The Sheen Defense: Charlie Sheen and Multiracial Identity

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Charlie Sheen has lost his job. But he lost his mind first. This comes as no surprise to anyone with Internet access or who has stood in a checkout line next to the tabloid rack in the last few weeks. Sheen’s drug and alcohol abuse, “goddesses,” and wild ravings are already legendary. In a world that also contains Lindsey Lohan, Sheen has managed to become the poster-boy for Hollywood excess. Yet even in the Land of Sheen, his recent defense to charges of anti-Semitism is outlandish and his (mis)use of his multiracial background is insulting to all multiracial people who are struggling to create public and private identities.

Sheen was accused of anti-Semitism after calling “Two and a Half Men” writer Chuck Lorre “Chaim Levine” (his Hebrew name). Sheen has come up with a two-pronged defense: 1) he is Latino so therefore isn’t anti-Semitic and 2) he is Jewish and therefore isn’t anti-Semitic. For good measure, he also reminds us that his ex-wife is Jewish (making his children Jewish) and so, of course, he isn’t anti-Semitic.

Current discussions of multiracial identities focus on multiracials as proof of our racial progress. However Sheen, by claiming this defense (or defenses), relies on his multiracial identity to shield him from charges of racism. The argument is now that mutiracials cannot be racist (or anti-Semitic) because of their racial heritage. Of course, this is ridiculous. Recent DNA evidence suggests Adolf Hitler had Jewish and African ancestry. Obviously, this did not stop him from perpetrating one of the worst genocides in history – against Jews, people of African descent and other “undesirables.” Just as biology does not justify the stereotypes of non-whites as criminals, lazy, or stupid neither does biology create a “race” of people immune to racism or anti-Semitism.

Sheen’s defense is even more troubling since he has never before claimed to be Jewish. And while his father, Martin Sheen, has been open about his Latino heritage, Charlie has also never been particularly vocal about this part of his ancestry either. His sudden celebration of his Jewish and Latino ancestry is obviously an attempt to deflect attention from his bad behavior.

While multiracial people should be allowed to claim whatever part(s) of their heritage they wish, using race as a shield as Sheen does is not better than slave owning whites claiming not to be racist because they loved their black mammies. Having a multiracial (multiethnic or multi-religious) background in no way guarantees that an individual is not a racist. More importantly, it does not guarantee that an individual is anti-racist either.

Anti-racism requires an individual to actively work against inequality. It requires an individual to recognize the ways they have personally benefitted from an unequal society and strive to both reduce the amount of unearned privilege they receive and try to create a more equal society for everyone. An anti-racist would not spend decades building a career as a white male, never mentioning his multiracial/multiethnic ancestry until it’s a viable escape clause from criticism over racist blunders. An anti-racist would not use all the privilege that being a white male provides in order to do no more than accumulate wealth, blondes and recreational drugs.

Translation: The Sheen Defense is defenseless. Many multiracial people are genuinely struggling to figure out who they are and how they fit into a racially stratified society. Charlie Sheen’s decision to use his background in order to convince us that he is not an anti-Semite or racist is a low blow, even for him. And it hurts us all.