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What Is Rihanna's Ethnicity?

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Rihanna is Barbadian, or Bajan, if we’re talking strictly about her nationality. She was born Feb. 20, 1988, in Saint Michael, Barbados, an island in the Lesser Antilles bordered by the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea. The question of Rihanna’s racial background is more complicated. Ri’s father, Ronald Fenty, is of Barbadian and Irish ancestry, while her mother, Monica Braithwaite, is Afro-Guyanese—meaning she descends from black inhabitants of Guyana, a country on the northern coast of South America. Rihanna is of mixed ethnicity, in other words, which might explain why she posses an exotic beauty known to start club brawls.

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Ethnicity has always been an issue for Rihanna. Growing up in Barbados, the future “Umbrellas” superstar was teased because of her light skin, as she revealed in a January 2008 interview with Allure. “I was a little confused as a kid because I grew up with my mum, and my mum is black,” she told the magazine. “So I was cultured in a very ‘black’ way. But when I go to school, I’m getting called ‘white’. They would look at me and would curse me out. I didn’t understand. I just knew I saw people of all different shades and I was light. Now I’m in a much bigger world.”

Even after she’d emerged as an R&B star, she was forced to contend with racist attitudes. In 2011, the Dutch magazine Jackie famously referred to her as the “ultimate n—a bitch.” Editor Eva Hoeke claimed it was a joke, but Rihanna wasn’t laughing.

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“@evajackie, I hope u can read english, because your magazine is a poor representation of the evolution of human rights!,” Rihanna said, responding to the racial slur in her preferred means of communicating — tweeting. “I find you disrespectful, and rather desperate!! You ran out of legit, civilized information to print! … Instead, u paid to print one [article] degrading an entire race! That’s your contribution to this world!”

Rihanna isn’t the only famous musician from Barbados. The pioneering hip-hop DJ Grandmaster Flash, aka Joseph Saddler, was born on the island, as was rapper Doug E. Fresh. Barbados isn’t quite the musical launching ground that, say, Jamaica has proved, but it’s done well for itself.

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