What Is Singer Mariah Carey's Ethnicity? Black, White, Mixed Race? 65,000 Fans Ask About Her Racial Heritage
STATE OF RACE: What ethnicity and nationality is Mariah Carey? Is she black, white or mixed race? These are just some of the questions confused Internet users ask every month about the music star's genealogy and ethnic background.“My family is like a pot-pourri of color,” the former 'American Idol' judge told Vibe magazine. Below; Watch Mariah Carey talk about her genealogy and family background on 'Lopez Tonight'.
MUSIC STAR MARIAH CAREY MAY LOOK WHITE, but in America race is never that simple, thanks to old laws and conventions that make being black more than an aesthetic issue. By Ben Arogundade.
*MARIAH CAREY'S ETHNICITY ACCORDING TO GOOGLE SEARCH
The number of people worldwide who Google the question, “Is Mariah Carey mixed race?” each month.
The number of people worldwide who Google the question, “Is Mariah Carey white?” each month.
The number of people worldwide who Google the question, “Is Mariah Carey black?” each month.
*All figures for “Mariah Carey's Ethnicity According to Google Search”, supplied by Google. Stats include global totals for laptop and desktop computers and mobile devices.
5,400. THAT IS THE STAGGERING number of global Internet users that type the question, “Is Mariah Carey black?” into the browsers of their electronic devices every month. That adds up to 65,000 searches per year. Meanwhile, another 1,500 fans a month also also ask whether the music star and former American Idol judge is white or of mixed race. Altogether, over 100,000 people per year ask a range of such questions about the singer's ethnicity, race, nationality and background.
ETHNICITY AND GENEALOGY Questions about the 43-year-old recording artist’s ethnicity and genealogy have trailed her throughout her career. When Carey first came to prominence as a singer her record company were accused of concealing her true ethnicity, preferring instead to sell her as a potentially more lucrative white crossover artist. For years the press described the singer purely as Caucasian. Writer Nelson George even referred to her as “a white girl who can sing”. Aesthetically, this assumption did not seem out of place, as Carey's skin is pale, and her hair is naturally straight.
MARIAH CAREY'S CHILDHOOD In truth, Mariah Carey's family history and background are diverse. Her late father, Alfred Roy Carey, was an aeronautical engineer of Venezuelan heritage, while her mother Patricia Hickey is of Irish American ancestry.
The couple married in 1960, when racial tensions in America were at their height, and interracial relationships were frowned upon within many quarters. Unsurprisingly, race featured strongly during Mariah's early childhood growing up in Huntington, New York City. “It's been difficult for me, moving around so much, having to grow up by myself... my parents divorced,” she recalled in Mariah Carey Revisited. “And I always felt kind of different from everybody else in my neighborhoods. I was a different person ethnically. And sometimes, that can be a problem. If you look a certain way, everybody goes ‘White girl’, and I'd go, ‘No, that's not what I am.’”
BIOGRAPHY OF RACE When success finally came, the recording star was quizzed on her mother and father's background, and what race she identified with. She came out unequivocally and stated, “I’m mixed. That's what it is,” in an interview with Vibe magazine in 1998. “I’m not in denial of either of them [her parents]. But anybody who’s mixed knows they’re of the black race.”
Nevertheless, questions about Carey's ethnicity and genealogy refused to dissipate. 10 years later, on US talk show Lopez Tonight, she was asked yet again what colour she was — to which she replied, “In this country, black.”
So, why does she see herself as black, when to the naked eye she appears to be white, complete with straight brown or blonde hair? The answer lies, not in the biological facts, but within the history of slavery and racism in America.
RACE AND THE ONE-DROP RULE In her statement on the talk show, Carey, star of films Precious and The Butler, made historical reference to America’s so-called “one-drop rule” — a series of laws dating back to the early 20th century, which classified as legally “black”, any individual with as little as “one drop” of “black blood” within their family history. The legislation was designed as a means of using African genealogy to constrain all children of biracial unions to a lower socio-economic status within post-slavery society. The rule was passed into law in the early 20th century, beginning in Tennessee in 1910. By 1931, most states in America had adopted some form of one-drop law.
THE NEW BLACK Under the new legislation all people of mixed race ancestry found themselves, by definition, rejected by whites, but embraced by the African American community as “black”, regardless of their white ancestry and straight hair. Although the last of these laws are now gone — repealed in the late 1960s — their original classifications remain very much in use today. People of mixed or biracial heritage are still considered “black”, both in terms of the way they are perceived and often discriminated against in society, and also in terms of being identified as such by other people of colour. This explains why Mariah Carey is often referred to as “black” by many African Americans, because, of her two parents, her father Alfred Roy Carey's African genealogy obeys the old one-drop rule originally invented by American history's racists.
RACE BY NUMBERS Despite these facts, analysing Google's search numbers on Carey today reveals that much curiosity, if not confusion over her exact ethnicity continues apace. Clearly there are many out there who are ignorant of the singer's genealogy and family history. Indeed, many of the online searches about Carey's nationality and ethnicity come from countries outside the United States, where fans may be unaware of the history of racial politics that govern identity.
Understandably, after almost 20 years of scrutiny, Carey herself has grown weary of the whole race question. When it was suggested on Lopez Tonight that she undertake ancestral DNA testing to determine her exact genealogy, she avoided the opportunity, keen to finally put the issue to rest once and for all.
FAMILY FUSION: Above; Actress and recording artist Mariah Carey's parents are of mixed ethnicity and nationality. Her mother Patricia, pictured above, is of Irish American ancestry, while her father Alfred is of Venezuelan heritage. His African genealogy is a qualifier for Carey's identification as 'black'. Below; A young Mariah Carey and mother Patricia.