the jeffersons


At the Mixed Roots Film & Literary Festival Elliott it was brought to my attention that on The Jeffersons a white male and a black female were cast as Tom and Helen’s children.  I could hardly believe it.  Then I kinda forgot about it.  Well, I was flipping channels today and came across the Jeffersons and lo and behold there was Berlinda Tolbert playing Jenny Willis.  She played the part well, don’t get me wrong, but….um…. well there’s just no way!  Why was this the best casting choice?  On the other hand, biracial actresses play “black” characters all the time, so what’s the difference.  I’m not sure really.  It just seemed silly to me.  The son, Allan (played by Jay Hammer), was only on for one season and was written as “their overzealous college drop-out who abandoned the family, passed as a full-blood Caucasian and lived in Paris for two years.”  Here are some recent(ish) photos of the brother and sister…


I wonder what Lenny Kravitz thinks of that.  I wonder if he and his mother ever discussed it.  I wonder if I’ll ever get to ask him.


25 thoughts on “the jeffersons

  1. I was just thinking about this a few days ago. I think it is just as silly to have Biracial actors/actresses playing Black characters as the reverse. I remember watching Corbin Bleu and Keke Palmer is some silly Disney movie (don’t judge me) and they showed a pic of Corbin’s mom and she was Black. (His real Dad played his Dad) I was like, ummm…no.

    I think that they cast it the way that they did b/c they didn’t want to deal with mixed-race-ness. In a way, I think that they wanted it to seem silly. I mean it is silly enough that a White man would be married to a Black woman, so I think they used the kids as the final guffaw. I mean they could have found some mixed actors or used light-skinned black actors, but then that would make it realistic. And you know we can’t have that.

  2. yes, she was. look at the cast photo. she’s on the couch next to the grandmother. but i don’t see anyone in that picture that looks like a child of Tom and Helen. The man is too white as well. It seems like Berlinda Tolbert got “more biracial” looking with age.

  3. LMAO at these comments. You people sound like idiots. Take a Genetics course and then come back and tell me that she’s too dark to be considered mixed race.

  4. For someone that spends such a great portion of her life focusing on Interracial relationships and bi-racial offspring, I find this to be the most telling and yet, ignorant ( in it’s true meaning) comment you have ever made, Tiff. Too dark to be bi-racial??? As Jane advised, I would suggest a genetics course or perhaps better reading materials because you should well know there is no definitive for how ANYONE will look regardless of their ethnic blend and heritage. By the very same token of logic that I have seen you pour all over guests in your vlog that “look white”, you should know that there is a flip side to that and there are bi-racial people with no discernable “White” features or likeness. Though you consistently say you don’t care for the boxes people put others in ( and put you in!), here you are doing that very thing yourself. I’m really floored by your spin on this.

  5. jocelyn, it is a fact that they cast a black woman and a white man to play these characters. imo that contributes to biracial invisibility. i understand that this is not an important issue to you, but it is to me. i am well aware of the wide array of “looks” that can be the result of an interracial union.

  6. Well Roxy Roker has a story to tell, not only did she play helen on the jeffersons but one wonders if she wasn’t part in music histroy….. She of course is Roxy roker actress of stage and screen, who was ….oh about 40 odd years ago young, attractive and dating various men. One of these men were a long time love ,”David Bowie” and just a little around that tme gave birth to one of musics greatest ever musicians “Lenny Kravitz”. One wonders if lenny’s last name is really kravitz or Bowie??? all the signs of music in the faamily genes are defintely there. I wonder if the name kravitz was just because of marriage purposes????

  7. haha…I don’t get some people to be honest. But Janek is right u should take a course. Otherwise i don’t know the big deal about a black person and a white person being married if anything they produce beautiful children.
    And Candy no offense but you just sound ignorant! what do u mean it’s silly enough for a white man to be married to a black woman?

  8. Candy, Tiff— you both sound like idiots. Biracial actors and actresses play blacks more than blacks play biracials.

    Candy, how is it silly for a white man to be married to a black woman? Especially considering that the black woman on the show was in a relationship with a white man in real life? I guess you and most other people (especially white women) would be more comfortable if it was a black man and a white woman. Damn, you people are fucking stupid.

  9. Candy, Tiff— you both sound like idiots. Biracial actors and actresses play blacks more than blacks play biracials. And then , tiff, you say she was too dark to be mixed? And then you contradict yourself by saying you are well aware of the wide array of “looks” that can be the result of an interracial union. Yet, you still believe this woman too dark to be mixed. Contradictory, colorstruck, ignorant, anti-black, etc…

    Candy, how is it silly for a white man to be married to a black woman? Especially considering that the black woman on the show was in a relationship with a white man in real life? I guess you would be more comfortable if it was a black man and a white woman. Damn, you people are fucking stupid.

  10. And then , tiff, you say she was too dark to be mixed? And then you contradict yourself by saying you are well aware of the wide array of “looks” that can be the result of an interracial union. Yet, you still believe this woman too dark to be mixed. MAKE UP YOUR MIND, STUPID.

  11. There is no such thing as “to dark to be mixed”- that is rediculous. Thats like saying somebody is too light to be black. It is offensive and ignnorant. On a side note this is 2011 and it is sad that interracial relationships are still occasionally a touchy subject. I am a mixed person who, though most people can tell i am mixed, looks like a lighter skinned black person. I live in a mostly white city and have dated white men mostly and I have gotten looks and comments, generally from black men : (, when I’m on vacations and stuff. I hope my children never have to deal with it.

  12. To those of you attacking Candy…you misunderstood what she said. It sounds like she is against white men marrying black women, but that is not what she is saying. Relationships between black men and white women in America tend to be more common than the other way around. They are also depicted more often in the media. You have to bear in mind that most people were still uncomfortable with seeing interracial couples at that time, both in real life and on TV. I still find it a bit weird that Jenny and Allan were referred to as “zebras” by Mr. Jefferson on the show.

    The producers of the show were unrealistic in the actors they picked to play the roles of biracial offspring. While biracial/multiracial children can and do encompass a variety of diverse phenotypes, most of the time they do not look as if they are 100% of a particular race or ethnic group. Allan’s character is as white as they come, while Berlinda is undeniably black.

    Berlinda Tolbert is a beautiful woman and a very talented actress, but she is clearly not biracial. There are biracial people with dark skin but most do not have skin as dark as hers. I don’t see why some people become so defensive when somebody states the obvious. She is black, not biracial. An actress like Lonnette McKee should have played that part because it would have been a more realistic portrayal. Lonnette McKee is biracial and her phenotype makes more sense in terms of what that specific role requires. It would be like me trying to play Sojourner Truth or another dark-skinned, visibly black woman. I could never pull that off.

    In the second picture, she does look like some of the biracial people I’ve seen in the UK. But she is a dark-skinned black woman and there is no way in the world anyone would question what her race is. She would have no problem with being accepted by most black people as a black woman.

    I find it funny that some people would come to Tiff’s blog and attack her by calling her “fucking stupid” and “anti-black”. Really? Maybe you don’t understand the concept of being respectful when disagreeing with others. How would you like it if somebody went to your blog and called you names because they didn’t like what you had to say? And then you call her ignorant, when in reality you’re the one who is showing ignorance.

    We all know that people of mixed heritage come in a variety of looks, but that is beside the point. The woman playing Jenny is not believable as the daughter of a white man and the sister of a white man, who is also playing a pretty unrealistic role himself.

    No, you don’t need to be light-skinned to be mixed. You don’t have to be lily-white. But this portrayal is unrealistic and most people who can look at it objectively will probably agree.

  13. I am the mother of 4 multiracial children. 3 are African American-German-Caucaisan-Creole-Native American. My oldest is all of the above ,except he is Puerto Rican instead of German. The funny thing is I have 2 light skinned,and 2 chocolate babies. People should realize the key words: GENETICS.. Genes have a tendency to skip generations. Just know that there is no such thing as TOO DARK or TOO LIGHT to be mixed… It is all about GENETICS.. This is why we can have two dark complected parents and they have a light skinned,green eyed,straight or wavy haired baby..

  14. u guys kill me I am biracial and I have members in my family that look completely white but are not I don’t look black or white to most people some think I don’t speak English because of my mixed race I have a cousin with blonde hair blue eyes her dad is black mom white with brown hair sometime su can take on ur family members that came before u looks I agree with the persons comments take a genetics class and get educated on this before making yourself. Look like a raciest fool

  15. Yall sound ignorant. There are many biracial ppl who only look one race. I know ppl who have black and white parents and come out pale white blonde hair and all

  16. Biracial people come in all shades of the spectrum. I’ve met biracial people whom the only way to tell they were biracial was for them to disclose such information. There was nothing wrong with the casting. It was representative of real live occurrences.

  17. Most biracial people are light skin but look like full black people. I normally can tell them apart from full black people due to features and hair texture, that the average full black person doesn’t have.

  18. I know for a fact her biological father looked like a white man. I’m from Charlotte and know a old friend her old school friends from Second Ward High told me this. I was escorted her friend in a debutante ball that Berlinda was in.

  19. What does it matter if your pink, black, green, white, black and white, pink and white or whatever. We are PEOPLE

  20. What the Jefferson’s accomplished was a great thing for its day and they may have felt it had been too much for the era. That said The Jeffersons was initially a topical show that could had great story lines had it based it on Roxie Roker’s children’s experience. They actually had two actor that played the parts of Jenny and Allan Willis who could better pass for biracial. (Less than a decade later The Cosby Show had actual biracial children that were playing the children of two African American parents.) It would have been different approach had they played in the “grey” instead of the “black and whites” IMO. Think about , George Jefferson being a light skinned black man most likely had a good amount of white blood through his genetics so that would make him based on appearances more a zebra than Jenny or Allan. Then the issues that biracial children face such as passing, #goodhair , not fitting in in any race, there was just a lot of fertile ground to explore that a show during that era could have covered.Just think of “Imitation of Life” from an earlier era.Yes with genetics this is possible I guess, but at the end of the day I do having a feeling that this will be so much less of an issue as time goes on

  21. I have many Many MANY biracial family members. Caucasian mothers, all. And the kids absolutely RUN THE GAMUT in color. From “cocoa brown” to “straight caucasian” looking. JUST LIKE it was depicted in Jenny and her brother. Maybe you should open your eyes and look around irl, because there is no one shade in biracial prodigy guaranteed. Idiot.

  22. Lonette McKee would’ve been a great casting choice for Jenny Jefferson. Berlinda Tolbert was definitely miscast, so much that I always found it distracting when watching the show.

  23. I’m Anglo-Indian, the South Asian equalivent. Indian father, English mother. Although originally Anglo-Indian meant an English white person born and raised in India, or lived for a long time in India, like Kipling. Eurasian was coined for us first.
    Now to the subject at hand. My older brother and baby sister look white with blonde hair and blue eyes, and my younger brother and I look Indian or mixed. I’m an actress, I’ve often played Indian roles, Anglo-Indian roles, and white roles.
    We have white Jean Simmons playing on Indian girl in brown face in “Black Narcissis”, and Ave Gardner playing an Anglo-Indian woman in tan face in “Bowhani Junction”.
    They were not concerned in the past about proper casting.
    Lenny Kravitz really isn’t any fairer skinned than Berlinda Tolbert.
    As for Jay Hammer, I’m an actress, I know him. Yes, he’s white, but actually he has an olive complexion, and is just a little lighter than me.
    Yeah, they should have cast actors who were mixed in The Jefferson’s to play Jenny and Alan, but they were not so empathetic 42 years ago.

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