21 Celebrities Open Up About Their Experiences With Being Mixed-Race

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Growing up, most kids just want to fit in. Everyone struggles to fit in to some extent. After all, we’re all different; however, some people have a harder time feeling like they belong than other people do.

Having parents from two different races can make life more complicated, and even celebrities who are mixed-race experienced their fair share of feeling like they didn’t belong or like they didn’t know how to answer the question “What are you?”

Some celebrities have talked openly about their experiences being mixed race. Although they have learned to embrace the multiple cultures and races that make up their identity, it hasn’t always been easy.

  1. Lenny Kravitz

    Lenny Kravitz has a black mother and a white father, but he points out that his identity is more complex than that. In an interview with Huffpost he explained how difficult it was to fill out forms at school where you were supposed to check a box to indicate your race. His thought process went like this: “My great-grandmother’s Cherokee Indian. My father’s a Russian Jew. My mom’s Bahamian,” Lenny says. “[I thought], ‘What the hell do I put on this thing?’” Meanwhile, his teacher told him to check the box “black.” He never liked having his identity simplified so much.

  2. Chrissy Teigen

    Chrissy Teigen’s mom is Thai and her dad is Norwegian. She told SheKnows that she used to feel embarrassed by Thai culture, mainly because she wanted to be normal and fit in. She explained, “It was weird to pull shrimp heads off and discard the body and eat the head. There were moments when as a kid you cringe.” She also found it confusing filling out forms at school. “I remember feeling confused when I grew up, filling out the forms on those standardized tests. I was like, ‘Am I Pacific Islander? What am I? I don’t even know!’ And then there was ‘Other.’ But I always said ‘Asian’ for some wild reason, even though it’s a perfect 50/50. Still, I remember the biggest question growing up was, ‘What are you? What are you? What are you?’ And you’re like, ‘Oh, my God.’” She worries sometimes about her daughter Luna and how she will cope with being mixed-race. “I worry sometimes that Luna is going to be so much in the middle that she’s not going to know, but I think by the time she grows up, it’s such a melting pot, this whole world now.”

  3. Shakira

    Shakira’s mother is Columbian, and her father is Lebanese. She told Faze,“I am a fusion. That’s my persona. I’m a fusion between black and white, between pop and rock, between cultures—between my Lebanese father and my mother’s Spanish blood, the Colombian folklore and Arab dance I love and American music.”

  4. Halle Berry

    Halle Berry told Refinery29 that she was called an “Oreo” at her suburban school which was mainly filled with white kids. She explained that’s what kids were called when they had one white parent and one black parent. She thinks that looking different than the other kids made her stronger. “My need to please and my desire to achieve was because I was constantly trying to prove that I was as good as the other white students. I felt very less than and I thought if I could beat them at everything, then I can be as good as them. Subsequently, that taught me how to win in life.”

  5. Meghan Markle

    Meghan Markle has a white dad and a black mom, but she thinks identity is much more complicated than a black and white answer. She told Elle, “Being biracial paints a blurred line that is equal parts staggering and illuminating.” She went on to describe a memorable Christmas present. “When I was about seven, I had been fawning over a boxed set of Barbie dolls. It was called The Heart Family and included a mom doll, a dad doll, and two children. This perfect nuclear family was only sold in sets of white dolls or black dolls. I don’t remember coveting one over the other, I just wanted one. On Christmas morning, swathed in glitter-flecked wrapping paper, there I found my Heart Family: a black mom doll, a white dad doll, and a child in each colour. My dad had taken the sets apart and customized my family.” Like other mixed-race people, she found it hard to check a box to indicate her race. Her teacher told her, “Check the box for Caucasian. Because that’s how you look, Meghan.” She ended up not checking a box at all.

  6. Jason Momoa

    Jason Momoa’s mother is Native American, German and Irish. His father is Hawaiian. He grew up in Iowa, and he is extremely proud that, as Aquaman, he was the first mixed-race superhero. He told The New Paper, “To be the first mixed-race superhero…that is a huge honor.” He also felt that being from different cultures helped him relate to the character. “But it is cool being able to relate as someone who is truly of two different cultures, when each of those cultures doesn’t know of the other.”

  7. Maya Rudolph

    Maya Rudolph’s mother is black, and her father is Jewish. She told The New York Times, “When I was a kid, and people would come up to me or stare at me because of my mom, I didn’t like it. I really didn’t like it. I used to think, Oh, they’re staring at my hair, because it’s so big and ugly. Because I didn’t realize people were just staring at my mother, like, ‘Wow, that’s her daughter!’ I didn’t know; I was a kid. And kids always personalize things.”

  8. Tracee Ellis Ross

    Tracee Ellis Ross’s mother is black, and her father is Jewish. She told USA Today, “A mixed kid in America is a mixed kid in America. And there’s a lot of very archetypal experiences that we have that are the contradictions of these two heritages.”

  9. Mariah Carey

    Mariah Carey’s father is black and her mother is Irish. She told Vulture that she grew up in a white neighborhood and never quite fit in. She wasn’t white enough to be white or black enough to be black.

  10. Keegan-Michael Key

    Keegan-Michael Key is black and white, and he was adopted by a mixed-race couple. He grew up with a black dad and a white mom. He told CNN, “At school it was not comfortable. My mom would come by my school to bring me lunch – my mom is a cute, ruddy little white woman, and there’s no category for that – the kids don’t know how to respond, and so they tease: ‘That ain’t your mama!’ ‘Why you talk white?’ It’s not to say that every child in grade school talked to me that way, but that’s what I remember.”

  11. Henry Golding

    Henry Golding is British and Malaysian. He has been criticized for not being “Asian enough” to play Asian characters in movies. He told Bustle, “Just because by blood I’m not full Asian doesn’t mean I can’t own my Asianness. And I relate so much more with my Asian side. I sound ridiculously British, but I was born in Sarawak [Malaysia]… like I’m from the tribe in the middle of the jungle — you cannot get any more Asian than that. I’ve grown more than half my entire life in Asia, exposed to more cultures than you can shake a stick at just through what I’ve done in the past. If anyone can relate to being Asian in the Asian culture, it was me.”

  12. Taika Waititi

    Taika Waititi is half-Polynesian, but he grew up in New Zealand. He told Dazed, “I think New Zealand is the best place on the planet, but it’s a racist place. People just flat-out refuse to pronounce Maori names properly. There’s still profiling when it comes to Polynesians. It’s not even a colour thing – like, ‘Oh, there’s a black person.’ It’s, ‘If you’re Poly then you’re getting profiled.’”

  13. Zendaya

    Zendaya, who is black and white, spoke about being a “light-skinned black woman” at the 2018 Beautycon Festival. She explained, “I am Hollywood’s, I guess you could say, acceptable version of a black girl and that needs to change. We’re vastly too beautiful and too interesting for me to be the only representation of that. What I’m saying, it’s about creating those opportunities. Sometimes you have to create those paths. And that’s with anything, Hollywood, art, whatever.”

  14. K.J. Apa

    K.J. Apa is Caucasian and Samoan. He very much identifies with his Samoan heritage. He even used to speak the language. He told Vulture, “I have a massive Samoan family. And the Samoan culture has always played a massive part of my life. I’ve got hundreds of family on my dad’s side that live in Samoa and in New Zealand. I’ve just been surrounded by the culture ever since I was a kid.”

  15. Kimora Lee Simmons

    Kimora Lee Simmons has a black father and a Korean-Japanese mother. She told Working Mother that she never felt like she fit in when she was in school, but her mother gave her some great advice. “Put on your game face. Yes, it hurts, but don’t succumb to it. It will pass.” As she grew up, she found this advice to be true. “Even though I felt a bit like a freak in school, my unusual looks were just right somewhere else—in the world of modeling.”

  16. Olivia Munn

    Olivia Munn is white and Chinese. She spent most of her childhood in Japan but finished high school in Oklahoma. She told Prestige that she had trouble navigating Hollywood when she started auditioning. She’d go to an audition and be told that she was “too white” or “too Asian.” Once someone said to her, “Don’t feel bad. One day they won’t be trying to match you to fit with anyone else. You’ll just be hired for you.”

  17. Aubrey Plaza

    Aubrey Plaza is part white and part Puerto Rican. She told Latina magazine that being mixed-race was difficult for her. “I won the Hispanic teenager of the year and I felt terrible. I always felt like I didn’t deserve to win because I was really half [Latino].”

  18. Amandla Stenberg

    Amandla Stenberg is part black and part Danish. Being mixed race gives her lighter-black skin that Hollywood seems to like. She told Variety, “Me and Yara and Zendaya are perceived in the same way, I guess, because we are lighter-skinned Black girls, and we fill this interesting place of being accessible to Hollywood and accessible to white people in a way that darker-skinned girls are not afforded the same privilege.”

  19. Naomi Scott

    Naomi Scott’s father is white, but her mother is Indian. She told Teen Vogue that Hollywood was confused by how to categorize her since she was mixed race. She remembers it being like, “She’s not white, she’s not black, she’s not Latina, what is she?” She added, “Don’t get me wrong, there were moments growing up where you’re like, ‘Oh, I don’t really feel Indian enough.’ But now I’m at a place where I’m like, You know what? It’s okay. It doesn’t make me any less Indian, or any less half Indian.”

  20. Bruno Mars

    Bruno Mars has mixed race parents. His dad is Jewish and Puerto Rican. His mom is Spanish and Filipino. He told Latina magazine, “A lot of people think, ‘This is awesome. You’re in this gray zone, so you can pass for whatever the hell you want.’ But it’s not like that at all. It’s actually the exact opposite. What we’re trying to do is educate people to know what that feels like so they ’ll never make someone feel like that ever again. Which is a hard thing to do. Because no one can see what we see and no one can grow up with what we grew up with. I hope people of color can look at me, and they know that everything they’re going through, I went through. I promise you.”

  21. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson

    Dwayne Johnson has a black father and a Samoan mother. When he came across a Twitter debate about what which race he identifies with more, he tweeted, “Glad I came across this and I’ll give you guys some context & truth. I identify as exactly what I am – both. Equally proud. Black/Samoan. And my friend, let me expand your thoughts a bit here – I transcended race in wrestling so there was no ‘booked that way’. Thx guys.”