Norbert Rillieux and a Revolution in Sugar Processing

Posted in Articles, Biography, History, Louisiana, Media Archive, Slavery, United States on 2012-04-27 20:24Z by Steven

Norbert Rillieux and a Revolution in Sugar Processing

American Chemical Society
National Historic Chemical Landmarks: Norbert Rillieux and a Revolution in Sugar Processing
2002

Judah Ginsberg


Portrait of Norbert Rillieux (undated).

Dedicated April 18, 2002 at Dillard University in New Orleans, Louisiana

Norbert Rillieux: Chemist and Engineer

The birth record on file in New Orleans City Hall is spare: “Norbert Rillieux, quadroon libre, [free quadroon] natural son of Vincent Rillieux and Constance Vivant. Born March 17, 1806. Baptized in St. Louis Cathedral by Pere Antoine.”

Vincent Rillieux was an inventor himself who designed a steam-operated press for baling cotton. He appears to have had a long relationship with Constance Vivant, “a free woman of color,” and one of their sons, Norbert, became what is now called a chemical engineer. The use of the father’s surname and the baptism in New Orleans’ cathedral indicate the paternity was publicly acknowledged.

As a boy the precocious Norbert showed an interest in engineering, and his father sent him to France for his education. By the age of 24, Rillieux was an instructor in applied mechanics at the Ecole Centrale in Paris. Around 1830, Rillieux published a series of papers on steam engines and steam power.

While in France, Rillieux began working on the multiple effect evaporator. As George Meade, a sugar expert, wrote in 1946: “The great scientific contribution which Rillieux made was in his recognition of the steam economies which can be effected by repeated use of the latent heat in the steam and vapors.” What Rillieux did, and what became the basis for all modern industrial evaporation, was to harness the energy of vapors rising from the boiling sugar cane syrup and pass those vapors through several chambers, leaving in the end sugar crystals.

Rillieux’s evaporator was a safer, cheaper, and more efficient way of evaporating sugar cane juice than the method then in use, the Jamaica train. In this system, teams of slaves ladled boiling sugar juice from one open kettle to another. The resulting sugar tended to be of low quality since the heat in the kettles could not be regulated, and much sugar was lost in the process of transferring juice from kettle to kettle.

Some Louisiana sugar planters quickly understood the significance of Rillieux’s invention, and he returned to New Orleans in the early 1830s, years that coincided with a sugar boom. Rillieux tinkered with his invention over the next decade, and in 1843 he was hired to install an evaporator on Judah Benjamin’s Bellechasse Plantation. Benjamin, a Jewish lawyer who later served as secretary of war in the Confederacy, became Rillieux’s staunchest supporter in Louisiana sugar circles. Benjamin wrote in 1846 that sugar produced with the Rillieux apparatus was superb, the equal of “the best double-refined sugar of our northern refineries.”

The success of his evaporator apparently made Rillieux, according to a contemporary, “the most sought after engineer in Louisiana,” and he acquired a large fortune. But while his invention no doubt enriched sugar planters, Rillieux was still, under the law, “a person of color” who might visit sugar plantations to install his evaporator but who could not sleep in the plantation house. (Nor, for that matter, could a man of Rillieux’s accomplishments be expected to stay in slave quarters. Some planters, it appears, provided Rillieux with a special house with slave servants while he visited as “a consultant.”). As the Civil War approached, the status of free blacks deteriorated with the imposition of new restrictions on their ability to move about the streets of New Orleans and other draconian laws.

It was about this time that Rillieux moved back to France. Race relations may have played a part in his decision. At one point, Rillieux became incensed when one of his applications for a patent was denied initially because authorities mistakenly believed he was a slave and thus not a citizen of the United States. The declining profitability of the sugar industry in Louisiana also may have been a factor. In any event, in Paris, Rillieux developed a passion for Egypt. In 1880, a visiting Louisiana sugar planter found Rillieux deciphering hieroglyphics at the Bibliotheque Nationale. Rillieux died in 1894 and was buried in the famed Paris cemetery of Pere Lachaise. His wife, Emily Cuckow, lived comfortably for another eighteen years…

…Neither slave nor free

Americans pouring into the newly purchased Louisiana Territory encountered a social caste virtually unknown in the Eastern seaboard States: gens de couleur libre, free people of color. In the early years of the nineteenth century, free blacks comprised 25 percent of the population of New Orleans, far higher than in most other areas of the American South, where nearly all blacks were slaves.

The number of free blacks in New Orleans was due in part to the French and Spanish heritage of Louisiana. Both France and Spain had lenient manumission policies and both encouraged slaves to purchase their freedom. But the majority of free blacks resulted from sexual relations between white men and black women. One Spanish bishop lamented, “a good many inhabitants live almost publicly with colored concubines” and they consider the issue of such liaisons “as their natural children.” Finally, the ranks of the gens de couleur libre swelled in the early years of American control of New Orleans with the influx of thousands of light-skinned freemen fleeing the internecine warfare in the new black Republic of Haiti.

In the eighteenth century, Louisiana free blacks enjoyed a higher social status and had more rights than the small free black population of the English colonies. Their condition would deteriorate under American control, but it remained true that free blacks maintained a privileged status in the antebellum years. As late as 1856, the Louisiana Supreme Court ruled that under Louisiana law there is “all the difference between a free man of color and a slave, that there is between a white man and a slave.” Indeed, a few free blacks even belonged to the planter class, owning slaves themselves…

Read the entire article here.

Tags: , ,

Blue Coat or Powdered Wig: Free People of Color in Pre-Revolutionary Saint Domingue

Posted in Anthropology, Books, Caribbean/Latin America, History, Monographs on 2012-04-27 18:56Z by Steven

Blue Coat or Powdered Wig: Free People of Color in Pre-Revolutionary Saint Domingue

University of Georgia Press
March 2001
344 pages
6.125 x 9.25
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8203-3029-7

Stewart R. King, Associate Professor of History
Mount Angel Seminary, St. Benedict, Oregon

By the late 1700s, half the free population of Saint Domingue was black. The French Caribbean colony offered a high degree of social, economic, and physical mobility to free people of color. Covering the period 1776-1791, this study offers the most comprehensive portrait to date of Saint Domingue’s free black elites on the eve of the colony’s transformation into the republic of Haiti.

Stewart R. King identifies two distinctive groups that shared Saint Domingue’s free black upper stratum, one consisting of planters and merchants and the other of members of the army and police forces. With the aid of individual and family case studies, King documents how the two groups used different strategies to pursue the common goal of economic and social advancement. Among other aspects, King looks at the rural or urban bases of these groups’ networks, their relationships with whites and free blacks of lesser means, and their attitudes toward the acquisition, use, and sale of land, slaves, and other property.

King’s main source is the notarial archives of Saint Domingue, whose holdings offer an especially rich glimpse of free black elite life. Because elites were keenly aware of how a bureaucratic paper trail could help cement their status, the archives divulge a wealth of details on personal and public matters.

Blue Coat or Powdered Wig is a vivid portrayal of race relations far from the European centers of colonial power, where the interactions of free blacks and whites were governed as much by practicalities and shared concerns as by the law.

Table of Contents

  • Acknowledgements
  • Introduction
  • Part One. The Colony and Its People
    • Chapter One. The Notarial Record and Free Coloreds
    • Chapter Two. The Land
    • Chapter Three. The People
    • Chapter Four. Free Colored in the Colonial Armed Forces
  • Part Two. The Free Colored in Society and the Economy
    • Chapter Five. Slaveholding Practices
    • Chapter Six. Landholding Practices
    • Chapter Seven. Entrepreneurship
    • Chapter Eight. Non-Economic Components of Social Status
    • Chapter Nine. Family Relationships and Social Advancement
  • Part Three. Group Strategies for Economic and Social Advancement
    • Chapter Ten. Planter Elites
    • Chapter Eleven. The Military Leadership Group
    • Chapter Twelve. Conclusion
  • Appendix One. Family Tree of the Laportes of Limonade
  • Appendix Two. Surnames
  • Appendix Three. Incorporation Papers of the Grasserie Marie Josephe
  • Appendix Four. Notarized Sale Contract for a House
  • Notes
  • Works Cited
  • Index
Tags: , , , ,

If race or ethnicity is endogenous in certain circumstances, a self-identity may or may not be selected to distance oneself from a subordinate group or to improve one’s standing with or acceptance into the dominant group.

Posted in Excerpts/Quotes on 2012-04-27 18:19Z by Steven

Racial and ethnic self-identification have economic consequences because the choice of self-identity is likely to be entwined with the acceptance of and acculturation into dominant social norms. If race or ethnicity is endogenous in certain circumstances, a self-identity may or may not be selected to distance oneself from a subordinate group or to improve one’s standing with or acceptance into the dominant group. In a study of people of Mexican descent, Mason (2001) tests a model in which acculturation is a dominant strategy, and finds that light-complected people of Mexican descent may acculturate more easily. Murguia and Telles (1996) report different educational opportunities for Mexicans of light and dark complexion and argue that these may result from conscious choices. Phenotypic differences, they argue, influence individual strategies. Light-skinned people of Mexican descent learn early in life that by assimilating or acculturating they can defuse negative stereotypes and attain more than their dark-complected counterparts. Later in life, light-skinned Mexicans are able to increase their incomes by adopting a non-Hispanic white identity (Mason 2001). Yet there may also be situations in which members of the subordinate group decide to maintain identities separate from the dominant group.

Howard Bodenhorn and Christopher S. Ruebeck, “The Economics of Identity and the Endogeneity of Race,” National Bureau of Economic Research: Working Paper 9962 (September 2003): 3-4.

Tags: , , ,

Among the hardships faced by these men in their pioneering work of founding a colony was a scarcity of women. They solved the problem, according to the French Governor Bienville, by running “in the woods after Indian girls.”

Posted in Excerpts/Quotes, History, Louisiana, United States on 2012-04-27 17:59Z by Steven

In 1850 the mulattoes and others of mixed blood formed about eighty percent of Louisiana’s total free Negro population.” Some of them came from stable families which had been free for generations,” But almost all had their origins in some extramarital union (by this time perhaps quite far removed) between a white man and a black woman. The beginnings of this long-established practice dated back to the early eighteenth century when Louisiana was first being settled by the French. The small group of early settlers consisted mostly of those “in the pay of … the King” and especially garrison soldiers. Among the hardships faced by these men in their pioneering work of founding a colony was a scarcity of women. They solved the problem, according to the French Governor Bienville, by running “in the woods after Indian girls.”

Laura Foner, “The Free People of Color In Louisiana and St. Domingue: A Comparative Portrait of Two Three-Caste Slave Societies,” Journal of Social History, Volume 3, Number 3 (1970): 408.

Tags: ,

Beyoncé, beauty and the all mighty dollar

Posted in Anthropology, Articles, History, Media Archive, Slavery, Social Science, United States, Women on 2012-04-27 17:24Z by Steven

Beyoncé, beauty and the all mighty dollar

Insight News
Minneapolis, Minnesota
2012-03-09

Irma McClaurin, Ph.D., Culture and Education Editor

Just for the record, we are not in, nor has there ever been, a post-racial moment in America.  And so, we must dive deep into historical memory of this country to understand why all the fuss about L’Oréal’s  latest advertisement for cosmetics featuring Beyoncé.

Racial Passing

Centuries ago, before Black was defined as beautiful, those individuals whose features (nose, hair, lips) and color suggested European ancestry hid the origins of their one Black parent and “passed.”  These offspring were generally the result of a liaison between a white man and Black woman, and on occasion, between a Black man and a white woman.  The latter unions were often the motivation for lynchings in an effort to protect “white womanhood.”  And, most often, the former unions occurred under duress, power imbalances and were all too frequent a consequence of a white male slave owner taking control of what he deemed his property—the bodies of Black women.

This is a moment in American history in which Black enslaved bodies were considered commodities to be bartered, sold and destroyed, if the owner so desired.  During this period, Black women were forced to have sexual relations with anyone whom the Master considered a good breeder, and the resulting children were considered the Master’s property to be bought and sold. So what does this have to do with Beyoncé and L’Oréal and the marketing of beauty products?…

…To Be or Not To Be Hybrid

Claiming hybridity and mixture has become very popular in America.  It doesn’t help that we have adopted the nomenclature of “people of color,” which includes international people of every social class—some of whom have experienced oppression and some who are from the wealthiest social ranks of their society.  So why the negative reaction of Black women to how L’Oréal has chosen to market Beyoncé as representing “every woman” –“African American, Indian, French”?  One explanation could be that as powerful consumers of beauty products, the majority of Black women who spend almost $7.5 BILLION in this product area, would like to see themselves represented.  Yet most of these consumers would bear little resemblance to the Black celebrities whose faces and bodies often are used to sell the products. I have nothing against Halle Berry or Beyoncé, but they do not look like every day Black women who buy cosmetics. I would love to buy a bronzer sold under the Halle image, but I just can’t get a color to match my skin—I have the same problem with band aids that are supposed to be “flesh colored.”  They are, but it’s just not my flesh color—so I am forced to resort to the Snoopy ones.

…Most African Americans have the right to the same claim of hybridity because of the mixtures that occurred (involuntary mostly but some voluntarily) between Black women mostly with European men under slavery, and with Native Americans (often to escape enslavement).  Most of us don’t have the means to trace our ancestry, and beginning in the 1960s through the advent of cultural nationalism, we transformed the one-drop/hypodescent concept that was used as a negative into a positive social ideology and political identity that embraced Blackness (“Say it loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud”)…

…Anthropologists and other scientists have presented enormous evidence that concepts of race are not rooted in biology, but are socially constructed categories, but they do have impact on our everyday lives.  Politically, choosing categories such as hybrid, multi-racial, mixed, etc, may seem like much ado about nothing, but it can have economic, social and even political consequences.  What’s a Beyoncé to do?

Read the entire article here.

Tags: , ,

More children identify as ‘biracial’: just a choice or a good thing?

Posted in Articles, Barack Obama, Census/Demographics, Media Archive, United States on 2012-04-27 04:30Z by Steven

More children identify as ‘biracial’: just a choice or a good thing?

The Washington Post
2012-04-26

Mary C. Curtis

It’s been happening for a while — census data show it. The number of mixed-race babies has quickly grown in the last decade, a trend that’s no surprise in an increasingly diverse country. Men and women are choosing partners of different races and identifying their children using the array of hyphenated options now available on forms that still ask the question.

More than 7 percent of the 3.5 million children born in the year before the 2010 Census were of two or more races, up from 5 percent a decade earlier, the Washington Post reports. In the story, William H. Frey, a Brookings Institution demographer who analyzed the information, said, “I think people are more comfortable in identifying themselves, and their children, as mixed race.” He added, “It’s much more socially acceptable, more mainstream, to say, ‘That’s what we want to identify them as.’ ”

What is come down to is choice, and if it remained just that, it would be fine. But Frey goes on to assign value to this particular choice. “This is a huge leap,” he said. “This is a ray of hope that we’re finally moving into an era where this very sharp black-white divide is breaking apart.”

That’s where he makes a leap, that it’s a matter of, well, black and white. Identifying as biracial is a choice now, but does it have to be better? Is Tiger Woods’ “Cablinasian” option more enlightened than Halle Berry’s decision to self-identify as black?

Frey isn’t the only one who judges the trend as a “ray of hope,” a necessary step forward in relationships between races. When President Barack Obama checked off one race, black, on his census form, he was criticized by some, accused of somehow denying his white mother. It may have marked the first time such indignation over the issue reached a fever pitch, though if it were Barack the bank robber I hardly think whites would be clamoring to claim him.

At the time, a white woman married to a black man told me she was angry and disappointed for her two children’s sake. “He’s president. He could have been an example,” she told me. That we were walking through a Charlotte science museum exhibit “Race: Are We So Different?” that proved the many ways humans are more alike than any other species made our discussion both fraught and beside the point. Since she wanted freedom to choose, how could she criticize the president for his? I asked her. He would certainly know his motives better than a stranger whose reaction might have more to do with her own…

…My grown-up son fills out his own census form now, a black man with a white father and a special relationship with a white grandmother he loves with all his heart. It’s not confusing at all…

Read the entire article here.

Tags: , , , , ,

Ownership, Entrepreneurship, and Identity: The Gens de Couleur Libres and the Architecture of Antebellum New Orleans, 1830-1850

Posted in Articles, History, Louisiana, United States on 2012-04-27 04:12Z by Steven

Ownership, Entrepreneurship, and Identity: The Gens de Couleur Libres and the Architecture of Antebellum New Orleans, 1830-1850

Graham Foundation
Chicago, Illinois
2011

The recipient of the 2011 Carter Manny Award for doctoral dissertation writing is Tara Dudley, The University of Texas at Austin, School of Architecture
 
This dissertation examines the architectural activities of New Orleans’s gens de couleur libres or free people of color, their influence on the physical growth of New Orleans, and the implications—historical, cultural, and economic—of their contributions to nineteenth-century American architecture as builders, developers, and property owners. A unique group of people building in a specific time and place, the activities of gens de couleur libres builders and patrons set standards within and without predominantly black Creole communities. Their activities informed the types of economic endeavors suitable for black Creoles and allowed the persistence of Francophone culture in the wake of Americanization. This dissertation utilizes as case studies the Dolliole and Soulié families who were active in the building trades in the antebellum era, emphasizing their socioeconomic backgrounds as a tool to understanding their professional motivations and the creation of a specific ethnic and architectural identity in antebellum New Orleans.
 
Tara Dudley, a native of Lafayette, Louisiana, lives in Uhland, Texas, with her husband David and two toddlers, Zoya and Aria. Dudley’s specializations are nineteenth-century architecture and interior design, and historic preservation. Her research interests include material culture, gender studies, and African-American architectural history. Dudley received her BA in Art History from Princeton University and her MS in Historic Preservation from the University of Texas at Austin. She has interned at Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and at Shadows-on-the-Teche. She is an architectural historian at Hardy-Heck-Moore, Inc., a cultural resource management firm based in Austin, Texas.

For more information, click here.

Tags: , , ,

Number of biracial babies soars over past decade

Posted in Articles, Census/Demographics, New Media, United States on 2012-04-27 02:41Z by Steven

Number of biracial babies soars over past decade

The Washington Post
2012-04-26

Carol Morello, Demographics Reporter

The number of mixed-race babies has soared over the past decade, new census data show, a result of more interracial couples and a cultural shift in how many parents identify their children in a multiracial society.

More than 7 percent of the 3.5 million children born in the year before the 2010 Census were of two or more races, up from barely 5 percent a decade earlier. The number of children born to black and white couples and to Asian and white couples almost doubled.

“I think people are more comfortable in identifying themselves, and their children, as mixed race,” said William H. Frey, a Brookings Institution demographer who analyzed detailed census data on mixed-race infants. “It’s much more socially acceptable, more mainstream, to say, ‘That’s what we want to identify them as.’”…

…Frey said the census statistics on children with black and white parents in particular show a country that is advancing toward the day when race loses its power to be a hot-button issue.

People who identify themselves as one race tend to be older. They reflect a society in which laws prohibited interracial marriage and states such as Virginia enforced a “one drop” rule designating anyone as black if they could trace even one drop of their blood to an African American ancestor. President Obama, for example, identified himself as one race — black — on his census form, even though his mother was white…

Read the entire article here.

Tags: , , , ,

Investing in Citizenship: Free Men of Color of Color and the case against Citizens Bank ~ Antebellum Louisiana

Posted in Dissertations, History, Law, Louisiana, Media Archive, United States on 2012-04-27 01:56Z by Steven

Investing in Citizenship: Free Men of Color of Color and the case against Citizens Bank ~ Antebellum Louisiana

University of New Orleans
December 2011
58 pages

Hannah J. Francis

A Thesis Submitted to the Graduate Faculty of the University of New Orleans in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts in History

Despite the popularity of free people of color in New Orleans as a research topic, the history of free people of color remains misunderstood. The prevailing view of free people of color is that of people who: engaged in plaçage, attended quadroon balls, were desperately dependent upon the dominant population, and were uninterested or afraid to garner rights for themselves. Contemporary historians have endeavored to amend this stereotypical perception; this study aims to be a part of the trend of revisionist history through an in-depth analysis of the co-plaintiffs in Boisdoré and Goulé, f.p.c., v. Citizens Bank and their case. Because Boisdoré and Goulé sue at critical time in New Orleans history, three decades after the Louisiana Purchase during the American transformation of New Orleans, their case epitomizes the era in which it occurs. In bringing suit, Boisdoré and Goulé attempted to thwart some of those forth coming changes.

Table of Contents

  • Abstract
  • Investing in Citizenship: Free Men of Color of Color and the case against Citizens Bank ~ Antebellum Louisiana
    • Historiography of Citizens Bank and Free People of Color
    • Historical Scholarship of Free People of Color in New Orleans
    • Francois Boisdoré and John Goulé as Free People of Color in New Orleans
    • Citizens Bank
    • Boisdoré and Goulé’s Legal Counsel: Judah Benjamin and Christian Roselius
    • Boisdoré and Goulé v. Citizens Bank
    • Implications of the Case
    • Changes in Nineteenth Century New Orleans
  • Bibliography
  • Vita

Read the entire thesis here.

Tags: , , ,

As Racist as We Wish to Be: Project RACE, “The Talk”, Obama and the Fear of Blackness

Posted in Articles, Barack Obama, Identity Development/Psychology, Media Archive, My Articles/Point of View/Activities, Social Science, United States on 2012-04-27 00:48Z by Steven

As Racist as We Wish to Be: Project RACE, “The Talk”, Obama and the Fear of Blackness

MixedRaceStudies.org
2012-04-10

Steven F. Riley

Late last year, I opined about the inability of some activists in the multiracial identity movement to combat racism.  It is difficult to combat racism if you are not anti-racist and quite impossible if you—or at least your rhetoric—is actually racist. Such is the case in a March 29, 2012 blog post by Susan Graham at Project RACE titled “Walking While Black,” (also here) that epitomizes racist anti-black ideology.

Graham, a white woman who purports to represent the interests of multiracial Americans, has written the most inane commentary on multiracialism you will find anywhere.  Her  pseudo-scientific commentary reads as if it were written in the early part of the previous century, deploying ideologies long since abandoned by anthropologists and biologists alike. For instance, in “The Obama Racial Identity Factor and Saving Multiracial Lives” (June 7, 2008) she opens with, “Barack Obama can call himself black, white, magenta, green, or whatever he wants, it really does not matter socially. However, genes are genes and his genes are multiracial.” Seven months later, when millions of Americans have moved from doubting that a black man can become president and actually electing one, Graham continues with her mindless foray into genetics in “January 2009 – Is this President Obama’s Post-Racial America?” (January 20, 2009) where she says, “We have our first multiracial president, Barack Obama, and even if he does self-identify as black, he cannot deny DNA.”

Three years later and not a day wiser, in a still pre-post-racial America, Graham uses the tragic and racially motivated shooting death of Trayvon Martin as an entree into her racist “Walking While Black” about the travails of the lives of African American males.  She partially describes the concept of “Driving While Black” and the so-called “Black Male Code” of conduct when one is confronted by the police.  She neglects to mention that “Driving While Black” also involves being targeted to be pulled over in the first place. Graham goes on to describe her then-husband’s habit of always carrying identification no matter where he went just in case he was confronted by police. Finally, she describes how when her son reached driving age, she and her then-husband had “the talk” with him about what to do when confronted by police.  Graham says, “she gets it.”  She does not.

Despite the death of Trayvon Martin, the indignities and civil rights violations of “Driving While Black,” and the “Black Male Code,” Graham is neither, angry, concerned or even bothered about the daily aggressions directed at black men in American as they try to live as decent citizens.  She is unwilling to speak out against even the most explicit forms of racism that still exist in America.  So what does bother her? What “bothers” her is the fact that President Obama, chooses to proudly identify as “black.”

While many view the multiracial identity movement in America as a way to transcend race and to remove the proverbial millstone of racialized identities off of all our necks, scholars like Jared Ball, Minkah Makalani, Lewis R. Gordon, Ralina L. Joseph, Jared Sexton, Rainier Spencer and others, see a movement with a primary goal of transcending blackness. As blogger Summer McDonald eloquently states in her essay “Canon Fodder: ‘The Girl Who Fell From the Sky’ and the Problem of Mixed-Race Identity” (August 18, 2011),

Accepting and embracing a mixed-race identity hardly reveals racial progress. As it is currently constructed, mixed-race identity does not dismantle racial hierarchies. Rather, it reiterates white supremacy by attempting to etch a space for itself somewhere under whiteness–which it knows it can never access–and definitely above blackness.

Susan Graham and Project RACE, without a doubt, prove these writers correct. When her son asks “what does ‘driving while black’ mean to me?” She explains, “self-identification is one thing, but how he appears to someone can be completely different and yes, someone could assume he was black, so he had to act accordingly. Be on the safe side, son.” Again, what bothers Graham is not that black men are “perceived as a threat,” but rather, that her son will be perceived as a black man. Thus in the aftermath of the Trayvon Martin tragedy when multitudes of commentators of all racialized identities proclaim  “We are Trayvon,” Graham and Project RACE, proclaim “We are not black.”

While Graham does seem to accept the fact that one’s self-identification can be different from how one appears to someone else, she refuses to grasp how one’s appearance to others can and does influence one’s self-identification. Scholar Nikki Khanna’s excellent article, “‘If You’re Half Black, You’re Just Black’: Reflected Appraisals and the Persistence of the One-Drop Rule” describes the role of self-reflected appraisals—how we think we are seen by others—on the identity of those of mixed-ancestry and shows how these identity choices, like one made by President Obama, are honest, common—and despite Ms. Graham’s continual protestations—valid. Phil Wilkes Fixico said it best when he stated on Mixed Chicks Chat (September 14, 2011), “Racially, I’m an African-Native American. Culturally, I’m an aspiring Seminole Maroon descendant. But to the people of America who see me on the street, I’m just another flavor of Black.”

As countless commentators continue to appropriately condemn the prevalence of white supremacy that demonizes people of color (like Trayvon Martin) and white privilege that provides license to the demonizers, Graham says nothing whatsoever about these evils, but rather chooses to take offense exclusively President Obama when he suggested that if he had a son, “he would look like Trayvon.” Though she is correct in stating that the President “doesn’t know that his son would look like Trayvon or anybody else,” it is clear that her anger at Obama is magnified, not just by his identifying as a black American, but now, identifying with black Americans. Furthermore, the resemblance of Obama’s imaginary son to Trayvon Martin is irrelevant because more importantly, it is Obama himself who would “look like Trayvon” if he were seventeen. As Leila McDowell put it so aptly in Associated Press columnist Jesse Washington’s “Black or biracial? Census forces a choice for some,” “Put a hoodie on him and have him walk down an alley, and see how biracial he is then.”

Susan Graham fails to see that the things we ultimately pass down to our children are more important than genes; they are our values and attitudes, hopes and fears, our love and our hate. In short, these are the things that define us. Hopefully, one of those things won’t be race. Until then, Graham may discover that in passing down the “Black Male Code” to her son, he may one day choose to identify, like President Obama and Phil Fixico, as “just a another flavor of Black.” In the meanwhile, perhaps it’s time someone had “the talk” with Ms. Graham and suggest she move on to a new project.

©2012, Steven F. Riley

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,