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Celebrity Ancestry: What Is Rihanna’s Race, Ethnicity, Nationality, Parents Background? 50k Ask If She’s Black, White, Mixed, British?

RIHANNA & RACE: Thousands of her fans are unsure about her ethnicity, nationality and her parents background. But how many of them know that the answers have much to do with the actions of 17th century English military leader Oliver Cromwell and his treatment of the Irish? By Ben Arogundade. Sept. 20, 2019.

Singer Rihanna photo portrait

MODERN IDENTITY: Many of Rihanna's online fanbase are unsure of her racial origins, ethnicity and her parents background. Google records over 50,000 annual queries which ask if she is black, white, mixed, Hispanic or British.

WHAT RACE AND ETHNICITY IS Rihanna? What is her background and nationality? Is she black, mixed race, African American, Jamaican? The answers may seem obvious to some, but in fact many fans, not knowing what the music diva's heritage or genealogy is, or where her parents are from, turn to the Internet for answers. Google's search results reveal much about what people do or don't know about the celebrated recording artist. For example, approximately 300 people around the world Google the question, “Is Rihanna white?” every month. A further 1,000 people ask, “Is Rihanna black?”, while 500 fans per month ask, “Is Rihanna British?”


In fact, the music star, who has notched over 100m record sales, is West Indian. she was born Robyn Rihanna Fenty in Saint Michael, Barbados on February 20, 1988. Of her parents, her mother, Monica Braithwaite, a retired accountant, is a mix of African and Guyanese. (Guyana is located on the northern coast of South America). Her father, Ronald Fenty, was a warehouse supervisor. He is of Barbadian and Irish ancestry. Rihanna's natural green eyes are the result of European ancestors on both sides of her family, who possessed the gene for that eye colour. Racial eclecticism is part of her upbringing. “In my own household, my father is half black, half white,” the singer and designer told The New York Times. “My mom is black from South America. I was seeing diversity. That’s all I knew.”


The Irish and the Africans have a long history in Barbados. They toiled side-by-side during the era of Anglo-American slavery. The first African captives arrived on the island in 1627, and the Irish came in numbers from 1648, after English statesman and military leader Oliver Cromwell conquered Ireland and deported 50,000 Irish soldiers, political prisoners, dissidents and others, selling them on to British plantation owners as slaves and indentured servants. Many of them coupled with Africans, which is why so many biracial Barbadians today have Irish surnames.


Throughout the history of the island there have been tensions between blacks with differing skin tones. During Rihanna’s childhood she experienced the same intolerance of her light skin, loose-textured hair and mixed race heritage as many African American stars such as Jennifer Beals and Vanessa Williams before her. In school she was called “white” by some of her classmates. “They would look at me, and they would curse me out,” she told Allure magazine. “I didn’t understand.”

The music star had to learn fast about how to deal with the racial intolerances of cruel classmates. One thing that helped her cope were the experiences of famous mixed race recording artists. “I remember looking up to Mariah Carey,” she recalled. “I identified with her in so many ways. She was biracial. I remember hearing her story and feeling really connected to it.”


After being teased at high school by black pupils, it is no surprise that the adult Rihanna now chooses to self-identify as mixed race, or bi-racial, rather than black, thereby psychologically distancing herself from the aesthetic of her childhood tormentors.

Nevertheless, her self-determining choice has upset some traditionalists within the black community, particularly in America, where any person with any proportion of African ancestry is regarded as black. But Rihanna is part of a new global generation who are unafraid to go against such conventions in declaring their own kind of modern-day racial independence.

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Hi there. I am a London-based author and publisher, specialising in fiction, non-fiction and online journalism. Discover more about me and my latest projects, at Ben Arogundade bio.


THE FAMILY BLEND: 1,000 fans per month ask Google, “What race is Rihanna?” The recording artist's parents are of mixed ethnicity and nationality. Her father, Ronald Fenty, is of Barbadian and Irish heritage, while her mother, Monica Braithwaite, is Afro-Guyanese.


A POPSTAR'S HERITAGE: What ethnicity and nationality is Rihanna? Is she black, white, mixed race, American, British, Jamaican? These are just some of the questions Internet-users search about the music celebrity's background and parents heritage. English military leader Oliver Cromwell did more to influence the race and ethnicity of Rihanna's birthplace, Barbados, than any other historical figure. In 1648 he deported 50,000 Irish dissidents to the island, who subsequently mixed with the black population.



The number of people worldwide who Google the question, “Is Rihanna white?” each month.


The number of people worldwide who Google the question, “Is Rihanna black?” each month.


The number of people worldwide who Google the phrase, “Rihanna ethnicity” each month.

*All figures for “Rihanna's Green Eye Color According to Google Search”, supplied by Google. Stats include global totals for laptop and desktop computers and mobile devices.


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WE HAVE BEEN SHOCKED and appalled by the murder of George Floyd in the US, and heartened by the resistance of the Black Lives Matter movement. In the aftermath, what matters most is not this painful past, but what we are going to do now. I am determined to transform my feelings of anger, pain and sadness into something positive and inclusive, which gathers and unifies citizens of all ethnicities who believe in fairness, equality and love. Hopefully that is you.

As a writer, to do my bit to assist, I am looking to raise funds to write, produce and publish an illustrated history book that narrates the story of society’s prejudices against BAME people in the 21st century, and the subsequent work of Black Lives Matter. Each person who donates the book price or more (£45.00/$55.00) will receive a copy.

I have written before about the history of the black experience, in a book called Black Beauty published in 2000. It went on to become a bestseller, was honoured by the New York Public Library and become the subject of a three-part BBC documentary. My proposed new book is a “sequel” which continues this literary journey into this new century.

The title will become an important educational and historical document that will both inform the growing audience of people seeking to understand how we got here, and also help ensure that the aims and values of the Black Lives Matter movement continue to resonate. 

This is the most important time in the history of the struggle for racial equality since the death of Martin Luther King in 1968. Let us not allow it to pass without doing what we can. Donate now, and let’s go!

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