Political strategist and MSNBC commentator Karen Finney arrives at the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League Pro-Choice America's 2012 Los Angeles Power of Choice Reception in West Hollywood, California

Why is our blackness always up for debate?

Karen Finney, the former deputy press secretary for Hillary Clinton, was announced as the host of a new show on MSNBC, airing on weekends from 4-5 PM EST. As part of the press rollout for the show, MSNBC touted her as the “first African-American spokeswoman for the Democratic National Committee.”

Newsbusters’ Tim J. Graham doesn’t believe she fits the description, because she doesn’t look black enough. He tweeted: “MSNBC touting Karen Finney as another African-American host. Would the average viewer be able to guess that? Or is Boehner a shade more tan?”

To prove her melanin count is too low for his taste, Graham followed up with a picture of her and asked his followers to help decide her racial makeup.

The problem is Graham doesn’t get to make that decision. Finney does. And since she identifies as black, it’s deplorable for him to debate that based on his own ignorance. We come in a variety of shades and tones, even “tan.”

His line of questioning reminds me of Soledad O’Brien’s special on how what defines blackness for biracial people: do they self-identify or is their race based on how they are perceived by the outside world? What are your thoughts, Clutchettes?

  • http://www.myblackfriendsays.com myblackfriendsays

    She looks like Lena Horne.

  • http://gravatar.com/jamesfrmphilly jamesfrmphilly

    karen’s black? who knew?

  • DEE

    My mother has the same skin tone as Karen, maybe a bit lighter, but she is not bi-racial. People have constantly hounded my mother and myself. I remember being and grade school and kids telling me I’m not black because of my mother, when she’s black her self.
    I really wish I knew what is black enough. It seems like everyone has different idea of what makes someone black. If someones parents are black are just one of their parents they should be able to identify with that without being scrutinized because they are indeed black.

    But more than anything else i’ll be damned if I let a white person (or really anyone besides myself) decide if I fit the description of what black is.

  • Mademoiselle

    Um. Thanks for the concern Mr. Graham (??!) but I don’t care how she identifies. I just hope she doesn’t come out with any programming like O’Brien’s Black in America series. I think she’ll be fine as long as she stays away from speaking FOR or ON BEHALF OF black people. Keep it journalistic, and kudos.

  • Keshia

    It really irks me when biracial people are referred to as the first African American or first black person idk why can’t they just be the first biracial person

  • http://www.urbanexpressive.com J. Nicole

    This is sooo frustrating at times. How can one person define anothers Blackness!? If that’s how she identifies, so be it. I have yet to meet anyone who when they climb the branches of their family tree won’t see some diversity and well kept secrets. There is no one face of a Black person. I could clearly look at her and she she has Black in her. Being multi or biracial does dent ones Black experience.

  • Rue

    Didn’t know she was black either, but good for her. I like her commentary (most times)

  • Yb

    I thought she was a mestizo Latina.

    If she chooses to refer to herself as black that’s her choice.

  • Echi

    Tim Graham?…Newsbusters? Like who is this person and what is a “newsbuster.” Any site that has anywhere on their page, “liberal media bias,” should not be taken as credible. We waste way too much oxygen on these folks.

  • http://gravatar.com/jamesfrmphilly jamesfrmphilly

    “How can one person define anothers Blackness!? If that’s how she identifies, so be it”

    i think i want to identify as Hawaiian, ok?

  • RJ

    I have been watching her for years and she often talks about being the “black daughter of a white mother” Her words not mine. I knew that she was black.

    I think this is one of the ways where we cannot see ourselves anymore. We think being black only looks one way. For christ sake there are people who are saying Zoe Saldana isn’t black.

    It is really sad! Nationality is not race.

  • noir45

    Keshia, could it be that that’s how THEY identify themselves? If a biracial person wants be called black, why is that a concern of any of us.

    What is it with people who are so obsessed with how biracial people identify themselves. We as blacks have a hard enough time with our own children having a healthy identity, so why are we so consumed with biracial people. If you are biracial, I can see; but if not, I don’t get it.

    P.S. I think Amber Rose identifies as being “white” yet where are the complaints when many biracial people identify with the non-black side? Just asking.

  • http://n/a Rebecca

    OK. =)

  • tulipenoire

    @James, you are commenting from pure ignorance. I bet you’re one of those people who always has to “authenticate” someone’s race. Haven’t you ever heard of the “one drop” rule? Pretty sure that mentality has not left America. Chill out.

    As far as Karen’s concerned, that’s fine if she identifies as such. Look at our President. He is touted as the first African-American president and he’s biracial. The only one who can “define” a person and who they are, etc. is him/herself.

  • Chic Noir

    The Republican pundit should give Karen a chance to piss him off. I bet she be Black B*^#£ enough for him then.

  • dippedingodiva

    Honestly, I am tired of white people and their damn antics. They wonder why some people do not want to deal/associate with them.

  • Many generations of black people with many generations of bad choices

    Speaking of Amber Rose, she has an amazing look going, really patrician. Then she opens her mouth or wears awful sunglasses, & wears the worst clothes imaginable & one looks at her and goes oh noooo.

    But Ms. Finney, she’s another sort. She is amazing looking. I wish she wouldn’t wear a weave, as I wish the FLOTUS did not wear those awful wigs. I like natural hair and you can see on Ms. Finney’s hairline that there’s a lot of kinky hair there. Weave are awful and they’re awful for us.

  • Chic Noir

    I can see the resemblence to Mrs. Horne. Btw, Vogue did a very well written story on Miss Horne’s grand daughter.

  • Keshia

    Often times they are forced to though, I have no problem with them identifying with their black side why would I? It’s just like tiger woods people bashed him for not claiming being black and he said himself that it would be disrespectful to his mother whom is not black, he preferred being called biracial which he is. I’m saying mixed people should not be forced into being called black, they should be able to identify as to what they are which is biracial.

    I have no problem with amber calling herself white either just like you said people can choose to call themselves black she can choose to identify as being white. Often our society doesn’t allow that due to that stupid one drop rule.

  • Tara

    You idiot!!!! Michelle Obama is not wearing a wig or weave and I doubt that Ms. Finney is either.

  • Tara

    They are biracial until the is a job to be gotten which requires a black peron. Then at that point they are black. Happens all the time. Black people just accept everyone because they worship biracial people. I don’t care about what she considers herself to be.

  • Keshia

    Actually Michelle Obama is wearing a wig, it’s quite obvious she most likely protective styling tho all that heat on her real hair would be damaging.

  • Lexie

    She does but it’s all irrelevant to the story. It’s 2013 not 1863, damn will this way of dividing us ever end?!

  • Kellogg Liberbaum

    I had no idea she was black. I always thought she was Indian or something…why can’t biracial people just identify themselves as biracial?

  • http://gravatar.com/nolakiss16 binks

    What does it mean to look “black” enough? Don’t they realize black people come in many shades and look a variety of different ways without having to be biracial/mixed? If they are basing her “blackness” on her skin color/features then they are wrong. Because I am roughly Mrs. Finney’s shade and both my parents are black. That is the only things I don’t get with the policing of blackness because we don’t know if people are basing it on features or heritage or both? Now I do see the point a lot of people are raising of can or should a biracial person be presented as black and speak from the black experience regardless if they self-identify as black. Now I see where that gets a little tricky and the debate comes in at but the she is not “black” enough based on features is nonsense because you are not only policing one group of people but boxing another group of people in.

  • http://www.dawnthescreenwriter.com ScriptTease

    I know…. it seems black folks always wants them to choose, and don’t let them choose anything but black… we go crazy.

  • Kay

    I’m sure the same people who claim she’s not “Black enough,” in public will deride her for her Blackness behind closed doors. Furthermore, I do think people have the right to define themselves and if she says she is African American who should argue it?

  • j

    You hit the nail on the head. Bi-racial people don’t identify themselves as black until it benefits them in some way. A job, a college scholarship, a movie role…I see it all the time. But for some reason black people are eager to embrace them.

  • a

    Whites don’t accept biracial people as white but we accept them as black. Why?

  • http://gravatar.com/jamesfrmphilly jamesfrmphilly

    because white people told us to…

  • http://gravatar.com/jamesfrmphilly jamesfrmphilly

    “@James, you are commenting from pure ignorance”

    i get that a lot….

  • BeanBean

    because we have souls…j/k.

  • http://gravatar.com/tiffywiffy88 Tiffy

    Ok commenters seem to be going in on biracial people over the past couple of days and its ridiculous. Biracial people are black people as many of those considered biracial people have the same experiences as in the black community and many have grown up the same way the rest of us have and our treated just like us and its disrespectful to our people too ignore that fact. The whole concept of referring to a biracial person as biracial and not black is just another divisive tool to further separate the black community. Its basically the same mindf*** the Spanish and Portuguese put on Afro-Hispanics. Keep us arguing over dumb stuff like this to keep our minds off the real issues plaguing the whole diaspora. Many of you are letting your personal issues with the perceived social privileges of being biracial get in the way of fact in this society which is dominated and controlled by whites if you have any noticeable trace of black your black no if ands or buts and you will be treated as such. You can’t be angry with biracial people because the racist society we live in has a preference for light and white. This light skin preference is not our doing, and happens even when a person of lighter complexion is not mixed so seriously are you going to tell a person treated black in all aspects of their lives they are not black and should stop claiming themselves as such because you perceive their complexion is more desirable to Hollywood and the media. Its true we all know it and it isn’t right but that doesn’t negate history, and history defines them as black no matter what you say. I feel so strongly about it because my biracial little sister (she’s 15) was going through this back and forth between defining biracial/black and human being. She “just wanted to be who she was” and “not have a label” and I kept saying to her your don’t get a choice just wait and see and she did when some stupid white boy called her a N***** and she finally learned… no matter what you are black…

  • justanotheropinion

    Disclaimer – I know this comment doesn’t apply to everyone – I’m just generalizing.

    When you are bi-racial, whites say you are black i.e. not white enough. Blacks say you aren’t black enough to be considered just black. How is someone who is bi-racial to win this color game?

  • http://clutchmagazine blcknnblvuu

    Divide and conquer/rule

  • cupcakes and shiraz

    I think that only those with two black parents should be identified as black. It is not fair to our race to have any ol’ body calling themselves black one day, and mixed the other because the moon turned blue. It just looks sad and desperate that black people dislike themselves so much that they’d let any one who feels like calling themselves “black” in the race.

    Mixed race activists fought hard to have their identities legally recognized, so they should just identify as such and leave being black to those of us who don’t have other races to run to when the going gets tough.

  • Wanda

    Isn’t the point of the article that the white Republican doesn’t believe that she is really black?

    I work with many whites who do not believe that Halle Berry or President Obama are black, either.

    If you ask them to point out someone who is black to them, they’ll say: “Well Lebron James and Wesley Snipes are black people to me. How can you have a white mother and still be considered black?”

  • cupcakes and shiraz

    Yes! Mixed race people only considers themselves black when they want something that benefits them (like a job or a UNCF scholarship). When they get what they want, then they are back to being mixed.

  • cupcakes and shiraz

    I thought Amber Rose was mixed or a light-skinned black woman, but I googled her and found out she really is white.


  • Bells&Whistles

    Love this.

  • Monique

    This gets complicated. What about someone with one black parent and one biracial parent. Do Sasha and Malia get permission to be black?

  • Anthony

    I think both the Republican and people here going on and on about Finney’s color are just being silly. She’s very fair and she identifies as black. What’s so difficult to grasp about that?

  • http://twitter.com/Cognorati001 Colette Marcheline (@Cognorati001)

    The answer is that we cannot win. We need to distance ourselves from race-obsessed/ racist Blacks and Whites and welcome community with people who are accepting and sane.

    Some comments that last few days have included the terms “half-breed” and “half-caste.” Others have made the comment that Black people should not “defend” mixed race people (so, let’s get this straight: if a biracial person is targeted by police or followed in stores, or denied a promotion on the basis of race, other Black people should ignore our claims!?). There is a later comment on the thread saying that not everyone should be “allowed in” the “black race.”

    If terms were changed and this were on a White Supremacist website, it would be OBVIOUSLY overt, hardcore racism. But Black Americans are given a pass even when they’re suggesting targeting mixed-race people or actually using racial slurs.

    Yes, there is an enormous problem with racism in the American Black community. There’s not even any need to deny it.

    Although of course, if mixed race or Black immigrants comment on the obvious racism and abuse we will be aggressively targeted for more abuse, as I have been on this site (slander, casting aspersion, verbal abuse, mobbing, etc).

    I’ve decided not to comment at all on these threads because the comments should be showcased as they are. Like most mixed people, I’ll no longer be aligning myself with people or speaking openly against the Zoe Saldana situation, Karen Finney, Soledad O’brian, etcetera.

    People are not sincere in their perspectives. The commentators are just racists.

  • Ms. Vee


    It does get complicated. It’s more feasible to consider them black because they are 3/4 black. But it must go both ways. If Sasha and Malia are black then Halle Berry’s daughter is white. I believe the best approach at this present moment is to differentiate those who have a fully non-black parent.

  • Tallulah Belle

    Exactly! And, both of Lena Horne’s parents were black. And so was her first husband, with whom she had her daughter Gail. Lots of black people look “whiter” than Karen Finney and have two black parents. Ridiculous conversation.

  • Apple

    Of course she’s not black enough she’s a woman! But Obama is black enough #sarcasm

  • Apple

    I didn’t know that Amber Rose identified as white? Isn’t she from Cape Verde ? I remember her ranting About not being African enough by other people When she was doing her charity

  • Emme

    I think people’s desire to represent themselves as one race or another should be their own decision. Black people have a hugely diverse and varied phenotype. This internal diversity has largely shaped black culture (for the good and the bad). There is personal power in identifying yourself, culturally, with a group based on a common history. As a black woman (with four black grandparents), I certainly don’t know all black people, but I feel some level of connection based on history, regardless of skin color, hair type, or nose shape. There is no universal “black experience.” If you don’t look black at all, but identify as such, that is part of that experience. If you look like Finney or Vanessa Williams, that’s another experience. If you look like Oprah or Viola, you’ll have another experience. It’s part of black culture and history.

  • ArabellaMichaela

    Granted Karen Finney does self identify as black. However, her situation provides the classic example of why some of us “take issue” with black/white biracials who balk at being considered as only “black.” The fact is these biracials want their “white half” acknowledged. But, they will take advantage of being black when there is a benefit to be gained. I’m not saying Finney is doing this. But many biracial people want it both ways.

  • Gina Wild

    @Monique, and Ms. Vee. Like your comments.

    In most countries Halle Berry’s daughter would be considered white.

    I know a lof of people that are 75% white and 25% black and unless they tell you one of their parent is half Black and half White, you wouldn’t know. And some of them go about their lives and live as a White person, pretty much.

    The one-drop rule is more an American thing.

  • http://gravatar.com/ brian

    Sorry but if your profile pic is a photo of you, you are not light skinned and you’re a far cry from being Finney’s shade.

  • Emme

    Oh, and to put this debate in context, It’s important to note that “race” is a man-made/made up social concept. There is no scientific or historical requirement. It was made up (gradually) when people were more segregated and less blended for the purpose of segregation. Now that American culture is more blended, the old rules aren’t as clear cut. So, ultimately, this debate was created by white people and will never be resolved… Because there is no answer.

  • Wanda

    Exactly. Some of us act like we are still living in 1925.

    Visually in today’s society, Karen Finney could be Black American, Dominican, Mexican, Egyptian, from India, from Pakistan, Greek, etc.

    If I saw her standing on the corner of Broadway and 110th Street in Manhattan, I would not automatically assume that she was Black.

  • cupcakes and shiraz

    I do not feel it is racist to say that black people should preserve things for those of us who have no choice but stay black no matter what. Our people have been taken advantage of by mixed-race people who only want to say they’re black when they want something out of it.

    I agree that it is racist to call people half-caste or half-breed. I do not condone this behavior. However, I don’t think it is right for black people to consistantly placate privileged people who have no respect for our race, history or culture.

    Mixed people fought for the right to be mixed, so they should create a community that will serve them, just like black people had to create their own.

  • cupcakes and shiraz


    Cape Verde was once a Portuguese colony. It could be possible that her mother is of Portuguese decent.

  • NeverBeenWrong

    I agree 100%. There was an episode of road rules when the biracial woman on there, Piggy, stated that as a biracial person, she accepted all the advantages of being white and rejected all the disadvanates of being black. I think a lot of biracial people feel/act this way, so they them go head on. This is just my opinion, but as a black woman who will never be mistaken as anything other than black, I don’t need Rashida Jones and her ilk on the team.

  • Nadell

    MISSION ACCOMPLISHED! Graham’s plan worked, I’m sure, just as he expected it. Yet again we are debating, arguing and discrediting ourselves based on his futile notion. If Finney’s segment on MSNBC is about politices & news, how exactly does bringing up her ‘blackness’ affect anything?? I’m certain he wouldn’t question Rachel Maddow’s sexual preference and how that would somehow affect her ability to report news….

  • Don

    Growing up, I’ve seen my people in many shades of colors, and they never had a problem with their blackness or heritage. I think people who focus on shades of color need just stop and give it a rest, whether you’re black or white.

  • http://gravatar.com/nolakiss16 binks

    Yeah because clearly that is a photo of me…\_

  • The Comment

    funny how racist whites and ignorant blacks say the same exact things;

    1. He/She not black enough
    2. Uppity Negro. She think she white.
    3. He/She doesn’t talk black
    4. Black people don’t do that
    5. There are no black stay @ home moms…..

  • http://gravatar.com/dginki Kim

    She states she is West African. She identifies as a woman of color.

  • http://gravatar.com/dginki Kim

    Those of us that come from “mixed raced men and women, I doubt we would not be able to tell.

  • Pema

    It’s amazing to me how people on this site believe they can speak for all biracial people, “well they’re only black when it benefits them”, etc. You idiots sound like white racists who try to speak for all black people. I don’t know Finney and I don’t know where she stands on this race issue but if she says she’s black that’s fine with me. I just hope she doesn’t think that she can now speak for all black people. By the way my mother is shades lighter than Finney with light eyes and both of her parents are black…genes are a funny thing. A lot of people on this site just sound hurt and bitter.

  • cupcakes and shiraz

    Pulling the bitter, jealous card is old and outdated. At least try being creative with your insults.

  • http://confessionsofacurvygirl.wordpress.com confessionsofacurvygirl

    Go for it. You might look nice in a grass skirt.

  • Nic

    Seriously, I didn’t know this lady was anything other than black and I hadn’t seen that she was biracial. Are people just assuming that b/c she is light-skinned? So silly.
    People need to stop being so fixated on how people identify, and white people need to stop being in denial about why we come in so many colors.

  • Maria O’Connor

    I think that in the past , most bi racial persons, were the result of rape or abuse of power from a white master to a black slave or a domestic worker; so the mixed child assimilated the black culture. Halle Berry, President Obama, Karen Finney were conceived by love; so they are able to function well in both black & white world.

  • joseph jordan

    I agree it’s time to stop, she’s smart and beautiful

  • joseph jordan

    Great comment

  • joseph jordan

    Its just going to far

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