Race and Ethnicity in the Twelve Colonies
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In this article, we have chosen to indicate race by apparent region of origin, within the following broadly defined categories: European, (Sub-Saharan) African, Middle Eastern, South Asian, East Asian, and Native American / Amerindian. Where bi- or multi-racial individuals are noted, component ethnicities are listed in alphabetical order. Individuals of apparently Mulatto and Hispanic appearance are noted as biracial African/Europeans and biracial Amerindian/Europeans. Issues relating to the Adama family are briefly discussed in their own section near the end of the article.
Colonials whose appearances correspond to various real-world ethnicities appear in the Re-imagined Series and Caprica. As yet, no reference has been made to race, nor any allusions to racial identities or racial discrimination, as it would be defined in the real world. Tensions between different Colonies are portrayed, and are called racial, but there appears to be as much variation in appearance within colonies as there is between them. Thus, the writers use differences between the colonies, as exemplified by Gemenon and Sagittaron, to mirror real-world race issues. In "The Woman King" Helo uses the term "racist" to describe the Sagittaron-hating Dr. Robert. In the Caprica pilot, Joseph Adama asks if Val Chambers is making a "racial comment" about Joseph's Tauron ancestry.
The two finalists for the part of Starbuck were Grace Park and Katee Sackhoff, implying that, for some parts at least, the producers employed color-blind casting. Nevertheless, analysis of the ethnic mix of the Twelve Colonies has intrigued fans of the series.
Race and Nationality
In general, no clear associations have been made between particular ethnic groups and individual colonies. Furthermore, there is some evidence within the series that race and colony of origin are not strongly correlated - when Baltar attempts to guess at Boomer's place of origin in "Flesh and Bone", he comments on her accent, not her physical appearance. For more on this, see the article Language in the Twelve Colonies.
It is generally accepted that the Colonials originally emigrated from a single planet (i.e. Kobol and/or Earth). This being the case, it is entirely possible that the various apparent races are reasonably homogeneously distributed across all of the Twelve Colonies (i.e. there are both European and African Sagittarons, Gemenese, etc. rather than all of the Europeans coming from one tribe/colony, all the Asians from another, etc).
What follows is a list of individuals whose colony of origin has been unambiguously identified, along with their apparent ethnicity.
Race and Sexuality
Interracial couplings seem common to the point of ubiquity, and have never been commented upon. It is interesting that appearances corresponding to what in the real world are widely considered clearly definable ethnic groups continue to exist in light of this. Notable interracial couples:
That being said, at least one individual, Kara Thrace, has only been shown in sexual relationships with individuals of her own race: Gaius Baltar, Samuel Anders, and the Adama brothers (although see the note below regarding their ethnicity).
The Adama Brothers
The Miniseries received some criticism for casting Edward James Olmos, a dark-skinned Latino, as the father of Jamie Bamber, a pale-skinned Englishman. These points were addressed somewhat in the first season, during which viewers are briefly introduced to both Carolanne and Zak Adama. During a dinner party in "Tigh Me Up, Tigh Me Down", Ellen Tigh offers her opinion that Lee Adama takes after his mother in appearance, while Zak took after his father. Since human skin pigmentation is determined by several genes which can be inherited independently, this scenario is quite plausible.
As such, it is difficult to pigeonhole the Adama brothers as being of either European descent (as Lee appears, and his actor is) or mixed Amerindian/European (as Zak appears, and his actors have been). Where relevant, it is probably best to consider them both of approximately 1/4 Amerindian and 3/4 European descent, regardless of the genetic background of the actors who played them.
In an effort to increase the resemblance between the two characters, Olmos wore blue contact eye lenses to show some genetic commonality with Bamber. Jamie Bamber also dyed his blond hair brown to more closely resemble his on-screen father.
Some characters have distinctly Indo-European personal names or surnames which span multiple "Earth" languages and their generally associated ethnic origins: these include first names such as James, William, Laura, and Helena, and surnames like Jones, Novacek, Smith, Costanza and McManus.
There are also ancient Greek, Roman and Hebrew names. Personal and surnames, names of locations in use, as well as names like "Adama" which are carry-overs from the Original Series: Prosna, Socinus, Cally, Playa Palacios, Valerii, Agathon, Thrace, etc.
To make matters even more complicated, these names do not correspond to either ethnic or "racial" populations among the surviving Colonial citizens, nor do they align with Colonial nationalism. Not all Sagittarons have an European personal name like "Tom" and a Hebrew surname like "Zarek" and not all dark-skinned characters have non-western first names like "Sekou". Daniel Novacek (played by Carl Lumbly, an actor of Jamaican origin), for instance, has an Eastern European surname. In "Blood and Chrome", when Xander Toth is mistaken for a Captain Ramirez, he rhetorically asks, "Do I look like a Ramirez?", the first suggestion that name and apparent ethnicity correspond in the Twelve Colonies.
It is interesting to note the commonality of Indian/Sanskritic names such as Singh (Lion) in Gara Singh, Patel (Village Chief) in Sasha Patel, or Priyah (Beloved) in Priyah Magnus, as well as other typically Indo-European pagan names like the Germanic Olaf (Ancestor's Heirloom) in Olaf Willow. This is interesting to note because the 12 Colonies seem to be based on ancient polytheistic Indo-European cultures (Germanic, Roman, Greek and Indian). Scholarship over the last century has determined that many of the languages and polytheistic religions of Europe and India are related (both English and Hindi are members of the Indo-European language family for example, and Greek Zeus/Latin Jūpiter/Sanskrit Dyáus Pitā are all thought to be references to a common Proto-Indo-European deity), indicating a precursor culture known as Proto-Indo-European existed. Sanskrit, the oldest surviving Indo-European language (today used as a literlurgical language in Buddhism and Hinduism), is frequently used in religious hymns by the Colonials, and Roman/Greek alternative names like Jupiter/Zeus are used interchangably. The implication could be that the survivors of the Colonial exodus are the ancestors of the real Proto-Indo-European cultures who gave their language and religion to Europe, Iran and India.
For a discussion of race in BSG, see this blog post from the Radical Compounds blog: Is BSG Post-Racial or is that not even the problem?