How should we consider this issue within the context of identity politics?
By Luana Ross, Contributor
When Rami Malek portrayed an Egyptian pharaoh in the film ‘Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb,’ someone asked why they had a white guy play an Egyptian—but Malek is Egyptian.
Last year, musician Halsey made headlines for her direct response to a Twitter user that had criticized her for saying “let black people speak” instead of “let our people speak.” For context, Halsey’s father is black but her mother is white, so she does not present as a POC. The unnamed Twitter user took issue with her statement and viewed it as racist; Halsey’s response clarified that she felt that it would be wrong for her to say “we” as she is “not susceptible to the same kind of violence” as other black people who don’t pass for white as she does.
This aspect of white-passing (that Hasley properly acknowledges) necessitates that people of colour who look white understand that they are granted privileges that other people of colour are not granted. And while this is one of the most pressing and relevant issues around white-passing, identity politics have brought forward a few other issues for those who white-pass. For example, when Rami Malek portrayed an Egyptian pharaoh in the film Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb, there was a popular post from a Tumblr user asking why they had a white guy play an Egyptian—and another user replied “please tell me you’re joking. That is Rami Malek. HE IS EGYPTIAN!”
I caught myself making basically the same criticism when watching Iranian-American actress Nasim Pedrad in the 2019 live-action version of Aladdin. I understand that people are fed up with Western media not properly portraying people of colour—but it is wrong to invalidate the cultural heritage of those who white-pass and jump the gun invalidate people’s cultural identity before we have all the information.
Many people who white-pass uphold the traditional values of their parents’ culture. The ideals that were passed down to them may fuel a strong identity intimately tied to their background even though they white-pass; failing to recognize that there are many white-skinned people who are culturally diverse invalidates the racial identities of those who white-pass.