Rashida Jones and The Complexities of Racial Identity

Credit: Scott Schafer/FOX

I wonder whether Rashida Jones dreams in black or white.

That’s not a typo.  I didn’t mean to say black & white or color, as the issue is often framed.  I mean, for example, when she’s fast asleep and has a dream about being at party or going to the supermarket or having sex, what do the other people around her look like?

Race and racial identity are just as complex in 2010 as they were in 1910, if not more.  The idea that since President Obama took office, America has become a “post-racial” society is just absurd.  Integration allowed people from different racial backgrounds to marry and have children, making it virtually impossible to tell some people’s ethnicity with just a look.  As long as Hispanics are getting profiled in Arizona and black college students get shot by cops in New York, there will continue to be questions about what role race plays in the way we interact with each other.

Originally, I had planned to broil Rashida and accuse her of rejecting her blackness in favor of the other side of her ethnicity.  I mean really:  Her dad is music icon, Quincy Jones and her sister Kidada was engaged to Tupac.  If nothing else, how many white girls are there named,  “Rashida?”  First, I did my research, and came across this quote from the April 2008 interview she did with Women’s Health Magazine:

I’m lucky because I have so many clashing cultural, racial things going on: black, Jewish, Irish, Portuguese, Cherokee. I can float and be part of any community I want. The thing is, I do identify with being black, and if people don’t identify me that way that’s their issue. I’m happy to challenge people’s understanding of what it looks like to be biracial, because guess what? In the next 50 years, people will start looking more and more like me.

It’s cool that she identifies with being black, and that’s not to say it would be any less acceptable if she saw herself as white, or Jewish, or any part of her background.  I guess my experience is that individuals who I know to be “mixed” generally identify as black, such as Halle Berry, Vanessa Williams, and Alicia Keys.  I think it’s just easier when we decide one way or the other, for lack of a better phrase, when things are clearly black or white. 

Remember the drama it caused when Tiger made up “Cablinasian?”

After getting a little more insight on how Rashida sees herself, it was even more intriguing that in her professional career, she as an actress, chooses to take role after role in which she portrays colorless women who are racially ambiguous.

Check her stats: Karen on The Office, Kate on Unhitched, and currently as Ann on Parks and Recreation are her most notable TV roles.  In the movies, Rashida’s had roles in Little Black Book, I Love You, Man and box office monster, The Social Network.  All of these parts could be played by white women and the transition would be seamless.

On the contrary, casting an obviously African-American in some of these roles would be a departure, so much that it would distract the audience and make them think about race rather than the actual plot.

The roles in which she had a love interest (I Love You, Man comes to mind) are the ones that it would be especially tough to cast a woman who the audience would identify as black.  Viewers would categorize the couple as an interracial relationship, but with Rashida in the role, race doesn’t have to be an issue.

They say art imitates life and in her case, it rings true.  According to Wikipedia, Rashida has dated actor Tobey Maguire, music producer Mark Ronson, to whom she was engaged, SNL’s Seth Meyers, her co-star on The Office, John Krasinski and actor Jon Favreau.

Rashida, who is Jewish, says that she tends to date men who are Jewish and practicing as her reason for pairing with these fellows, but feel free to draw any other conclusions.  If she was looking for Jewish guys, pro baller Amar’e Stoudemire and former Bad Boy rapper Shyne have ties to Judaism.

Maybe they weren’t available.

In life, you have to use what you’ve got to get what you want.  Rashida Jones has got skin fair as the day is long, with straight hair and Anglo-Saxon features. If she wants roles next to some of today’s leading actors, then choosing to play raceless characters is the price she has to pay for stardom.  I doubt that she knows this, but when we watch her on the screen, we don’t really see who she is in the same way that we see Angela Bassett or Kathy Najimy.  These actresses don’t let their racial identity define them, but it’s still a major part of  who they are.  Assuming Rashida has a strong sense of self, she should be able to rest easy at night.  I wonder whether she does.

As I wonder what color are her dreams.

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Comments
43 Responses to “Rashida Jones and The Complexities of Racial Identity”
  1. Martie says:

    She does say she is black and she can’t help that her skin turned out lighter than her sister. She once told a cab driver who was talking bad about Diddy and she told him she was black and the guy changed his tune. So she will defend her race, people need to stop knocking this educated smart beauty and be proud she is getting the rides in a colorless scene. My daughter looks like her and I’m Black; the next generation will b following the lead.

    • mrjones says:

      Martie: I acknowledged that she identifies as black. I just questioned why she doesn’t take roles where she is seen as a black woman. Thank you for reading and commenting. Please come back!

      mrjones

  2. martie says:

    When she goes out for roles in black movies they tell her she is not black enough. I bet Tyler Perry wouldn’t put her in a role because he acts like all black women r the color of chocolate an they r not.

    • mrjones says:

      Halle Berry was told she was too pretty to play a crackhead in Jungle Fever, but she did it. Vanessa Williams is lightskinned but has never portrayed anything other than what she is…a black woman. It’s just puzzling to me why any person, male or female, would want to consistently play something other than how they see themselves.

  3. luca says:

    Considering her father is Quincy Jones you would think she could have her pick of any role black or white, which in itself makes it more interesting that she portrays colorless/white roles. However, she did make a point in an interview to say that she identifies with many things (jewish, white, black, irish, russian etc). In one of her latest interviews she holds up a cookie and says this is like her white on the outside and black on the inside and that she is definitely black on the inside.

  4. Kimber says:

    Does Rashida have to take just Black roles because she is half Black? No one is asking why Jennifer Aniston doesn’t take Black roles. It is a “ROLE” for crying out loud. If Rashida takes on roles that are seen as Caucasian roles, that HER business not yours, and not anyone else’s. She is a half White person so therefore she has the right to take a role that is part of her race. Vanessa Willams and Rashida are two different people. Vanessa has made a point of apologzing to the Black race for her light skin and eyes, and has often tanned herself to look more “Black”. If Vanessa wants to take on Black roles that is HER business as well. Stop comparing people!

    • mrjones says:

      Well, I’m certainly within my right to pose this question about Rashida. To your point, no one questions why Jennifer Aniston doesn’t take black roles for obvious reasons. It’s fine that Rashida plays the roles she does, as playing a “white woman” is part of who she is. Try this example: Actor Kevin Costner is an admitted baseball fan. Throughout his career he has taken roles that involve baseball (Bull Durham, For the Love of the Game). He has NOT taken ALL baseball-related roles just because he identifies as a fan. He has also done The Bodyguard, The Postman, Waterworld, etc. That’s all I ask about Rashida. I just wonder why she doesn’t take some roles that speak to the other parts of her ethnicity, to which she openly identifies.

      If nothing else, my questioning creates discussion. Thank you for reading.

  5. Kimber says:

    You are comparing a sport and race? Her decision not to take Black roles is not anyone’s business. Back to Jennifer Aniston, no one questions why she only dates Caucasian men, and accepts comical roles in movies. But Rashida has been criticized for only dating Caucasian/Jewish guys, and playing “colorless” roles. Its just like Vanessa Williams only taking Black roles, no one questions that. It is just expected. But Rashida who is a positive role model for the Multiracial community and is rejected labels that have been forced on Multiracial persons for years now, is being analyzed for not taking obvious Black roles. She is apparently selecting roles that she feels more comfortable with. That is HER life not ours. We have no right to judge.

    • mrjones says:

      “is being analyzed for not taking obvious Black roles. She is apparently selecting roles that she feels more comfortable with. That is HER life not ours. We have no right to judge.”

      ^ ^ ^
      You are exactly right. I am doing just that, “analyzing” her decision to only play white roles when she identifies herself as multiracial. I AM NOT criticizing or judging her. I am posing questions about a valid issue. Read more carefully.

  6. Kimber says:

    I think I am reading just fine. My question is WHY are you analyzing her? Why is this even an issue? We live in a free country right? Therefore we have the right to do whatever we want as long as it doesn’t violate a law or ethical code. Are you a Multiracial person? While we choose to embrace all of our heritage, oftentimes we may identify with one more than other. This may be why Rashida does not take roles that are tailored for a Black female. Vanessa Williams who is Multiracial does. Again actresses like Jennifer Aniston who are full White are not criticzed or analyzed for appearing in Black movies. Vanessa Williams is not criticized or analyzed for taking Black roles. Rashida should not be analyzed or criticized or whatever the heck for playing colorless roles. It is a step in the right direction for not only the Multiracial community but for society as a whole.

    • mrjones says:

      “Therefore we have the right to do whatever we want as long as it doesn’t violate a law or ethical code. ”

      ^ ^ ^
      Right! So what law or ethical code am I breaking through my analysis? I am allowed to ask questions about things that I don’t understand. I’m not hurting anyone by asking these questions. Obviously, my questioning has struck a personal nerve with you. That is something you need to reconcile within yourself. I asked that you read carefully because you keep suggesting I “criticized” Rashida when I have not. I don’t expect readers to always agree with me, but I do expect that I’m allowed the freedom to write about, question, and analyze whatever subjects I choose. You make some valid points and I appreciate the dialogue, but respectfully, I’m done with this.

      I do hope you continue to read the site. Thanks.

  7. Kimber says:

    NOTHING has “struck a nerve” with me. It is just the fact we would NOT be having this conversation if Rashida only took Black roles. You have freedom of speech of course, but you have neglected to address any of my questions as to why is this even an issue. Have a good day.

  8. luca says:

    I just watched “Grown Ups” with Myra Rudolph. She too has wound up in racially ambigious roles in the past. However, in this role her mother was clearly an african american (the father was not cast in the movie). Myra has crossed back and forth in her “charachters” at SNL. Rashida has only done “white”… I can’t imagine her in any other role. I think sadly in hollywood, whatever they want you to “be” you will if it means acting jobs… I think once she gets to the point of where she can call the shots (angelina jolie) then she could be pickier and choosier….

    • mrjones says:

      That’s a great example! Maya identifies as multiracial in her life and in her professional work, finding opportunities to play characters of various ethnic backgrounds.

      Thank you!

  9. Kimber says:

    I am not being argumentative, but this is my thing: Years ago White women played Biracial people in flims like “Kings go Forth” with Natalie Wood. But NO ONE said a word. They could have gotten Lena Horne to play that role, but Hollywood wouldn’t have dared had her kissing White Frank Sinatra. Whites have always played Black, Latino or Asian roles. Even Mickey Rooney in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” played an Asian man. But people like Rashida get questioned because she doesn’t take Black roles? At least she is portraying half of who she is. Natalie (RIP) and Mickey could not say the same.

  10. kristie says:

    First of all you need to understand how it is to be seen as racially ambiguious. Its very difficult for a person who identifies as one race, who comes from multiple races to be accepted at all. Rashida is an amazingly funny and beautiful woman, and thats what really counts. And as a generation of people fighting for true equality, this is bullshit. We all need to celebrate people for who they are not what we are

  11. MJB says:

    I used to work as a talent agent and I can assure you that when a casting director asks for a role to be filled it has to do with outward appearance and talent, not someone’s racial make up. If Rashida Jones looks mostly white and has naturally straight hair then guess what, she’s going to get called for white or ambiguous roles.

    I know that she has a famous father and that she has built up a career for herself but film and television don’t really care. Even Jennifer Aniston would have trouble demanding to be cast in a dark drama. That’s not how producers see her and that’s not how the public sees her. That means it won’t make as much money. That means she won’t get the role or the film won’t get made.

    So it’s not like Rashida can just waltz into someone’s office and say, “you know, I’d really like to play a strong Black woman”. She’d get laughed out of town. The only reason I ever questioned her ethnicity was her name. Otherwise I would never have given it a second thought that she was white or Italian or whatever.

    So the question should really be more directed at Hollywood and our society than at Rashida. She turned out looking the way she looks and she gets work…just not the work you would like to see her get.

    • JCBaby says:

      Agreed…I believe that while Rashida may desire to play the role of a strong African-American woman, it will depend not merely upon her whims, but rather on the acceptance of Hollywood and society for how black women are portrayed on TV and film.

      Hollywood would be more than happy to cast Rashida in the role of the tragic mulatto if they were doing a 21st century remake of “Imitation of Life”. But did we see NBC choose to cast her as Jim’s BIRACIAL or black girlfriend? Chile, please… that would have been too much of a ratings gamble that America would have rejected the premise that a white man in Scranton, PA would date a black woman.

      As most conventional Black actresses are struggling to find roles today outside of typical maids, strippers, junkies, or abusers/victims resident in Tyler Perry movies, I think that Biracial actresses are going to have to get in where they fit in.

  12. As a multiracial woman I often get the question “what are you?” or “are you Puerto Rican?” It’s not to say that I am offended that my features do not look black to many. I do identify more with my African American roots simply because we were most often accepted in the African American community and that is where we were raised. With that being said, I am still proud of my complete heritage Black, Cherokee, Irish, and Scottish.
    If I was an actress I would play roles of any race that I was selected for as long as they didn’t require makeup to purposely make my skin lighter or darker. Rashida’s role on the office was of an Italian woman for which she was a believable fit and she should not be negatively judged because she landed a role. If an actor or actress looks the part they get the part, she does not control her genetics.

    • mrjones says:

      Thank you for reading and commenting. I simply write what I am thinking and if it challenges viewpoints, makes people think deeper, and elicits some discussion then that’s great.

      – Jones

  13. Karen Jonsson says:

    Mr Jones, If Ms Jones or Ms Berry, Or Ms Williams, et al were asked by a white reporter why they did not portray white roles since they are in fact white as well, would he retain his job and or be called a card carrying racist? It is NOT anyone’s job to “be true to their race” That is absolutely ridiculous and completely unfair. It is our job to live in this world and try very very very hard for God’s sake to promote unity and be decent human beings. No matter how impossible you think it is, the effort is still commendable and I might even say enough to make us more reputable.

    By the way she played BLACK Tracy Morgan’s BLACK love interest in the Movie “Cop Out”
    Another fact… Quincey Jones had a racial make-up test done in ‘African American Lives 2’ he is 38% white (to his shock) So that means that Rashida Jones is a lot more white that she is black.

    I think that you think that Rashida wants to fool people into thinking she is white OMG not with the race police out there, Plus anyone with 1 eye can see she is not all white. Why do people think that anyone who would dare portray the heavenly white father is doing it for an advantage? Michael Jackson was hated by a lot of people for daring to like there was a law against it or something.

    I am black and married 10 years to a Swedish white man. he is wonderful, the man of my dreams. But according the race police, I should have missed out on my happiness because THEY think it’s not right. In fact my EX best friend told me that I was race hating. That is when she became my EX best friend. That is an insult and fighting words because it is very personal. To me it’s as personal as you reporting what sanitary product Rashida uses. It always amazes me that people think they have the right to tell others in this very short life what to do with theirs. This is not a shot to you as much as a shot to anyone reading your story and going “MmHmm child, that’s true, she think she is white”

    This makes people very angry. But hide behind the bill of rights m’dear. This is NOT mere gossip that can be proven wrong, this is spinning…. the journalists most evil trick. Why was this even an issue? There are far more constructive things to write about. But guess what it is YOUR right, as it is Rashida’s right. All God’s chillun got rights!

    • mrjones says:

      Karen – First, thank you for the feedback. I think many of the people who have responded are misreading or not interpreting my point correctly, or as I meant it. The reverse of what I’m saying would be if, let’s say, Jen Aniston, consistently played characters who were implied as being black or latina, when much of the world identifies her as a white woman. Rashida is free to do what she wants as long as it makes her happy and she is at peace with herself. My piece was less judgmental and more of an observation and a question of why something appears one way, but usually appears in another form.

      I have noticed that many of those who commented here admit to being multi-ethnic or being involved in a mixed race relationship. Some people asked why this is even worthy of discussion. I say, just look in the mirror. We live in a society where race is still an issue (no matter how badly some want to ignore it) that needs to be discussed so people have good understandings of background, culture and ethnicity. It’s an important discussion and understanding is not gained without asking questions and making “an issue” about it. I think it’s better to have this kind of dialogue and change minds than people keeping their opinions, sometimes misguided ones, to themselves.

      Once again, I appreciate your feedback & ask that you keep reading the site.

  14. Jae says:

    Mr. Jones,
    It seems your post is still stirring people up nearly a year after you’ve written it! The reality is race is still a very big issue and Rashida is being cast as racially ambiguous because that is how she is seen to be. I am sure there have been times where Hollywood was willing to make changes to racial backgrounds but they are few and far between.

    It is quite amusing to hear all of this backlash your post has received when no one is really fully any one race. Everyone can trace at least one ancestor, if not more, of another race in their history… none of us are full blooded anything. We as a society who immediately pays attention to skin color, hair and facial features to question what someone is, other than that, we just assume.

    Rashida is being cast by what she is seen as and at this point I think she just wants the work. How she’s cast isn’t really an issue for her because she seems secure with herself and knows- as we do (chuckle), her famous makeup. Once she becomes more successful, she’ll have more influence on what role she decides to play. I’m sure if she walked into a casting room and went for the role of a black woman they’d knit their brows together in confusion, politely listen and give her the ole “we’ll call you.”

    Race and the perception thereof is something of which I debate with people often. I know its easier to put people little categories rather than get to know them and when they don’t fit into that category they are considered the exception to the rule, instead of questioning ‘the rule’ itself.

    I too am constantly questioned about my race, when I say that I’m black, black white and other races ask “and what else?”. It is a bit of an irritating position to be in because I’m being asked “alright, so what category am I to put you in?” when I, like I’m sure everyone else just wants to be an individual.

    It’s unfortunate that we look for our differences rather than what we might have in common, and sadly race is going to remain a hot topic for many years to come. Once we get over that, we still have class, education, street cred and many other things to use against each other!

    • mrjones says:

      Jae,

      Yes! To this day, I’m surprised that the post has generated this much continuous traffic. I wonder how people are finding it. I do appreciate your taking the time to comment. You’re right, race is an issue and it takes more discussion and open-mindedness for us to gain understanding of one another’s individual identities.

      • Steve says:

        I found it by searching ‘quincy jones daughter tupac’. As you might know, Rashida’s sister, Kidada, was engaged to him when he died.

  15. Steve says:

    One of the reasons why mixed race people in America identify and tend to be seen as black is because of the historical one drop rule. If a person had any African ancestry ie even ‘one drop’ of African blood, they were considered black for the purposes of segregation. It was actually made law in some states less than 100 years ago. I guess the idea was to keep the white population completely white.

    Apparently, 58% of African-Americans have 12.5% European ancestry and 19.6% have 25% European ancestry.

  16. Steve says:

    Saying that, there will now be a fair amount of white people with some African ancestry and some part black people probably always went under the radar in white society. I’m in Britain but I have a cousin whose dad is part Maori and part black and my cousin’s skin is so white, nobody even really considers him mixed race. I have never asked him what he considers himself. It doesn’t seem to be an issue.

  17. George says:

    I am uterly repulsed at how you people act as if this woman is a full blooded black woman. yes, she is half black but she is also jewish irish portuguese native american and other things aswell. Why is she only black? do you all really beleive in the one drop rule? you know america is the only country who beleives in that crap? Im mixed myself but I myself just like her look more white. Anytime i bring up being black im looked at as if im lying becuase of how cacusian i “appear”. However i dont agree with what some of you are saying such as “she should take roles where she plays more of a black woman” what does that even mean? if you are black you are black. if you are mixed then you are MIXED! you are not one thing or another NO MATTER WHAT PEOPLE SAY. ive gotten beaten up by black people for saying i have black in me. ive had a frisbee thrown at my head for being half black by a racist white man. do i hate either race? no. because i know not all blacks and whites are like that. its like you people beleive if you have any black in you than you arent aloud to claim all the other races you are, and if you do than you are accused of self hate by the african american community. i was born mixed…i will die mixed. i will never be black and i will never be white nor native american. I am just a mixed american man just like she is a mixed american woman. stop this nonsense with the one drop rule .

  18. YummyDummie says:

    This article should have been directed at Maya Rudolph, former cast member of SNL. Rashida Jones is by far way blacker or at least “acts” blacker the Maya. Maya Rudolph married and had a couple of children by a white man, all her roles are white, and even said it herself on “The Blacklist”… “I don’t need to choose what race I want to be” aka, something that a white person would say. In the end, OWN YOUR BLACKNESS!

  19. codyjames says:

    rashida is cast as white because to the average person she looks like a white girl with a slight tan, she’s playing a role and the average movie goer doesnt know who she is and that she is halfish black, i think more of a fuss would occur if she was cast in a black role, full black women would say that she was chosen instead of a “real black girl” because hollywood is whitewashed, kinda like how half asians play asians and it causes a stir, or how 30 plus years ago white people would play native americans and asians in movies, and just imagine her playing a black women in a movie with fellow black siblings and parents, it would look absurd. it would take the viewer out of the story and leave them wondering if later in the movie it will be revealed that the mother had an affair with the milk man resulting in the white looking daughter, i just know that when i fould out she was black i was like WTF no way, i look more ethnic than her and i’m irish english and french

  20. Andrea says:

    Thank you for starting a dialogue on what it means to be “passing” in the 21st century, and why a mixed or racially ambiguous actress might choose white roles over black roles. It has made me think deeply about several issues surrounding race: 1) is it hollywood pressures that have led Rashida to choose white roles, 2) is it as someone previously suggested, perhaps she looks too white for black roles, 3) or perhaps she does identify as both black and white (and everything else) but relates more to her white counterparts, for example more than her black and Cherokee counterparts (note: there is no question about why she is not taking any Native American roles).

    Mr. Jones,
    This dialogue surrounding the whiteness of Rashida’s characters brings me to a question I’d like to pose to you…

    This may be an odd comparison, but think of the two black male characters in 30 Rock, “Tracy” (played by Tracy Morgan) and “Toofer” (played by Keith Powell). Tracy’s friends are Dot Com and Grizz (two other black men), while Toofer’s friends are Frank and Lutz (two white men). Even though Toofer does not seem to be of mixed race, he seems to identify more with white men than black men. If you consider the question about whether Rashida’s characters could be played by white women or black, usually they could be played by white women and not as easily by black women. Tracy’s character could not be played by a white man, while Toofer’s character could be played by a white man. So does that mean that Keith’s character “Toofer” is passing the way that Rashida’s characters are? And if so, would you then argue that Keith should not play such characters or just that he should play both types of characters, that is, those able to be switched out with white actors and those only believably played by black actors, such as the character of “Tracy?”

  21. Genevieve says:

    The fact that people have gotten so up in arms over this question just demonstrates how uncomfortable we still are with race, and I think, with our own blackness. It’s a fair question.

    In all the kerfuffle people seem to be skipping over the fact that for many many years a lot of black folks tried to distance themselves from their blackness. Before the “Black is beautiful” movement in the seventies, it was an insult to say a black person was African. I mean, really, if I had to hear one more time “I got good hair, because I got Indian in my family” I was going to vomit. The straightening of hair, the praising of its straighter texture (“good hair”, if you were fortunate enough to have it), the desire for green eyes, or a lighter complexioned child, are all symptoms of a sickness to be closer to a white standard of beauty. It’s 2012 and it’s still an issue. I taught middle schoolers earlier this year, and I had a dark skinned female student who told me she was often ridiculed by other black students because of her skin color. So, yes, it’s STILL an issue. In fact, I think it’s at the heart of this discussion. The desire to know if Rashida Jones is in some way trying to flee her blackness, or escape it, or downplay it, or whatever. It’s the question that brought me to this blog. I googled that very thing. Why do we wonder it? Because we are products of this society, and it’s fair for a thinking person to question it. So, I completely understand the analysis, and appreciate your honesty, Mr. Jones.

  22. Mari says:

    “Originally, I had planned to broil Rashida and accuse her of rejecting her blackness in favor of the other side of her ethnicity”.

    “It’s cool that she identifies with being black, and that’s not to say it would be any less acceptable if she saw herself as white, or Jewish, or any part of her background”.

    These sentences are contradictory. First the author wanted to broil her, then when she found out Rashida identified with being black you said that was “cool” but that it wouldn’t be any less acceptable if she embraced other parts of her background.

    But it seems if she said she identified with being more eastern-european jewish (which her mother is), you WOULD have broiled her, right? That is essentially what you said.

    Also I’m assuming if she follows the jewish faith, she is choosing boyfriends who are of the same faith, having cultural ties to being jewish is not the same thing as practicing the religion.

    Also, she really probably does not get offered roles as even a mixed-race woman on account of her looking caucasian, (her features are more caucasian looking than Halle Berry, Vanessa Williams and even Maya Rudolph, do you disagree? so why are we blaming her???

  23. Alex says:

    Thought I’d chip in as I’m an actress. My mother is white and my father is black. But I myself look racially ambiguous, and people generally see me as white or think I have “a bit of ‘something’ in me”. Taking how I identify out of the equation, I think perhaps people are overestimating the amount of choice people have when it comes down to choosing roles.

    Hollywood is about boxes and stereotypes. They have a very narrow definition of what being black or mixed looks like. And you can’t realistically go for black or multiracial role if you don’t look it. Vanessa Williams, Halle Berry and even Paula Patton, my be light-skinned but it’s very easy to see that they have African -American ancestry. In my opinion this is not evident with somebody like myself of Rashida Jones.

    I seriously doubt that she has been rejecting roles. It is more likely they have not been offered. And even if they were, what sort of roles would they be? Being a woman in the acting profession is tough as it is. There are not enough decent roles to go around and there are fewer (or should i say narrower) choices for black women.

    Plus, I can’t even imagine the fuss if she got cast in a massive lead role as an African-American woman.

    I’ve never put myself up to audition for mixed-race (what we call it in the UK) roles, not because it’s not how I self-identify, but because I know that I am not what they’re looking for, I don’t tick that box. I can just see me standing on stage delivering a monologue and people scratching their heads thinking…who is this white girl? I got laughed at at school for saying my dad was black, purely because they thought I was lying. But sometimes I apply for things just so that they know that we all look different.

    I hope things change. At the moment in the UK, every mixed-race woman on our screens looks almost identical, including all having the same beautiful corkscrew afro (which i am also sadly lacking :/) Which makes a change for them not being on the screen at all, I just think it will take a very long time.

    Rashida has said “The thing is, I do identify with being black, and if people don’t identify me that way that’s their issue. I’m happy to challenge people’s understanding of what it looks like to be biracial” –

    When people start to realise that we all look different (which could take an age, as people still think I am an oddity), perhaps we will start to see this reflected on the screen. Or perhaps it is down to the screen to change the audience. However, I find this unlikely as films and TV rely on stereotypes.

    I must add that I’m perfectly content identifying as mixed/biracial. It’s not a problem for me. I get frustrated with people telling me to identify with one or the other. I was raised by a white family and people generally think I’m white, however, i went to a predominantly black school and most of my friends were black. When I’m around a large group of white people, even though they probably don’t notice me, I’m very aware of the fact. Likewise, when I’m in a large group of black people I am acutely aware of my “whiteness”. But rather than hide from this feeling of otherness I embrace it. I like being a chameleon. I don’t feel I’m denying any part of myself, this is who I am. Perhaps I would feel differently if I were raised in the USA and not London, UK. I think race relations and racial identity can be very culturally specific.

    • Alex says:

      To clarify a contradiction in my post: I have contacted casting directors for mixed-race roles on a couple of occasions (explaining on my cover letter that I might not be what they have in mind but explaining that I am in-fact mixed). But as yet I’ve never been called in to audition for these roles, and generally if I see a casting, I won’t apply.

      • Jae says:

        Alex,

        that was my thoughts exactly. That you don’t really have that much of a choice in the matter if you seek work in that field. I understand that it is all about perception and if you are percieved to be white, then that is the role you will be cast in. I look at my children and wonder about them. I am black (always assumed to be hispanic, biracial, or some kind of “other) and my husband is white. They are very young right now, but I wonder how much of an influence the world’s views of race will shape their lives. Hopefully when they are adults the world may gain more understanding and such focus won’t be put on trying to categorize people. I know it’s wishful thinking, but thank you for bringing insight from somoene who is having that experience now.

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