It’s Like Passing, But Not Really

We blacks often say we come in all shades, shapes and sizes. But we come in such a variety that sometimes people who share some of our attributes are one African genetic marker away from being one-drop-ruled straight out of their born ethnic group. Who are these people and why do I wonder about the possible secret Negroes in their bloodline? … Um, in case you haven’t noticed, I have a secret incognegro fascination that began with Halle Berry’s abysmal performance in “Alex Haley’s Queen” to James Weldon Johnson’s excellent “Autobiography of An Ex-coloured Man.” Here’s my take on the phantom features that make you go “hmm … could be?”

In our race conscious society every now and then you’ll meet a person and go, “What the hell are you?” Maybe their lips are too thick or their nose too bulbous, or perhaps they bear more of a resemblance to Thurgood Marshall than William Rehnquist. Both are pale, but one is giving you five on the black hand side.

That’s the nature of our bizarre dance of race in America, where the whitest looking black man can be a “let’s separate for the United States and move back to Africa” rebel. It doesn’t matter. The one-drop-rule is still in effect even if it’s not enforceable by law anymore. You are what you look like and what on earth does a black American look like when they can virtually look like anyone and anything.

I’ve arranged a gaggle of potential passers to point out how fluid features that are perceived as “black” are amongst all Americas. Based on some suggestions from some Snob blog readers I have arranged a list of the most likely candidates who have a few secret Negroes in their bloodline. (We’re sneaky like that!)

Bob Barr, former Republican-turn-Libertarian candidate for president

I’ll be honest. The first time I saw Barr I thought he was an incognegro. Maybe it’s the fact that he rocks the ‘stache and when most white male professions dumped facial hair long ago. Yet black men continue to embrace their ‘staches, soul patches, Van Dykes and goatees.

And it didn’t help that he looks almost exactly like Rev. Jeremiah Wright.

It’s true. And political blog Wonkette totally agrees with me. Something is afoot I tell you! Check that man’s familial closet to find those secret Negroes!

Jeffrey Toobin, legal expert, CNN analyst and author

I’m just not going to accept no for an answer on this one. Of all the individuals on the list, next to Bob Barr, Toobin is the blackest looking white man I’ve seen in a long time. It’s ridiculous. The ever darkening light brown tan. The nose. The curly hair. Sure, he could just be an ethnic Jew or Greek or Middle Eastern, but screw that. He could be the brother of CBS’ Morning Show anchor, Russ Mitchell.

Pony up those secret Negroes, Toobin! You’re fooling no one!

Harry Connick Jr., jazz musician, New Orleanian, Black everything aficionado

I had to convince my father that Connick was not, in fact, a black man. We’d watched a commercial for some SUV featuring Connick talking about rebuilding New Orleans. It opens with just his voice, which caused the confusion. Papa Snob initially thought it was a pro-football player for the Saints. Connick has such a distinct black accent despite being a white man (as far as we know) that when he was revealed, cheerfully telling a group of mostly black people, “Who brought the crawfish?” my father was convinced that he had to be a black man.

Or at least part of a black man.

Physically, Connick doesn’t look black, although he does have pouty, thick lips, can dance seductively, sings and plays jazz with primarily blacks backing him up and loves all things New Orleans, his hometown, both black and white. He also can clap on the beat. I’ve heard that’s an issue for some white people. Connick apparently came out of the womb loving a rhythm section. And he’s sexy as hell, and while I find some white men attractive, when I saw Connick in concert a few years back in Bakersfield he really projected the sort of vibe you typically only find in some of the more mesmerizing black male soul acts of the 1960s. And the camaraderie between himself and the band is priceless.

Jason Momoa, model/actor, lover of Lisa Bonet

When he was younger and his hair was cut short he looked like a Hapa (which he is, being half white and half Hawaiian). But then he grew a beard and dreadlocks and inherited an entirely new racial identity. While I’m aware that Momoa is not a black person, I dare you to look at his before and after picture and not come away with a very Negro vibe about him. He could be the love child of Gary Dourdan and Lenny Kravitz.

Pete Wentz, musician, singer/songwriter, Fall Out Boy

OK, rocking an eyeliner that those emo punk-loving, goth, glam rock ladyboys envy on first glance may not seem to be Negro enough. But seriously? As fey as this may all seem I’ve seen feyer things pop up in the realm of black male sexuality. But the true indictment of suspicious blackness is this photo of Pete as a kid.

Other issues, his brother totally has an afro. Secondly, he has naturally curly hair he straightens. Everyone is tan except his white father. But his slight Negroid features can be chalked up to the fact that his mother is Hawaiian. As we’ve discussed on this blog before (specifically on the incognegro entry on Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) Polynesians and African Americans can sometimes have eerily similar features.

Like Momoa, Wentz is a Hapa, half Hawaiian and half Caucasian.

My mother, who as far as we know did not pick up any phantom bloodlines from some Polynesians, often gets mistaken for Filipino. She even confuses the occasional Asian person. This happened to her a lot when she was a young woman, weighing only 95 lbs, often wearing her hair straight, possessing tiny, almond-shaped eyes and being only 5 ft tall. Since Asians from the South Pacific can get as dark as some black Americans, my mom was just the right color of golden brown to confuse the hell out of people.

She, of course, doesn’t see it. (She’s militantly Negro.) But I can’t look at an Asian woman over 50 and not think of her.

So who else do you think belongs on the list of “Passing, But Not Really?

38 thoughts on “It’s Like Passing, But Not Really

  1. Anne Curry and Suzanne Malveau defintely strike me as “incognegroes”I always look at them with a ” mmmhh hhhhmmm, they are one of us.” I remember hearing Ms. Curry say she thought she was part black on a morning segment last year.Phoebe Snow. Now there’s an anomalie. I know she isn’t black, but listen to her and you’d swear she was, especially when you saw her.Wikipedia has a great list of mixed race famous people. The most surprising entry was Carol Channing; apparently she is an octoroon.

  2. deedlelee: I have a total girl crush on Anne Curry. I did not understand why they didn’t make her the host of Today after Katie left. I detested Katie. Anne is just so pretty with such lovely hair and a wonderful speaking voice.But Curry is white and Asian. As for Suzanne, she’s black and refers to herself as such. She’s from one of those pale as all get out, “our kind of people” ancient creole families in Louisiana.And I can remember when Channing “outed” herself as being part black in her autobiography several years back. It really explained those lips.

  3. Wow, I see what you mean about Bob Bar! Those are not White man lips! I totally thought Momoa was Black, I mean look at the locs. Who does that who isn’t part Black (except for those grungy musician, potsmoking dopes). Yep, Pete did have a fro. Polenesian is looking good for me. If I can’t find a Black man maybe thats where I want to go. Australian Maori guys look that way too. Yes I could totally see it in Malveau, she’s just too tan to not have some Black blood. This is so interesting! When I was growing up my friends and I loved to guess what people were, especially the gorgeous brown skinned people at our school, and celebrities too.

  4. the wright/ barr resemblance is hilarious! i always assumed that the gorgeous jason momoa was part negro.. good post.

  5. First can we talk about how blessed Lisa Bonet is to be cooing with the fine-ness; let alone have his baby? Hawaiian or Negro the man is a goddess. My goodness.*Wipes sweat off forehead”Back to matters at hand. Good post snob. Your choices for incognegro are dead on. I think they all hiding something. If Wentworth Miller can pass and Jews still and do change their last names in Hollywood then passing white folks definitely do not want that family tree to get shaken.Don’t even make me whip out my “Paul Mooney” discourse on race CD.

  6. Well technically, aren’t we all Black since the first person came from Africa? So yeah they are Black folks passing….sorta. I love this blog btw. This is my first time on here.

  7. Hey There – Thank you for sharing all this and pointing out the oh so obvious. I always find it interesting that many Black people have “white people” in their family or people who look white within their bloodline, but white people seem to never see themselves as related to Black people. Le sigh. I saw Paul Mooney perform the other day and to try to summarize him, he said something like:Some of the people you see who you think are white, are not! Looks are deceivingThis was related to talking about being from the Deep South and making observations on Cubans, Puerto Ricans and others who have tried to assign an “other” label to themselves within the American context.Anyway Sis – keep doing your thing and making people think and be present. Peace!Check out my site:

  8. What’s going on Snob,Haven’t visited in a while. Funny post and soo true.Bob Barr is a brotha! I’m sorry. That man has some negroes in his family tree …maybe two generations back but I’m sorry, it’s somewhere.I don’t really see the “blackness” in Toobin and Wentz, physically. Do you find it interesting that Wentz and many other white/Asian celebs are pretty much seen as “white”. There’s no internet debates on if they should be called or are really Asian or not. People generally seem not to care. But when you’re black ….you know the drill. What do you make of that?Yeah, Connick Jr. always had a lot of soul. White folks in the South often have recent African lineage but …they’ll shoot you before you find that out though! Lots of throwback babies. LOL.Now …as far as my list of “white” celebs who I swore had some black in ’em …Carly Simon. I swore that woman was black for years and I turned out to be right! …she revealed in a 2003 interview that her grandmother was actually black. Roma Maffia. Actress from “Nip/Tuck”. When I used to watch the trashiness of “Nip/Tuck” seasons ago (it got too trashy for me), I used to swear that Maffia was a sista. Her facial expressions, her mannerisms, her curly, kinky hair …and guess what, I actually found out that again, I was right! LOL. She’s actually black Carribean and white. Her surname is her Italian stepfathers’.Chris Daughtry. Never discussed race …but he’s from the South, so you can do the math! LOL.

  9. Anne Curry and Suzanne Malveau defintely strike me as “incognegroes”I always look at them with a ” mmmhh hhhhmmm, they are one of us.”Anne Curry doesn’t seem to want to admit it.Suzanne Malveau – she’s from New Orleans. Has she denied being part of the ‘light, bright, damn near White’ part of the Black community? I didn’t think so. Bob Barr?Needs to stop FRONTIN’. He KNOWS he’s FAMILY. Man has more defined NEGROID features than I do. He knows he’s FAMILY. LMAO at you putting the pic of him and Rev. Wright, side by side. You know, you’re convincing me about Jeffery Toobin. It’s a bit curious to me too. Harry Connick? Naw. He’s a White dude.

  10. I’m glad you brought up Bob Barr. I swore he was a black guy too and I wasn’t going to blow his cover. I figure if he can knock some votes off of McCain it will be worth it.Yeah this Race thing is crazy, I see people all the time and I know they are Black. I just don’t say anything because if they want to pass go right ahead.The Inconegro Connection is on the rise. The Secret Order is already doing their thing with Bob Barr. Hooray for the passing Black!

  11. Well besides looking like she’s on some wild stuff, Jolie does look pretty colored in that picture. I’m a big fan of the guessing game too. I also love bringing white folks to my family functions and telling them afterwards that they were the only white person there. The shock and disbelief is priceless. I’ve never seen more blond haired and green eyed black folks in my life (natural mind you). They might look white but I’ll be damned if you have to ask after they open their mouths, (and the Obama pins and black fraternity/sorority colors might help as well). Almost every sizable city in the South has those old high yellow families that intermarry until they look white as can be but are deeply entrenched in the black community (they’re like our secret spies). I love it.

  12. all: I am so glad I wasn’t the only one fascinated by alleged non-black people who looked like they could pass for black. Especially Bob Barr and Jeffrey Toobin. I’m just not taking no for an answer there. Especially with Bob Barr. I mean, SERIOUSLY! He is the blackest looking white guy in the history of black looking white guys.Other points:1) Yes, Jason Momoa IS hot. Mmmm.2) Yes, Polynesians ARE hot. Double mmmmm.3) Yes, Hapas who look white are often seen as white like actors Dean Cain, Kristen Kruek, Shannyn Sossamon, Moon Bloodgood and Keanu Reeves who are all half or partially Asian, but not traditionally seen as minorities when casted for roles. And secret Hapas are harder to spot than secret Negroes. Zach from “Saved By the Bell,” (Mark-Paul Gosselaar) is half Indonesian. He only looks Asian when his hair is black. Dean Cain says he sees an Asian person when he looks in the mirror but no one else does.4) Brad Pitt? Could be? Angelina has all that German, eastern European and French Canadian blood flowing around in her which might explain her exotic looks. Or there might be a secret Negro. You never know. Although Angie and Brad seem to me like the sort of folks that if they had ANY ounce of non-white ancestry they’d wrap themselves up in it and Pitt would have joined the Nation of Islam by now.But are former dorks who grew up to be freakishly attractive people. They tend to graft themselves onto whatever has outsider status. You can’t get more outside than people of color in America.

  13. This is kind of sidebar. I was just talking to my husband about the one drop rule and how we don’t have such a thing in the Caribbean. (And it doesn’t exist in Latin America either). Of course, this presents problems for some Black Americans when they travel to the Caribbean or when Caribbean “Blacks” settle here. For instance, since my dad’s family is Caribbean Indian I’m considered a “coolie” or Indian when I go back to Jamaica. To other Caribbean people I’m considered “dougla” (a person of mixed Indian and African ancestry). But there’s no denying, in a America I’m Black, period point blank. When I explained the aforementioned to a friend of mine she was upset with me for weeks. She thought I was trying to deny my Blackness. But as my professor was fond of saying- “race has different meanings in different places and different spaces.” Some people like Jeremiah Wright wouldn’t even be considered Black in parts of Latin America.Anyway, just wanted to throw that into the discussion.

  14. Toobin has always looked like a Black man to me, it would be interesting to find out what he is. Barr definitely looks like an old Black guy to me. Good post!

  15. incognegros have always fascinated me…i always wondered about carly simon myself…not surprised her grandmother is black…and carly’s family is part of the simon and schuster’s dynasty…i wondered about roma maffia too…some of her mannerisms appear black to me…mary elizabeth mastrantonio outright had an afro in the movie “scarface”…and yes, yes…jason momoa is a fine man creature…

  16. Ok, so I’m not a weirdo then–I have a girl crush on Anne Curry too. I have for years. I just hate it when she begins her news segments with, “And now for serious news,” as if we’re too stupid to know the difference and can’t make the transition… –Can’t think of anyone else to add to the list at the moment. OH–you know who–Jenna Wolfe who subs on the Weekend Today show. I swear I thought she was black but was confused when I saw her mother–quick research says she was born in Jamaica.

  17. Hmm whom to add to this list? Well I think Shia LeBeouf and Sabrina Le Beauf are related. I mean their last names are similar and the kinda look alike. And though she doesn’t have any recent African heritage and in following this theme, Bjork looks very Asian, more Siberian I guess than Icelandic.

  18. BS – another fine post! I don’t have any other incognegros to out – I think you’ve covered them all. But as to Angelina – I think what I see in the picture is her First Nations heritage, I don’t remember if she has ever discussed which Nation but her Mom was not just French-Canadian but also First Nations.

  19. Snob,Phoebe Snow isn’t Black?! WTF! And did you know that Suzanne Malveaux has a twin sister?And I have a topic for you: what about all of the Latina actresses that go back and forth, Black and then Puerto Rican, Dominican, Cuban, etc. People like Rosario Dawson, Gina Torres, and Zoe Saldana.

  20. Debbie Wasserman-Shultz is my parents congresswoman. She’s definitely Jewish and serves a district with a lot of very wealthy Jews. The hair, the lips and the figure is pretty typical of more ethnic Jewish women although you don’t see too many blonds with hair that curly unless its died, permed or…they’re black. My mom likes to have her Angela Davis moments and insist that the Jews were originally black so maybe that’s where it comes from.

  21. This just goes to show you that race really is a man-made (and very American) creation. Get enough “incognegro white folks” together and you can probably make a Black person or vice versa. It’s all about location and genetics. Race is in the eye of the beholder.

  22. This was the most interesting post! haha.. I have to say for one thing, Jason Mamoa is gorgeous.. looks a lot like Bonet’s ex Kravitz. And Rev. Wright’s look-a-like is definately “incognegro” as you say. hahaa 🙂

  23. Eh, Monie …Hate to belabor the fact but the Dawsons, Torres’ and Saldanas of the world are both black (racially) and “Latino” (nationality-wise). There is no going back and forth, that’s who they are. Goddman, this is like the fourth Latin American lesson I’ve had on this dang blog! Snob, maybe we could collaborate on an Afro-Latino post. No?

  24. mynameismyname: I think as a general rule Americans black and white struggle with the “Latino” concept. If you want to call it a “race,” then black person with a Spanish surname can’t be “fully” black. If you want to call it an ethnicity, then it’s a matter or reeducation. Like I consider black people from Canada to be black people. There’s no real confusion going on between black North Americans — even if one of us likes hockey more than the other.But people get all head-scratchy over black people from the French or Spanish-speaking Caribbean or from Central/South America. I never thought Zoe Saldana or Gina Torres were anything but black (can you be that black and not be black?), but I do think there is some confusion due to the fact “Hispanic” is treated like a race by many here when it’s really just an ethnicity or nationality. It would be interesting to explore this big ol’ mess in a post though. Most Americans still operate under a loose version of the one-drop-rule. Perhaps the reluctance to claim the same folks we came over on the same boat with comes from this belief that in other parts of this hemisphere black might not be black. I think this comes out of the sometimes sloppy efforts between members of the black diaspora embracing other. It’s like, we’re all black, but sometimes don’t want to be associated with one another. Or we’re pre-rejecting to avoid feeling rejected. I usually find this fact the most disturbing.

  25. I see a faint resemblance to Barr and Rev. Wright. That’s a political attack ad waiting to happen. But McCain and Co have their sites set on Obama on that end.As for Angelina Jolie, as a fan of hers I can say she has discussed her native heritage on many occasions. Her mother volunteered working with Native American people in the US for quit some time. And Jolie has an foundation that works with I think the Pine Ridge reservations. In fact her mother left money in her will to her friend and possible lover John Trudell , a famous Native American activist. They all produced a doc film on Turdell’s life.

  26. Harry Connick Jr., has black ancestry. Saw a documentary a couple of years ago in which he was being taught to play the piano with his grandfather – who was African-American. He appears to have married a white woman and, therefore, Harry’s mother is bi-racial and his father – who became an attorney-general, is white. Harry’s black-ccent is due to hanging out with his grandfather and other black jazz musicians, when he sneaked out to clubs as a teen to watch them play.

  27. You blacks are Aryanists. Most of us whites are not into racial purity. You are too cowardly as a race to claim the Latinos and Arabs, who are overflowing with your dreaded black blood. You don’t dare to even mention their “Negro blood,” much less call them “black” because you would have racial war on your hands if you dared to try.Black males seek out mulatto and creole white females as “beautiful” appendages to professional success. It is understood that “white” is beautiful and “black” is the opposite. The also get to deny that they are committing “miscegenation.” This may be the real reason that their intelligentsia, who claim the moral right to tutor America on what is and is not “racism,” fight like hell to maintain and perpetuate a “one drop” myth that condemns their genes as the most inferior, damning and undesirable on God’s earth. What is even more hypocritical is the fact that these same people often condemn those who make “official” interracial marriages as lacking in “racial pride.” They are really projecting their own racial inferiority complex onto others. The Indian and the Asian have more sense and more self-esteem. They do not attempt to claim people who are obviously not theirs, nor do they write and speak in favor of doctrines based on the assumption of their inferiority. This is why you will never see a “Bell Curve” revelation of the “inferiority” of American Indians despite their pitiful performance in schools and universities. The open acknowledgment of Native American ancestry in “whites” makes that option politically unfeasible. One would think the Negro and mulatto elites would learn, but they are wedded to the fear that they might really be biologically inferior and “white blood” will somehow protect them against the day. Why do you think the NAACP really panicked when the multiracial category was proposed? Voting rights? Bull! They feared losing “superior” white breeding stock and the intelligence and (female) beauty that supposedly comes with “superior” white blood.The black and mulatto elite intelligentsia get the Northern liberals to cry and feel guilty over the alleged rapes they suffered during slavery. For those of you who claim that personal experience is always superior to historical research, let us say that personal experience would dictate that the Negro was “honored” not “raped.” Outraged? Many peoples have been raped throughout history. That is nothing new. What is special about the Negro is the way he came to prize the blood of the people he hated. No one fights to preserve a shame; they do fight to preserve an honor. That is why the Negro and his mulatto and white slaves foam at the mouth like rabid dogs at the thought of captives escaping (i.e., “passing”) . They fear the loss of “superior” blood. If the black and mulatto elite intelligentsia were honest in their inferiority complex, they might propose the following monument, to be placed next to those omnipresent Confederate memorials in every Southern town:To the Unknown RapistWhose Superior Blood GaveIntelligence and Beauty toA Grateful and Inferior RaceSure, it’s sick but it’s honest.

  28. Did anyone mention Benicio Del Toro? I know he’s Puerto rican, but with his features and body language I wonder. I have to run.

  29. Since when do polynesian’s have “kinky” hair. I’m going to say that pete wentz mom is a black woman from Hawai. Just because your from a certain geographic location doesn’t mean you belong to the native ethnic population. There are white people in South Africa and black people in Russia…

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