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ARTICLES AND BOOKS BY WRITER BEN AROGUNDADE
Jennifer Beals: She's Black, She's Irish, She's American — “The Whole Idea Of Race Has Got To Change”
THE PLACE OF RACE: Is film star Jennifer Beals black, white or biracial? What is her ethnicity and nationality? These are just some of the questions Internet users ask about the celebrity actor each month. In fact her parents are of African American and Irish American heritage.
THE ETHNICITY OF AMERICA is changing fast, as people of multi-racial ancestry, such as actor Jennifer Beals, continue to flourish. But how will they navigate traditional color lines? By Ben Arogundade.
AESTHETICALLY, SHE HAS much in common with Mariah Carey, Rosario Dawson, Zoe Saldana, Paula Patton and Alicia Keys — other celebrities of mixed ethnicity who could pass for a range of nationalities. Actress and former model Jennifer Beals, star of the films Flashdance (1983), Devil In A Blue Dress (1995) and the hit TV show The L-Word (2004), was born on the south side of Chicago, Illinois on December 19, 1963. Her parents were from different ethnic and professional backgrounds — her mother, Jeanne Anderson, was a Jewish Irish American schoolteacher, and her father, Alfred Beals, was an African American grocery store owner. He died when Beals was nine.
BIRACIAL OUTSIDER Jennifer grew up in a predominantly African American neighbourhood, where she was teased about her biracial heritage by local children, who called her “Whitey”, on account of her light skin tone. It was experiences like this that turned her into a loner — a feeling she was later able to harness and channel into her acting. Of her role in the TV show The L-Word, she said, “Because I’m biracial, I’ve always lived sort of on the outside. The idea of being ‘the other’ in society is not foreign to me.”
BLURRED ETHNICITY HELPS AND HINDERS While Beals' ethnicity and racially ambiguous beauty may have awarded her a diverse range of film roles over the years — she played a Latina in In The Soup (1992) and a white Brit in Mrs Parker and the Vicious Circle (1994) — like many other light-skinned African American actresses and models of her generation, she has often been passed over for black roles. “People say that I don’t look black enough,” she told Vibe.
But today, these traditional racial colour lines are blurring fast. Beals belongs to the growing group of Americans (led by Barack Obama) of racially mixed heritage — seven million, according to the 2000 census. “I think that America is going to have to wake up and realize that the dominant face of this country is not white,” said Beals. “It’s many things...The whole country is changing, and the whole idea of race has got to change.”