stereotypical physical characteristics. Therefore, how can blonde and blue-eyed actress Sara Paxton be half Mexican or R&B singer Ne-Yo be a quarter Chinese?
2. White is normal. Brownness is remarkable. Stopera spends most of his article outing bits of “other” in celebs the mainstream has deemed white. We learn that Mark-Paul-Gosselar is a “quarter Indonesian” and that Shannon Elizabeth is “half Arab.” The article does not mention that Olivia Munn is half white; instead it identifies her “part Chinese” ancestry.
Most telling is the inclusion of late Queen frontman Freddie Mercury. Mercury is of Parsi ethnicity and was born in Zanzibar. He is not multiracial. The message here seems to be: “Hey guys, did you know that rock God Freddie Mercury isn’t white? I mean, white-white … like English?”
3. White = Anglo-Saxon. The Buzzfeed article reliably confuses race with ethnicity and nationality. Being “half Cuban” does not make actor David Gallagher multiracial. His Cuban mother could easily have been as white as his Irish American father. That Lea Michelle is “part Spanish” tells us nothing about her race. What Stopera seems to be doing is identifying non-WASPiness, as well as clinging to regressive racial rules born of American colonialism and white supremacy.
4. Identity is based on blood. What good is knowing that a celebrity, heretofore identified as monocultural, has a fraction of “other” blood? What does it tell us? Nothing really. Multiracial ancestry, for many groups, is more the rule than the exception.
Besides, self-identifying is less about blood than culture and personal experience. We define our racial identity not our blood. Remember black scholar and activist Henry Louis Gates learning that his DNA is 50 percent European on one of his PBS genealogy shows? If Nicki Minaj identifies as a black woman or Eddie Van Halen identifies as a white man (I don’t know how either star identifies.), there is nothing else we need to know.