Monday, November 28, 2011

From Black To Racially Ambigious...WTH?

I am a Black woman. I have always known I am Black. My family and friends know I’m Black. At times there has been confusion because I’m a fair-skinned Black woman. The confusion is usually with Latin men, who speak Spanish to me and I politely respond, “no hablo espanol.” Then they take a closer look at me, smile and move on. This has happened numerous times and is a regular occurrence in certain neighborhoods and countries. It was not until I began acting a few months ago that I even considered using this misidentification to my advantage.

I began putting my acting resume together and shared it with a fellow actor. She suggested, along with my actual race, I list the other ethnicities I can also play. It took me a minute to figure out exactly what she meant. I decided to stay true to myself and list only “African American.” I am a Black woman and I want to play roles that are either Black or not-ethnically based. Much to my chagrin, it seems Hollywood has something different in mind.

I recently saw an advertisement looking for a “racially ambiguous” woman. What in the world? Who the heck is “racially ambiguous?” It hit me like a ton of bricks, I’m racially ambiguous…at least to some people. When Black folks see me, they see a sista; when Latinos see me, they see a senorita and I know I confuse the heck out of a lot of white folks. I can’t tell you the number of times a white person has asked, “What are you?

So, I revised my resume to read, “Ethnicity: Black (can play Hispanic, Middle Eastern or North African).” Has the pendulum swung so far that we are non-racial?

I may work as multi-ethnic, bi-racial or mixed, but I won’t live that way. It took me years to get over my hang-ups about being a fair-skinned, hiyella, redbone, light-bright Black woman. I am proud to be a Black woman, and while there is probably some white, American Indian and other in my ancestry, when I look in the mirror, I know who I am and I am wonderful.

Photo: Me and Daddy on July 4, 2011

This is a repost of an article I wrote for Body and Self Image. Submit your [self image] story here:


Anonymous said...

Why not just say "Black, but can play other ethnicities"? I think you're lucky as an actor, because you have that flexibility. Stay who you are, but use other people's ignorance to your advantage! :-)

Shannon said...

It's a personal issue for me. Having a Chinese woman play a geisha, a white woman play Cleopatra or me playing a Latina just ~feels~ a bit off to me. There are plenty of talented men and women all of ethnicities to play all of the roles available.

Anonymous said...


I appreciate your sharing this. While I am not an actor, I have dealt with the scenario similar to yours. Being from Louisiana of which is a melting pot of different backgrounds, I definitely have other ancestry in my blood. However, I still live my life as black man. I always have and will. Don't feel bad. I still get cross eyed looks from a few blacks when they ask me where i'm from or what I am.

Cliff Curtis (Training Day) is an actor I admire. He is a naitve of New Zealand, but plays Latino, Middle Eastern and many other roles that may require a certain ethnicity or nationality. However, he still remains true to who he is.

Don't sell yourself short. You can still play many roles which may not be black per se, but not betray who you are. At the end of the day when you clock out, you are still a black woman, no matter what. Good luck with your acting career.


Anonymous said...

Hi Shannon. I have a son who is 20 months old and I am trying to create a resume for him. He is african american and white. I think he is racially ambigious. He looks white to white people, latin to latins, and light skinned to blacks. I looked online to see resume examples but I didn't see ANY listing race only height, weight, eye color. I want to give my son the best possible advantage when sending out these resumes. Do you think I should put his race in or leave it out and let people just look at the photo?

Shannon said...

If you're creating an acting resume, what I've seen and have listed on mine is this, "Ethnicity: African American (can play Latino, North African and Middle Eastern). This allows for the broadest casting opportunities.

I hope this was helpful.

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I live in Washington, DC, one of the most beautiful places on earth. My personal mantra, "live your life, this isn't a dress rehearsal, you don't get very many do-overs, and guilt is a wasted emotion."