Race Card: The Racial Divide in the Reaction to Halle Berry

Nadra Kareem Nittle
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Which one is uglier: Halle Berry's custody battle or the public's reaction to it?  The more comments I read on the web about Berry's fight for custody of daughter, Nahla, the more I'm convinced of the latter.

Make no mistake. I'm not saying that the battle between Berry and her ex Gabriel Aubry over Nahla isn't a nasty one. After all, Berry's camp insinuated that Aubry was an unfit father. The French Canadian model has also been accused of hurling the N-word at Berry. These racial allegations have resulted in all sorts of mudslinging—with commenters on mainstream (or non-black owned websites) calling Berry vicious names, and commenters on black sites using the allegation that Aubry hurled slurs at Berry to justify why interracial relationships should be avoided.

On the gossip website Celebitchy, one of the more civil celeb sites, the readership not only overwhelmingly sided with Aubry but also expressed disbelief that he may have used the N-word while arguing with Berry.

"Sounds to me like she's trying to pull the race card, which is pretty low when you consider that the guy obviously has no problems being with a black woman, nor having a mixed race child with her," one commenter wrote.

Another remarked, "I have to side with Gabriel here. He doesn't seem to be the type who would throw out racial slurs."

One more commented, "Disgusting that Halle is playing the race card. Gabriel is Canadian, and the N-word isn't used here."

Why am I highlighting the above comments? Because they all contain common misconceptions about race. I'm not on Berry's side or Aubry's side in the battle over Nahla, but I do want to point out that just because someone is romantically involved with a person of another race doesn't mean he would never make racist remarks or behave in a racist manner. By that logic, Strom Thurmond, a staunch segregationist, would not be racist because he was in a relationship with a black woman and fathered a child with her. As for the second comment, who does seem the type to use racial slurs? If Aubry looked more like Jeff Foxworthy and less like a fashion model, would he fit the bill more? Lastly, the N-word isn't used in Canada? Really? Someone better alert Canadian rapper Drake. He must be out of the loop, considering that his songs are littered with the word. Seriously, why does the belief persist that racism is a non-factor in certain countries? Unless the nation in question is completely racially homogeneous, racism is an issue.

While commenters on mainstream sites such as Celebitchy and TMZ largely vilified Berry for playing the "race card," this wasn't the reaction at black-centered websites like Bossip.com. There, most commenters didn't question whether Aubry had or hadn't used slurs during disagreements with Berry. Some, though, did make the mistake of assuming that all interracial relationships reach a point where racial slurs are exchanged.

For example, one Bossip commenter wrote, "See that's why I've always been wary of interracial white/black relationships."

Added another, "When will our people come to the reality that these relationships just don't work out?"

Halle Berry's relationship should not be used to predict that other interracial relationships will fail. Any number of factors could have made Berry and Aubry incompatible. For starters, there's the fact that the two are almost a decade apart in age and worlds apart in the money they make. So, why jump to the conclusion that this relationship didn't work out because of race? In fact, when the two first announced their split, rumor had it that the age difference caused the breakup. Who knows? It's simply irresponsible to say that because one famous interracial couple didn't work out, no other such couple can.

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11 Comments Have Been Posted

Get a hobby

Why do people think they know enough to comment on the life of celebrities? Unless the facts of the issue are pretty clear cut, why bother? We don't know if Aubry is a fit father or not, we weren't there. We don't know if he ever used the N-word, it's not on video, so why conjecture and make broad social generalizations based on tabloid cover titles?

It's such a waste.

great post

Wow, I had no idea there was such a nasty reaction to their split. Thanks for looking at this, Nadra! I think your analysis of how the comments reflect larger racist ideas is really spot-on.

I wonder if the n-word is

I wonder if the n-word is really a racist term in a situation like this or just random ammo pulled out in order to hurt the other. People say cruel, vicious things when they fight, things they often do not mean and regret forever after.

OTOH, I am not supporting either party in this. Looks like both are getting nasty and once the mudslinging starts, it tends to get worse before it gets better. Honestly, shame on them both for behaving like this in public. People can split up, can figure out child custody issues without turning it into a bloodbath. The only person who gets truly hurt (either now or in the future) is the child.

“Disgusting that Halle is

“Disgusting that Halle is playing the race card. Gabriel is Canadian, and the N-word isn’t used here.”

It's not only safe to assume that Gabriel could not possibly be racist, but that Halle would definitely use her race card. Huh.

Berry IS biracial

The comment that "interracial couples don't work out" is kind of funny given that BERRY HERSELF is mixed raced. Who is she "supposed" to get involved with? ONLY other mixed raced people? What if the percentage of black to white is slightly askew?

I wouldn't call Celebitchy

I wouldn't call Celebitchy one of the more civil web sites - I quit reading them last year when I just couldn't take one more post telling a famous women to shut up and sit down and stop acting - always women, always ones perceived as more sexual. They had a make fun of the funny ethnic name when Lisa Bonet and her partner gave their son a traditional Samoan name. And they love their slut shaming and treating celebrities like objects and not humans. Although, really, you're probably right that as heinous as they are, they are "more civil" compared to the sewer of celebrity gossip websites. But I'd be embarrassed to ever give them hits or link to them.

There’s a racial divide?

There’s a racial divide? Really? And you are deducing that this divide exists because of comments on gossip blogs… Seriously?

For one, outside of close friends and family no one has any reliable information to even bother to comment on this situation.

Comments from people on gossip blogs is hardly indicative of some racial divide but it is definitely indicative of people carping about things they have no personal knowledge of and therefore their comments are of no value.

Canada isn't racist?

This comment is not in direct relation to the Barry custody battle but about the Canada isn't racist comment. As a CANADIAN feminist I would wholeheartedly disagree, as Nittle does. Canada is a country that is unfortunately filled with racism against many different cultures and that racism needs to be challenged. I myself write a small blog and have written a few different posts directed at the racism in my own country, if any one is interested they can find me at www.informalfeminism.wordpress.com

I agree with Jenn.

While I think that it's worthwhile to discuss misconceptions about mixed race relationships, it's strange to me in this context. Celebrities live in an entirely different world and I can think of other reasons why their relationships don't work out that have nothing to do with race. This would be a much more interesting conversation if we could hear from regular people and their real experiences with this. Trying to dissect a celebrity relationship is, in the words of Jenn, a waste of time. An enormous waste of time.

I have to agree...

I have to agree about people assuming they know so much about a celebrity's life that they can make all kind of judgments. "He's not the type." Really? Because you're his BFF and have known him for years and you meet for coffee every Sunday and talk on the phone for hours? It drives me insane when people get all into celebrity marital and parenting business and are suddenly "The Expert."

"Well, Angie never would steal a man from anybody. It's Jen's fault because of XYZ."

"Mel Gibson? He would totally never hit a woman. Melly was in that movie about learning what women want! She was obviously lying for publicity."

blah, blah, blah. Because you, O member of the public who have never spoken to "Angie" or "Melly boy" in your life, so totally know what they think and say and do.

mixed race

I don't know if all Canadians are racist or not and I certainly don't think Aubry should be used asANY kind of example but I personally believe Halle is full of s**t! Please she was with this man for how many years but NOW all of a sudden he's this out of control racist and she didn't mind having his baby but now she wants her daughter to be 'black'?! First off that should be her daughter's decision not hers second she chose to have a baby with this man it wans't some act of force she seems very bitter and is pulling out all the stops to get custody pulling race into this IS very low.

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