6 Downright Weird Cases of People Lying About Their Ethnicity

Rachel Dolezal, an “African-American” civil rights activist provoked a media firestorm in June 2015 when she was revealed to actually be a white woman. Dolezal had been practicing what is called “passing”, a sort of phenomenon when a person lies about their ethnicity or racial origins for monetary gain, social acceptance, or economic advancement. While Dolezal’s case caused a huge sensation, passing isn’t actually that uncommon, and there have been numerous cases of it across history and different ethnic groups.

6. Hans Gunther Hauck

Tatunca Nara in a 1990 documentary. (Image source here.)

Tatunca Nara in a 1990 documentary. (Image source here.)

Tatunca Nara has been saying for almost half a century that he’s the chief of an Amazonian tribe called the Ugha Mongulala. Nara claims that the Ugha Mongulala live in an underground city called Akakor, and despite his stories being believed and endorsed by professional ancient aliens scholar Erich von Daniken, no records of the tribe or city exist. Still, that hasn’t stopped people from seeking out Nara and asking for tours and more information about the great ancient culture of the Ugha Mongulala.

Nara, however, isn’t even a Brazilian Indian. He was exposed more than two decades ago as a white guy named Hans Gunther Hauck. Hauck disappeared from Germany in 1966, leaving his wife and three children behind. Tatunca Nara started popping up in the late 1960s, spreading his story as listeners presumably overlooked his white skin and strong accent. In an interview with Der Spiegel in 2014, Nara denied being Hauck, and also disputed having anything to do with the disappearances of three Western tourists who were last seen traveling with him. (He’s also been accused of having a role in the murder of Karl Brugger, an author of a book about Akakor.) 

5. Bruno Grosjean

(Image source here.)

(Image source here.)

Latvian-Jew and concentration camp survivor Binjamin Wilkomirski published his childhood memoir about the Holocaust, Fragments: Memories of a Childhood (1939-1948) in 1995 to great acclaim. The book was quickly translated into 12 different languages, won several prestigious awards, and was a phenomenal commercial success. Critics and historians championed it a masterpiece, describing it as “achingly beautiful” and “one of the great works about the Holocaust”. Wilkomirski toured all over the world, tearfully telling audiences about the horrific experiences he had endured, including watching rats eat corpses at Auschwitz and witnessing mere babies waste away and die.

One Swiss Jewish journalist named Daniel Ganzfried, however, wasn’t convinced. He suspected Wilkomirski of making the story up, and he ended up launching an investigation that would debunk the entire book and even its author himself. Wilkomirski, Ganzfried discovered, was never interred in any concentration camps. He wasn’t even Jewish or Latvian. Binjamin Wilkomirski was actually Bruno Grosjean, a Christian Swiss orphan who was adopted by a wealthy and loving Swiss family named the Dössekkers. Sure enough, despite that he was now completely discredited, Grosjean continued to insist that he was Binjamin Wilkomirski. His “memoir” has since been taken off the market.

4. Walter Francis White

(Image source here.)

(Image source here.)

Walter Francis White was a blue-eyed, blonde-haired leader of the National Association for Colored People from 1929 until his death in 1955. He was born in 1893 to a couple of former slaves who had a great amount of white ancestry. However, the family counted themselves as black, and White always considered himself black, especially after a white mob attacked the family’s house during the Atlanta Race Riot of 1906.

White graduated from the historically black Atlanta University in 1916, and helped create the Atlanta branch of the NAACP the same year. He then became one of the country’s most prominent civil rights activists, even befriending Eleanor Roosevelt and persuading Harry Truman to become the first president to speak at the NAACP’s meetings.

During the late 1910s and 1920s, White would also go undercover as a white man to investigate lynchings and race riots in the south. He would infiltrate racist groups and interview members of lynch members. Over some ten years, he investigated 41 lynchings and 8 race riots. Articles about his field studies were published in such prestigious papers as the Nation, the New Republic, and the New York Herald Tribune, bringing awareness to racial violence to tens of thousands of white readers.

3. Anatole Broyard

(Image source here.)

(Image source here.)

After influential literary critic Anatole Broyard was diagnosed with prostate cancer and lying on his deathbed, his wife thought now would be the time to tell their children about a secret he had kept closely hidden all his adult life. Broyard wasn’t a completely white man; the family was, in fact, descended from mixed-race Louisiana Creoles. He had been passing for white for nearly fifty years. The aunts and grandma he wanted his children to have nothing to do with turned out to be black in appearance.

Broyard’s daughter, Bliss, was so fascinated and surprised by the news that she researched and wrote a book about the family’s history, One Drop: My Father’s Hidden Life- A Story of Race and Family Secrets. While researching, she uncovered a lot about her father the public and literary scene never knew.

Broyard was born in New Orleans in 1920, but his parents later moved the family up north to New York when he was 7-years-old. Both of them would pass for white when looking for work. Broyard appeared to have started passing for white when he entered college. During World War II, he enlisted as a white man and held the position of an officer in charge of black stevedores

After his service, he returned to New York and became active in Greenwich Village, where he embarked on a literary career and made friends with a number of the most notable artists, Beats, and hipsters of the day. While he did tell a few close friends about his heritage, he mostly kept it to himself. It’s possible that he was motivated to identify as white to avoid being pigeon-holed as a black writer. According to historian Henry Louis Gates Jr., Broyard “did not want to write about black love, black passion, black suffering, black joy; he wanted to write about love and passion and suffering and joy.”

2. Mark Stebbins

(Image source here.)

(Image source here.)

In 1983, a light-skinned, blue-eyed man named Mark Stebbins ran for City Council in Stockton, California, claiming himself to be a black candidate. One of his opponents, a black civil rights activist and millionaire named Ralph Lee White, angrily disputed this. White obtained a copy of Stebbins’ birth certificate, which listed his parents as white, and soon the whole town and press were debating his true race. The Stockton Record uncovered the birth certificates of all four of his grandparents, and found that they were listed as white too.

Stebbins eventually admitted that his grandparents, parents, and six siblings were white, but he insisted that he was black. After all, he had a black wife and a black barber, and was a member of the NAACP and a black church.

Stebbins ended up winning the election, but White demanded a recall. He eventually got one the next year, beating Stebbins by 67 votes. White was, however, removed from the council by a California appeals court in 1987 for “committing acts of bribery, fraud, and coercion in the casting of some absentee ballots.”

Now 72-years-old, Mark Stebbins still maintains that he is black. “The idea of race has never had any scientific validity,” he said in a June 2015 interview. “… it’s a widely held belief that really doesn’t exist, except as a belief.” White, for his part, now believes that Stebbins can be considered culturally African-American, but not racially black.

1. Lawrence Dennis

(Image source here.)

(Image source here.)

In 1941, Life magazine called former diplomat and intellectual Lawrence Dennis “America’s number one intellectual fascist”. Dennis had first achieved notoriety in the early 1930s with a book and a series of articles in the New Republic criticizing capitalism and advocating that America stop intervening in the economic affairs of its Latin American neighbors to focus on itself.

While his work was initially praised by leftists and even Marxists, Dennis began to hang around white supremacists and the far-right, even traveling to Germany and Italy to meet Nazi officials and Il Duce himself. His 1936 book The Coming American Fascism warned that a fascist system in America was inevitable, and that only the ideas of Hitler and Mussolini could solve the country’s economic crisis.

During World War II, Dennis was accused and put on trial for allegedly plotting against the American government. While he was found innocent, his reputation was ruined, and he spent the last three decades of his life in obscurity before he died in 1977. There has been some interest in him since his death, especially since it’s now come to light that he was actually half-black. Dennis was originally named “Lonnie Lawrence Dennis”, the adopted son of a mulatto couple and biological son of a black woman and white man.

As a child, he toured the Jim Crow South as “The Mulatto Boy Evangelist” along with his mother, even doing a stint in Europe for a while. Around 1913, Dennis quit preaching and cut off all ties to his black relatives to attend the elite Exeter Academy, and later Harvard. His classmates and later fascist friends and allies had no idea about his racial origins, although Charles Lindbergh once remarked that he believed some of his friend’s ancestors “might have come from the near east”.

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