20 Celebrities You’ll Be Surprised to Learn Have African Roots

Africa is today said to be the birthplace of all of humanity, but some people have closer links to there than others. And these 20 celebrities can all boast of some often exceptionally close links to that continent through their family trees or through their African-American heritages – all of whom may surprise, if not completely shock you.

20. Cash Warren

Cash Warren’s fairly light skin somewhat belies his actual heritage. That’s because the TV producer and husband of Jessica Alba has an African-American father – none other, in fact, than actor Michael Warren, who some may fondly remember in particular as affable boxer and cop Bobby Hill on ’80s police drama Hill Street Blues.

19. Nicole Richie

Nicole Richie is actually only the adopted daughter of singer Lionel, but through her biological parents she nevertheless has African-American heritage, not to mention Mexican and English roots. That background is something to which the fashion designer and reality TV star even jokingly tipped her hat during filming for her VH1 show Candidly Nicole, quipping, “Every black person but me is on [Empire].”

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18. Jennifer Beals

Flashdance star Jennifer Beals’ role in Devil in a Blue Dress was rather a case of art imitating life. That’s because, in the 1995 neo-noir movie, she stars as a missing biracial woman who is assumed to be white – something that Beals herself is often thought to be, even though she has an African-American father.

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17. Mariah Carey

It’s often assumed that Mariah Carey is white, but avid fans of the star will know that’s not quite the case, as her father had both Afro-Venezuelan and African-American heritage. As the multi-Grammy-winning singer is quoted as saying in biography Mariah Carey Revisited, “If you look a certain way, everybody goes ‘White girl,’ and I’d go, ‘No, that’s not what I am.’” She has also said, “I always felt kind of different from everybody else in my neighborhoods. I was a different person ethnically.”

16. Carol Channing

The world didn’t know of Carol Channing’s real heritage until the veteran actress and singer divulged it in her 2002 autobiography. There, it was revealed that Channing was part African-American on her father’s side; a revelation from her mother prompted by her wish that the future star not be shocked if she “had a black baby.”

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15. Vin Diesel

Vin Diesel has always been, in his own words, “of ambiguous ethnicity” and also defines himself as “definitely a person of color.” What’s more, even though Diesel has never met his biological father, the action movie star stated in 2013 that his parents’ pairing would have been outlawed in some quarters due to anti-miscegenation laws, seemingly therefore verifying that his dad was African-American.

14. Derek Jeter

Thanks to his father, Derek Jeter always knew he was half African-American, even if many others didn’t. The true details of the New York Yankees legend’s heritage, though, were revealed to the world on the PBS show Finding Your Roots in 2014. There it was found, after Jeter’s DNA was tested, that his ancestry is in fact nearly 40 percent sub-Saharan African and 0.3 percent North African.

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13. Soledad O’Brien

Many people were surprised when Soledad O’Brien first became the host of the CNN documentary series Black in America in 2008, assuming that she was far from an apposite choice as she is Latina. The truth, though, is that O’Brien actually has an Afro-Cuban mom, with the broadcast journalist asserting in a 2012 interview, “I would say I’m black because my parents said I’m black. I’m black because my mother’s black.”

12. Wentworth Miller

Wentworth Miller could certainly pass as white, but that denies the extent of his multi-racial heritage. As well as having a black father and white mother, thanks to his family tree the Prison Break star can boast of having not only African-American but Jamaican, English, German, Jewish, Cherokee, Syrian and Lebanese roots – phew.

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11. Kris Humphries

Although Kris Humphries’ short-lived marriage to Kim Kardashian pulled in plenty of column inches, what’s been decidedly less talked about is the Washington Wizards player’s actual ethnicity. Perhaps many don’t know, then, that Humphries is biracial, being born to an African-American father and white mother in 1985.

10. Jessica Szohr

Gossip Girl actress Jessica Szohr is a quarter African-American. That may not have been enough, though, to stop one post she made on Instagram from being seen in some quarters as more derogatory than empowering – and controversy duly followed in 2015 when Szohr posted a shot of herself holding a sign saying “Black girls, free yourselves from the white standard of beauty and stop wearing weaves.”

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9. Pete Wentz

As well as English and German ancestry on the paternal side of his family tree, Pete Wentz possesses Afro-Jamaican roots, courtesy of his mother’s side. What’s more, the Fall Out Boy bassist and lyricist is also distantly related to Colin Powell, the first African-American U.S. Secretary of State, who is the cousin of one of his grandfathers.

8. Troian Bellisario

Actress Troian Bellisario has compared her own upbringing to that of her Pretty Little Liars character Spencer Hastings, with both growing up with considerable privilege. Unlike her preppy alter-ego, though, Bellisario is multi-racial, as her mother is African-American. Her dad, meanwhile, can boast both Italian and Serbian heritage.

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7. Darnell Martin

Cadillac Records director Darnell Martin has used her ability to pass as white to correct some prejudices in her time. “When somebody, not knowing I’m black, says, ‘Blacks are like this or like that,’ I can say, ‘Absolutely not! That’s not true. I am black,’” she told the San Jose Mercury News in 1994. Martin, in fact, is the daughter of an African-American attorney and a white Italian dancer.

6. Blake Griffin

Blake Griffin’s light skin and reddish hair may confuse some into not realizing that the African-American man and Caucasian woman sitting front and center at many of his games are actually his parents. The Los Angeles Clippers power forward’s proudest fans got together in the early ’80s; a time when, although legal for many years, interracial relationships were still looked down upon by some.

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5. Adriana Lima

Adriana Lima’s stunning good looks may be due in part to her multi-racial heritage: she has Swiss, Native American, Japanese and African blood in her, as well as Portuguese-Brazilian roots. That international mix is also somewhat reflected in the Victoria’s Secret Angel’s mastery of not one, not two but four languages: Portuguese, Italian, Spanish and English. Impressive.

4. Halsey

As the daughter of an African-American father, electropop singer/songwriter Halsey isn’t impressed when people try to erase her heritage. “19 years of people convinced they know more about my genetics than me,” she quipped on Twitter in 2014 in response to those who have claimed that she is really “100 percent white.”

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3. Johnny Depp

Johnny Depp’s exact ethnicity has been debated for some time, not least his claims of having Native American heritage. What has been discovered, though, is that the actor is descended from Elizabeth Key, an African-American slave who became the first ever woman to win a legal case for her freedom in 1656. This, believe it or not, makes Depp no less than 3/2048 African.

2. Ariana Grande

Ariana Grande’s Italian roots have been well-documented, but one aspect of her heritage came as a shock even to the singer herself. That’s judging from a tweet she made in 2014, where she remarked, “Just found out my grandparents are heavily Greek and part North African,” following that up with the rather melodramatic statement, “Who am I? My whole life is a lie.”

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1. Ty Burrell

Ty Burrell found quite the surprise in his family tree when it was investigated on a 2016 episode of Finding Your Roots. As well as German, English, Scottish, Irish and French roots, the Modern Family star discovered that his great-great-great-great grandmother on his mother’s side was in fact a slave girl from Madagascar, and that he is in fact one-sixty fourth African as a result.

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