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Apparently not just named by helmet color.

A character is revealed to be... black. Or Asian. Or Jewish. Or any ethnicity that isn't the same as that of the majority of the target audience.

The other characters are surprised, or shocked. More importantly, the audience is expected to be surprised as well. Ideally, the character will need to keep covered up before the reveal, or have non-obvious features. Otherwise the trope provides comedy, possibly intentional.

This trope can be played in several ways. The fact that the character is not what the audience would assume can be used for a cheap shock effect. Sometimes, the fact that the other characters are surprised is parodied. Alternatively, the audience may be called out for assuming that all characters have a certain ethnicity unless otherwise specified.

If the story contains An Aesop, it's usually that all races are equal.

In these melting-pot days it is on the way to being a Discredited Trope. Compare Suddenly Sexuality, Samus Is a Girl. Contrast But Not Too Foreign where a seemingly foreign character is revealed to be at least partially a member of the target audience's nationality.

Examples of Suddenly Ethnicity include:

Comic Books

  • In DC Comics, Black Manta was revealed to be black in 1977, ten years after his debut. Notably, he attempts to use his race to trick people into following him by claiming his actions against Aquaman were in an attempt to make Atlantis a paradise for minorities all along. This is, naturally, a total lie he used to personal gain, which amusingly still leads to the Aesop that all races are indeed equal: in that all of them are capable of producing jerks (further reinforced by the revelation that he suffers from a form of Autism, which is played as a Freudian Excuse prompting Aquaman to later magically cure him...and the first thing Black Manta does afterwards is stab Aquaman and brag about having murdered his infant son).
  • The classic EC Comics story "Judgment Day", in which an examiner comes from Earth to see whether a planet inhabited by sentient robots is ready to join The Federation. It's revealed that the robots are split into two groups, identical except for the color of their outside casing, and the educational programming given to each color. One group of robots is given less useful programming, forced to live in inferior housing in a segregated part of the cities, relegated to less desirable jobs, etc., all based on the casing color. The examiner is forced to flunk the civilization, and the guide whines that he is "only one robot" who can't change the system. The examiner consoles the guide by mentioning that Earth used to be like this, too, until its people got their act together. Then the examiner gets into his spaceship, takes off his helmet, and is revealed to be black.
  • Elf Quest has a a fantasy version of the trope. Kahvi (leader of the Go-Backs, a tribe of "pure" but magicless elves) is revealed to be a Wolfrider (a tribe of forest elves with animal heritage).
  • Gummbah: Parodied in this strip:

"When Annie said 'colored boy', for a moment I thought... er... well, right, I guess you know what I mean. But thank God. Want a drink, son?"

  • Dick Grayson, the first Robin and later Nightwing of DC Comics, was revealed to be of Romany (Gypsy) descent decades after his initial introduction.
  • Similarly, Spider-Man foe and walking mafioso stereotype Hammerhead was revealed decades after his introduction to be the child of Russians who immigrated to Italy: he managed to hide his origins in order to join the Maggia and lost his memory in the same attack that prompted his transformation into Hammerhead.
  • Young Avengers did this in the third issue. Patriot's original costume covered his entire body, head and all. When the kids are questioned by the adult Avengers, Eli takes off his mask and reveals that he's not only black, but the grandson of Isaiah Bradley, hero of the graphic novel Truth: Red, White, and Black and the second Captain America. Why yes, you should go read it.
  • Slightly mocked in Exiles, where an alternate version of Sasquatch (who turns back into a white male in normal continuity) turns out to be a black woman. Alternate versions of Spider-Man and She-Hulk are surprised by this; the former by the very male-looking Sasquatch being a woman, and the latter by a white-haired beast being black.
  • Parodied in a Marvel Comics spoof What If... story, where The Avengers of an alternate universe are shocked when their new African member Black Panther takes off his mask to reveal ... he's a white South African. When the Avengers protest that he joined under false pretenses, he points out that having a name with "Black..." in it doesn't indicate your ethnicity (Black Widow is white) and declares "You don't care about real diversity! This is nothing but ... but tokenism!"
  • In Justice League: Generation Lost, it is revealed that Ice is a Scandinavian Roma, and made up the story about coming from a race of Ice Gods. Who the Ice Gods that claimed to be her parents and brother in the "Ice goes home" Justice League International storyline were has yet to be explained.
    • Ice's retcon was written by Judd Winick, who previously declared that Kyle Rayner's Irish-nationalist father was secretly a self-loathing Mexican. All the Celtic pride he taught his son was supposedly after changing his name and learning Gaelic.
    • As seen in this fan cartoon, Ice's retcon has met with some fan bemusement.
    • The retcon also comes dripping with Unfortunate Implications, as it's shown that her entire clan (save her parents) were con men and thieves, and the head of the clan, her grandfather, wanted to use her to further his schemes.
  • Mister Bones, a former DC villain turned government operative (head of the Department of Extranormal Operations), has among his powers transparent skin and organs, leaving him looking to all the world like a skeleton. Eventually, it turns out that he's ethnically black, and can appear so through use of make-up. At one point, Manhunter (Kate Spencer) tries to get him involved in a border dispute by saying he'd be a racially neutral authority—after all, no skin color, right? He does not take this well at all.
  • Ben Grimm, a/k/a "Thing" of the Fantastic Four, was revealed to be Jewish, and the Yancy Street Gang he ran with as a kid was really a Jewish street gang. A supervillain (can't remember which) said, "Funny, you don't look Jewish."
  • Jim Valentino's Shadow Hawk remained masked during his first arc. Midway through his second arc he encountered a white-supremacist named Hawk's Shadow, who modeled himself after Shadowhawk. When Shadowhawk encountered Hawk's Shadow, who bragged that he viciously killed black people, the infuriated Shadowhawk removed his mask and shouted, "You mean like ME?"
  • Spider-Man, whom has an ever-present full-face mask and a costume that covers every inch of his skin, was once was asked to reveal why he thought J. Jonah Jameson hated him in a court room. His response "it's because I'm black." Jonah then tried to back pedal, saying something along the lines of "I'm not racist! I have a Black Best Friend!" (which he does, but phrasing it like that didn't earn him any brownie points) and then is utterly humiliated along with his lawyer when Spidey gleefully declares "just kidding!". Hilarious in Hindsight now there actually is a black Spider-Man in the Ultimate Spider-Man books.
  • Averted by Ferro Lad in the Legion of Super-Heroes. The writer's original intention was that after a few issues Ferro Lad would remove his helmet, revealing himself to be black - and that no one would bat an eye, since it was the future and no one cared about that sort of thing anymore. Unfortunately, the editor nixed it, saying they'd lose sales in the South, and the writer killed Ferro Lad off as a form of protest.
    • In 1980, Gim "Colossal Lad" Allon of the Legion was revealed to be Jewish when a writer noted that Allon was a common Israeli surname. This Sudden Ethnicity was gently mocked afterward by fan artist Fred Hembeck, who portrayed the character in one of his comic books wearing a yarmulke while frantically studying up on Judaism.


  • Guess Who's Coming to Dinner plays the trope for drama. It is about a white girl who introduces her black boyfriend to her family. Ashton Kutcher meeting his girlfriend's black family, in the 2005 remake Guess Who.
  • Romeo Must Die: Black and Chinese gangs engage in an ongoing turf war. At one point Han (Jet Li) chases down a helmeted motorcyclist who he assumes is a black man. The "black" cyclist eventually takes off "his" helmet to reveal....a Chinese woman. Han is shocked.
  • Little Fockers plays it for comedy. Jack has been studying the Byrnes family genealogy and while they do indeed seem to be mostly of Irish descent, Bernie and Roz do a little research of their own and discover that Jack is "one twenty third" Jewish. They proudly present him with a yarmulke for Christmas and start calling him by his 'Hebrew name', much to his bemusement.
  • In Dogma, when Bethany's heritage is revealed, instead of picking up on the fact that Bethany is descended from one of Jesus's siblings and is carrying the next Messiah, Jay exclaims, "Bethany's part black?"
  • Played with in Robin Hood: Men in Tights when Robin declares Achoo the new Sheriff of Rottingham much to the surprise of villagers and Robin's blind servant Blinkin.

Villagers: A black sheriff?!
Blinkin: He's black?!

  • The twist in Devil In A Blue Dress is that Daphne is really half Black and has been passing as White.
  • In-story example in The Birdcage: The Jewish Goldmans have been passing for Christians (the "Colemans") for most of the movie, Armand Goldman has been passing for straight, and his partner Albert (who is too Camp Gay to pull off "straight man"), has been passing for Armand's wife (in a blonde wig and drag). The Goldmans had been terrified of being found out to be gay, but when their son's future father-in-law learns the truth, all he can say is: "I don't understand...You can't be Jewish!"


  • In Robert A. Heinlein's early novella Magic, Inc., a wise and respected character, Dr. Royce Worthington, is revealed to be black. The main character spends about a page getting over the shock, then decides it doesn't matter. Heinlein did this all the time. The protagonist of Starship Troopers is revealed to be Filipino in one line, and similarly the protagonist of Tunnel in the Sky is revealed to be black in one sequence where other characters admit they couldn't tell him from another character (a Zulu girl) apart from a distance. In both cases it's been obvious to all from the beginning and in neither case does anyone comment on it before or again. Manuel Garcia "Mannie" O'Kelly-Davis's name betrays him being a mixture; it's his derivative pan-African heritage and the range of color in his family photo that gets a southern sheriff to arrest him for offenses against public morality. Similarly Podkayne Fries from Podkayne of Mars bluntly describes herself as "colonial mongrel" despite her Scandinavian looks; her uncle Tom (no, not that one) is Maori, something that isn't revealed until racists traveling on a spaceliner with them comment on his skin color.
  • There was a mild uproar in the Harry Potter fandom when extremely-minor character Blaise Zabini (assumed to be a white girl for several books due to his unisex and Italian name) was mentioned to be black and male. Most fans didn't care, but some found their mental image to be horribly shaken—and a few declared their intentions to keep writing "her" as white.
  • In Anthony Burgess' M/F, the main character is revealed at the end to be black.
  • The twist in the Sherlock Holmes story The Yellow Face is that the yellow-masked creature is actually the client's wife's first child--from a relationship with a black man. The wife's been hiding her in fear of what her husband would say, keeping the child in a nearby house and masking her so her dark skin wouldn't be noticed. The client lifts the child onto his shoulder and carries her out of the room, implicitly accepting her as his own.
    • Nothing implicit about it: the husband lifts the girl up, kisses her, and gently chides his wife by saying he hopes he's a better man than she thought him to be.
  • Arthur C. Clarke was known to use this in his fiction (for example, Imperial Earth) occasionally, once intentionally misleading the reader by giving the protagonist a stereotypically Scottish name (Duncan Makenzie) and revealing the character to be black...about 150 pages later...when the protagonist is teased by the other black characters for a lack of a stereotypically black accent.
    • They also express a bit of mild envy, though, because most people on Earth by that time are so mixed-race that they tend toward all being more or less beige-skinned; Duncan's color stands out in a way that makes him distinctive and, apparently, more interesting.
  • In the short story "A Hot Time in the Old Town", the elderly gentleman in the park relates a story to the narrator about the time when he was a landlord whose house was avoided by potential black tenants because of a hate crime that happened in the house. And for good reason - the original crime "poisoned" the house and the next black tenant died there as well. The elderly gentleman tells the narrator that sometimes he goes back to the site where his house once stood to make sure everything's still okay and the narrator offers to help him check. It's not until the second-to-last sentence we find out the narrator is black himself.

Live Action Television

  • In That '70s Show, Hyde is revealed to be half African-American, a fact he didn't even know before meeting his biological father.
  • In All in The Family, Archie is in the hospital and befriends the patient in the bed next to his, not realizing (because they're separated by a curtain) that the guy is black.
    • In another episode, Archie's good friend "Stretch" Cunningham dies and at the funeral Archie discovers he was Jewish.
  • In M*A*S*H, Frank Burns gripes that, being left with a North Korean patient, he's stuck with the Indians while Hawkeye gets the 'cowboys'. Colonel Potter's response? 'I'm one quarter Cherokee.' Frank is left mollified. (In fact, he raises his hand and says, "How.")
  • One episode of Hogan's Heroes had Carter get a letter addressed to "Little Running Deer Who Goes Swift And Sure Through Forest", forcing him to admit he was part Sioux. Newkirk and LeBeau proceed to tease him mercilessly about it, in ways that wouldn't be quite so funny today.
  • Played with in Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. Jason David Frank looks vaguely American Indian, but Tommy's ethnicity isn't mentioned until season 3, and it becomes a story arc in Power Rangers Zeo.
  • Inverted in Lost. During the first season, Rose, who is black, is separated from her husband, who was on the tail end of the plane and landed far from the midsection. In the second season, her husband is discovered to be not the Scary Black Man, Mr. Eko, but a white guy. Hurley lampshades this by saying, "So...Rose's husband is white. Didn't see that coming."
  • Done unintentionally on Seinfeld with Elaine. Given that she hangs out with a bunch of Jews (OK, two Jews and one half-Jew, half-Italian), is played by a Jewish actress, and plays up a fair number of stereotypically Jewish jokes, one would expect her to be Jewish. Even the writing team considered her Jewish. And then came the perfect opportunity to make a joke about "Shiksappeal", and the writers were like...sure, why not?
  • Puck from Glee, suddenly turning out to be Jewish in the seventh episode - and it becomes a major part of the next episode's plot.
  • An Angel episode with flashbacks to the 1950s revolves around a woman who is half-Black but has been "passing" since she was a young teen.


  • In Spamalot, Patsy turns out to be Jewish.

King Arthur: "Why didn't you tell me?"
Patsy: "Well... it's not the sort of thing you'd say to a heavily armed Christian."

  • In Gotthold Lessing's classical German play Nathan the Wise (Nathan der Weise), Nathan's adopted daughter Recha (who was raised Jewish) and her suitor (a Christian templar) both turn out to be the children of Saladin's brother - a Muslim. The moral of the play is that all three religions are like different brothers of the same family.
  • In Bertolt Brecht's The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny (Aufstieg und Fall der Stadt Mahagonny), Jenny sings: "I am from Havanna. My mother was a white one." Interpretations of this line have varied wildly depending on the production. (The original Jenny, though, was played by red-haired Austrian actress Lotte Lenya.)
  • In Bertolt Brecht's Mother Courage (Mutter Courage), Anna reveals that her children all have different ethnicities, although one of them is "half a German."
  • David Henry Hwang's Yellowface plays with this trope, as Hwang (a fictional character based on the author) accidentally casts a white actor in an Asian role in a play he's producing.

Web Original

  • Lavernius Tucker of Red vs. Blue is (allegedly) Black. Probably. You wouldn't know, because he's wearing a helmet and has a White voice-actor.

Western Animation

  • Played with in South Park; as the kids are going to a dodgeball competition in China, a character who looks white is revealed to be Chinese, and then they make fun of him.
  • On American Dad, a group of neighborhood members meet, including a high-pitched agoraphobic who contacts the others on speaker phone. Those who didn't already know him are surprised later when they meet him and find out he's Black.
  • In Family Guy, Peter's ethnicity is quite frankly, confusing to track out, as he is constantly discovering his newfound heritages. Such as finding out that his ancestor was a slave. Or that his real dad is from Ireland. Or that he's technically a Mexican.
    • And then Lois' mother reveals to her that they are Jewish.
      • In the Halloween episode, Quagmire claims his grandfather was a WWII Japanese fighter pilot. Subverted in the fact it was a prank played on Joe and Peter after they got him too many times.
  • In the Christmas Episode of Arthur, it's suddenly revealed that several of the characters (who are all presented as animals) are actually from different ethnic backgrounds (The Brain is African-American, Francine and her family are Jewish, etc.). Francine seems to get it the hardest, as during the episode Muffy invites her to a Christmas party and gets really mad when she turns her down, thus giving the episode an excuse to talk about Hanukkah.
    • Another episode has her trying to get through the Yom Kippur fast.
  • There are some ethnic reveals in the Simpson‍'‍s family history. Homer reveals to Lisa that they have a Native American ancestor (much to her chagrin, as she had made up being part Indian for a report and then confessed that she wasn't). Another reveal is Lisa finding out she's 1/64 black descended from a runaway slave.
    • And of course, a third-season episode that revealed that Krusty is Jewish.
  • Doug uses Amazing Technicolor Population, but Word of God says that Skeeter (who's blue) is supposed to be African-American.

Web Comics

Real Life

  • Steve Jobs was adopted. His biological father is a Syrian Muslim. Yes, one of the US' most successful business magnates was born out of wedlock to an illegal Muslim immigrant.
    • In fact, that was the very reason why Jobs was adopted. His mother's father wouldn't let her marry an Arab.