Four Reasons Buzzfeed’s ’34 Celebrities’ Post Missed The Mark

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:

Actor/singer Ne-Yo. Courtesy: Island Def Jam.

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?

Actress Olivia Munn. Courtesy: collider.com

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?”

Actress Lea Michelle. Courtesy: popcrush.com

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.

Singer NIcki Minaj. Courtesy: Billboard.com

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.

  • Pingback: The King of Pop: on transcending signifiers of race and gender

  • https://twitter.com/#!/JasonAntrosio Jason Antrosio

    Interesting stuff! I was just recently revising and updating something along these lines called Race Remixed? – Reality Check Reveals Racism Continues as Inequality, which uses the census numbers to prove how far we are not going toward some imaginary post-racial world.

  • https://twitter.com/#!/JasonAntrosio Jason Antrosio

    Interesting stuff! I was just recently revising and updating something along these lines called Race Remixed? – Reality Check Reveals Racism Continues as Inequality, which uses the census numbers to prove how far we are not going toward some imaginary post-racial world.

  • Anonymous

    Articles like that Buzzfeed one treat mixed folks like they’re objects, and not human beings, to be gawked at and fetishized over.

  • miga
  • happyappa

    That article is gross, but I’m not surprised it is implying that white is the norm.
    Why can’t some people respect identity choices of those who are mixed race. If someone who is half black, half white, identifies as white today, black tomorrow, and half black/half white another day, that is entirely up to them. Another thing is when people don’t understand you don’t have to be put into one category.

    In a PBS interview Gallagher also stated he was half-Cuban: http://pbskids.org/itsmylife/celebs/interviews/david.html, He may have meant he was bi-cultural? The Buzzfeed article is saying it’s a race, but it’s not.

    I am probably going off on a tangent here, but another thing that is disturbing is when people appropriate a culture by claiming they are mixed race when they are not.

    • http://twitter.com/Ishtar_79 Ricki W.

      Actually, this article is not about identity choices and more about the imposition of identity onto others and the general lack of understanding by most the differences between nationality, race, and culture..

      • happyappa

        “this article is not about identity choices and more about the imposition of identity onto others”
        I think the two are connected. If someone chooses to identify as X, and others are imposing some other identity onto them, it can undermine their choice. It’s up to that mixed race person to determine how they see themselves, but it’s harder when people are insisting they’re something else, especially just based on the way they look.
        My last comment was talking about appropriation though, which is why I said, “going off on a tangent” :)

        “and the general lack of understanding by most the differences between nationality, race, and culture..”
        Agree

        • http://twitter.com/Ishtar_79 Ricki W.

          So how is this article “gross”? Your original statement seems a little knee jerk based on what you just typed.

          I do believe the two are connected in the sense that imposition of identity can have a profound impact on how one chooses to identify, so I agree there.

          • happyappa

            Are we reading the same article? When I said “that” article was gross, I was referring to the Buzzfeed piece. Implying that white is the norm, the ignorance of not knowing nationality vs race, etc…

        • http://twitter.com/Ishtar_79 Ricki W.

          So how is this article “gross”? Your original statement seems a little knee jerk based on what you just typed.

          I do believe the two are connected in the sense that imposition of identity can have a profound impact on how one chooses to identify, so I agree there.