12

First let me say I am not trying to start a debate on what Shadow's race is. I am looking for any actual evidence from the book, Gaiman or the series in production as to what race Shadow is. If there is no definitive evidence to prove what race he is but there is evidence that it clearly is meant to be undetermined then that is fine. There is a debate as to whether or not he is of black (African-American) heritage from his mother or if she was some other race.

I personally think she was something else but I have no strong evidence either way. I assume Neil Gaiman left his race intentionally vague. Is there any evidence though as to what Shadow's race is?

19

Here are some clues from the book:

On page 10 (hardcover first edition), the prison guard asks him what race he is, asking if he's Hispanic or a Gypsy. The guard goes on to suggest that maybe he's part black. Later in the story, Sam thinks that he looks native American:

"You got Indian blood in you?"

"Not that I know of."

"You looked like it, was all."

Later there's a reference to his cream-and-coffee skin:

. . . here he was, a large, clumsy sixteen-year-old with acne pocking his cream-and-coffee skin . . .

When Shadow meets Mr. Nancy, it's stated that he has light grey eyes:

"You're a big one," said Nancy, staring into Shadow's light gray eyes . . .

And later when he sees himself as a child:

. . . a shrimp of a kid, big pale gray eyes and dark hair . . .

Although, confusingly, there are also suggestions that he might have dark eyes:

The only photograph of Shadow as a kid that Laura had liked enough to frame showed a solemn child with unruly hair and dark eyes . . .

"Damn your dark eyes, you gave it a-fucken-way."

A second reference to his dark hair:

He washed his face and hands in hot water, slicked down his dark hair, then went back into the restaurant and ate his burgers and fries and drank his coffee.

About Shadow's mother: a major clue is that she has sickle-cell disease, which occurs mostly in people of sub-Saharan African descent.

. . . what she had thought was just another sickle-cell crisis . . .

When she's sick,

There was a lemonish-gray tinge to her skin.

And finally:

We eventually find out that Shadow's father is white, which means that the genes for his darker skin must have come from his mother.

  • Great references! I see from the wiki though that also India and the Middle-East and Hispanic-Americans could possible have this disease. It's obvious that Shadow gets his color from his mother. But I think it's intentionally vague as to what she is as well as him. So do you have an opinion on whether or not Shadow's race is determined? – Kevin Howell Jun 6 '12 at 20:41
  • Yes, the sickle-cell gene can show up in a person of any race. I think all we know is that Shadow is a dark-haired, grey-eyed guy who looks like he's part non-white or just has a tan. As the Neil Gaiman quote in the answer below suggests, I think his indeterminate race helps characterize him as an "everyman" and fits in with the book's theme of how people and gods mix and adapt and finally become something new in America. – Pixel Jun 7 '12 at 16:58
  • See also this post on Gaiman's Tumblr. – Gallifreyan May 14 '17 at 19:13
12

Neil wrote a little bit about this years ago, when someone said they parsed him as white at first:

hamilton -- which is odd, because there's that whole conversation about Shadow's race early in chapter one; in my head at least he's one of those people whose race doesn't read easily -- in the celebrity world, Vin Diesel's an example of the same kind of look. But it seemed appropriate in a book about America that the hero was of mixed race.

In 2011 he said he's insisting that any American Gods film "keep the racial mix", but no other qualifiers.

As far as I know, that's all that's been said officially (beyond the "cream and coffee" skin mentioned in the book).

Presumably "mixed race" in this case includes some amount of Scandinavian. "Cream and coffee" covers a huge range of populations especially when mixed with Scandinavian; I would personally guess indigenous American just for the additional level of metaphor it adds. I don't think there's any evidence for any particular origin though.

  • I read your linked article but it referenced Anasazi Boys not American Gods. – Kevin Howell May 21 '12 at 19:16
  • @KevinHowell: You're right - I misread the article since it jumps from race in American Gods in the article to race in Anansi Boys in the quote. I swear I remember an interview where he calls Shadow "black" which I'll keep trying to dig up, but for now I'll fix my answer. – user1030 May 21 '12 at 19:18
2

Neil Gaiman did an interview with Huffington Post in which he said that Jasom Momoa would be a perfect Shadow. It was also made clear that Shadow's mother was black (American) and his father was white.

Gaiman: It's not my decision but he [Momoa] is Shadow. That is the amazing thing about Jason, is the character as described in the book is absolutely him, and something that he could play physically in every way.

You can view the link here

  • 2
    Could you add a link and some quotes to your answer to flesh it out? Click the 'edit' link to make changes. – user1027 Nov 11 '15 at 16:39
  • I've watched the interview and I can't see where he said that Shadow's mother was black. – Valorum Oct 22 '16 at 18:56
  • 1
    Too bad they went with a bald black guy who doesn't have a Norwegian accent. – iyrin May 5 '17 at 10:13
1

"Black Dog" in his collection Trigger Warnings seems to indicate that his mother might be Middle Eastern, in the traditions of Bask and Anubis, also mentioned in the story.

-5

To tell you the truth, Shadow never was the focal point of interest while I was reading the book. He was a silent vehicle through which Neil Gaiman showed us the secret world of old and new gods existing within ours, and how terrible and monstrous these divine beings can be. One thing than stuck to me was how in the book he was always described with having black hair and that he was a tall person with wide shoulders. All these details, plus the fact that nobody, not even himself can say if he is any specific race, or just a mixture of many races, plus how often the book brings up the Thunderbird and the Native American gods being especially protective of him, made me conclude that he must be Native American. I know, I got no concrete evidence to back this up, but in my mind, Shadow Moon (Which sounds like a Native American name in my ears by the way) is a tall, brutish looking Native American with long black hair, grey/dark eyes and a calm, respectful to the way the word chooses to move around him demeanor.

protected by Community May 23 '17 at 1:55

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