10 People You Probably Didn't Know Were Black

Malcolm Gladwell
Author Malcolm Gladwell speaks at The 2009 New Yorker Festival. Mike Coppola/Getty Images for The New Yorker

Malcolm Gladwell, decorated staff writer at The New Yorker and author of four best-selling books -- "The Tipping Point," "Blink," "Outliers" and "What the Dog Saw" -- won a National Magazine Award in 1999 and was named Time Magazine's "100 Most Influential People" in 2005. Born in 1963 to a Jamaican mother and British father, he has found his mixed heritage to provide plenty of fodder for writing.

In "Black Like them," published in an April 1996 issue of The New Yorker, Gladwell examined the differences between American blacks and West Indians, along with observations about his childhood and family. He detailed the discrimination among his dark- and light-skinned ancestors. For example, a widow on his mother's side had two dark-skinned daughters, but once pretended she didn't know them as she made conversation with a light-skinned suitor.

Gladwell grew up in rural Ontario and contended that race there was a nonissue. "Blacks knew what I was. They could discern the hint of Africa beneath my fair skin," he wrote in his essay. "But it was a kind of secret -- something that they would ask me about quietly when no one else was around ... But whites never guessed, and even after I informed them it never seemed to make a difference. Why would it? In a town that is ninety-nine per cent white, one modest alleged splash of color hardly amounts to a threat."

That changed when he went to Toronto for university and discovered the reputation of Jamaicans who were purportedly heading Canada's drug trade. "After I had moved to the United States, I puzzled over this seeming contradiction -- how West Indians celebrated in New York for their industry and drive could represent, just five hundred miles northwest, crime and dissipation ... In America, there is someone else to despise. In Canada, there is not" [source: Gladwell].