Owning my mixed-race identity: Why I don’t have to choose sides

Posted in Articles, Autobiography, Canada, Media Archive on 2014-03-26 19:35Z by Steven

Owning my mixed-race identity: Why I don’t have to choose sides

Wednesday, 2014-03-12

Eternity E. Martis
London, Ontario, Canada

People can’t seem to understand that I’m not either black or Anglo-Pakistani, but all of the above

My mother is Anglo-Pakistani and my father is Jamaican (and a quarter Chinese). I grew up with my mother and her family, a chubby, curly-haired, dark-skinned child eating chana masala, aloo paneer and chicken makhani.  As a child, I didn’t know I was any different from the rest of my family. But as I grew up, I realized that I was different, because I looked different.

My mom is fair-skinned with pin-straight hair. My uncle and several other members of my family are also fair with clear, light green eyes. I did not get any of those traits — I’m the darkest-skinned person in my immediate family, and the only one who’s mixed-race. As a child, I envied my mother’s skin; I longed to be white. She didn’t have to feel uncomfortable in the spaces white people inhabited. She wasn’t sneered at, followed around department stores by an employee as if she was a thief, or pushed off the sidewalk when she was walking to school by white kids. Life seemed easy for her.

I despised my father; his absence humiliated me. Not only did I loathe his withdrawn parenting, but I hated his genes. I inherited his dark skin and large nose. All six of his kids did. They were markers of my presumed inferiority, giving people a reason to treat me unkindly, giving boys a reason to rate me a “4” for my “monkey face” while my other female classmates received a generous “9.” It also didn’t matter that I was my mother’s child; nowhere did people recognize me in her…

…Someone asked me why people who are mixed with black try to distance themselves from their black ancestry, as if we are ashamed. It has nothing to do with shame; on my part, I find myself more in touch with s side now that I am older. However, I do want to bring awareness to mixed race politics and break down rigid categories of race. I do not have to be black because I am mixed; I do not have to be white because I am mixed. I do not have to be Pakistani because I am mixed. I do not have to choose a side, because I am everything…

Read the entire article here.

Tags: ,

“Dreadful Deceit”: Race is a myth

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, History, Media Archive, United States on 2013-12-16 02:06Z by Steven

“Dreadful Deceit”: Race is a myth

Sunday, 2013-12-15

Laura Miller, Staff Writer

A historian argues that one of the defining elements of American culture is merely a “social fiction”

Jacqueline Jones’ provocative new history, “Dreadful Deceit: The Myth of Race From the Colonial Era to Obama’s America,” contains a startling sentence on its 265th page. It comes after Jones quotes Simon Owens, the last of five African-Americans whose life stories she describes in the book. Owens — an auto worker, labor activist and writer who died in 1983 — stated, “I understood as a Negro first, in the South, the North, in the union, in the NAACP, in the C.P. [Communist Party] and in the S.W.P [Socialist Workers Party].” Jones adds, “Because generations of white people had defined him and all other blacks first and foremost as ‘Negroes,’ he had no alternative but to acknowledge — or, rather, react to — that spurious identity.”

That racial identities are “spurious” is the foundational argument of this fascinating book. Race is a cultural invention, rather than a biological fact (on this scientists widely agree), and Jones, a history professor at the University of Texas and recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship, wants to show how pernicious and persistent this falsity is. In the book’s epilogue, she points to an article from the 2012 edition of the New York Times titled “How Well You Sleep May Hinge on Race,” based on a study showing that living in high-crime neighborhood or having chronic conditions like diabetes or hypertension can cause insomnia. But, as Jones observes, these are problems deriving from poverty, not race, and so the article “blatantly conflated socioeconomic status with the idea of race.”

Of the five people whose life stories are told in “Dreadful Deceit,” the first is essentially voiceless: an enslaved man named Antonio, abducted from his homeland in Africa and murdered while being “corrected” by a colonial landowner in 17th-century Chesapeake. As Jones relates, Antonio’s race “had no practical meaning” to the man who purported to own him, Symon Overzee. Describing in well-researched detail the economic and political milieu of the time, she argues that what created Antonio’s vulnerability to Overzee was not his skin color or any other physical trait but his uprootedness, “without a tribe or a nation-state to protect and defend him in the Atlantic world.”…

…None of the life stories in the book supports this argument more forcefully than that of Richard W. White, a Civil War veteran elected to the office of clerk of the Chatham County Superior Court in Georgia. One of his opponents in the election filed suit against White, charging that he was ineligible to hold office in Georgia because he was “colored.” White, who was relatively new in town and “from unknown parts and of unknown lineage,” appeared to be “white.” The evidence marshaled to prove that White was not white consisted, as the judge freely admitted, of “the reputation of the person in his community, that is what he says of himself — what others say of him — his associates and his general reputation.” In other words, Jones underlines, a man’s race in this community “would be a matter not of ethnicity or heritage or appearance or biology. It would be, purely and simply, a social fiction — one without any appreciable basis in physical reality.”…

Read the entire review here.

Tags: , ,

Passing for white and straight: How my looks hide my identity

Posted in Articles, Gay & Lesbian, Identity Development/Psychology, Media Archive, Passing, Social Science, United States on 2013-12-09 18:27Z by Steven

Passing for white and straight: How my looks hide my identity


Koa Beck
Brooklyn, New York

I’m neither straight nor white, but I’m frequently mistaken for both — and it’s taught me a lot about privilege

I first became aware of my passing as a young child confronted with standardized testing. My second grade teacher had walked us through where to write our names in capital letters and what bubbles to fill in for our sex, our birth date and ethnicity. But in the days before “biracial” or “multiracial” or “choose two or more of the following,” I was confronted with rigid boxes of “white” or “black” – a space that my white father and black-Italian mother had navigated for some time.

But even at 8 years old, I knew I could mark “white” on the form without a teacher’s assistant telling me to do the form over with my No. 2 pencil. I could sometimes be “exotic” on the playground to the grown-ups who watched us for skinned knees and bad words. But with hair that had yet to curl and a white-sounding last name, I was at first glance – and many after – a dark-haired white girl with a white father who collected her after school…

…Because with my invisibility has come her privilege, an experience that has undeniably marked most of my life.  Due to my passing, I have the W.E.B. Du Bois-patented “double consciousness” for the opportunities that have been placed before me, scholastic and professional, from generally white and hetero establishments that look at me and always see their own. Is it the presumed commonality that garnered me those interviews? Those smiles? Those callbacks? Those firm handshakes?

When I read statistics about how employers are more likely to hire white people than people of color, I know that I can count myself in the former, despite the fact that I identify as the latter. I’m hyper-aware that when a bank, a company or any public office hears the sound of my voice and reads my legal first name (under which this article does not appear), they assume that they’re talking to a white woman, and therefore give me better service…

…My privilege in passing reflects a racism and heterosexism that continues to flourish, despite romantic notions that racial mixing and gay marriage will create a utopian future free of prejudices…

Read the entire article here.

Tags: ,

Mixing it Up

Posted in Articles, Census/Demographics, History, Identity Development/Psychology, Interviews, Law, Media Archive, Social Science, United States on 2013-03-26 02:31Z by Steven

Mixing it Up


Suzy Hansen

Alabama just legalized black-white marriage. An expert talks about why it took so long and the American obsession with racial purity.

In November 2000, after a statewide vote in a special election, Alabama became the last state to overturn a law that was an ugly reminder of America’s past, a ban on interracial marriage. The one-time home of George Wallace and Martin Luther King Jr. had held onto the provision for 33 years after the Supreme Court declared anti-miscegenation laws unconstitutional. Yet as the election revealed — 40 percent of Alabamans voted to keep the ban — many people still see the necessity for a law that prohibits blacks and whites from mixing blood.

Werner Sollors, a professor of Afro-American studies at Harvard, was born in Germany and came to the United States in 1978. He has been studying and writing about the history of American interracial relationships since 1986. Sollors is the editor of the recently published “Interracialism: Black-White Intermarriage in American History, Literature, and Law,” a fascinating survey of legal decisions, literary criticism and essays by writers and scholars including Langston Hughes, W.E.B. Du Bois and Randall Kennedy. Salon spoke with Sollors by phone from his office in Cambridge about the mixed-race origins — and multiracial future — of the nation.

What took Alabama so long to overturn its anti-miscegenation law?

In the years after the Civil War, most of the Southern states made miscegenation bans part of their constitutions. And part of the constitutional provision was that no legislation should ever change them. These were not just ordinary laws that you could modify with a simple majority; they called for very complicated processes and very large majorities to be overturned.

In 1967, the Supreme Court invalidated these anti-miscegenation provisions with the Loving vs. Virginia case, and the Southern states began to adjust. But not right away. In the first 10 or 15 years, there wasn’t a lot of activism or popular support for having the laws changed — no politician wanted to be caught trying to remove those statutes. I think Mississippi did it in 1987 or 1988 — 20 years after the Loving vs. Virginia case…

…What’s been going on with racial categories in the census is also interesting.

The census had two rules. One is the 1997 rule that permitted everyone to mark more than one box in the 2000 census. Then came the 2000 evaluation procedure, which allowed the census to classify anyone who marked more than one box as part of the “people of color” category — if there was a white and color mix indicated.

Essentially, it’s one thing to say that a person can fall into multiple racial categories, but what happens to all the people in the old categories? It can have some disastrous consequences now because in some states, apparently many white Americans found it fashionable to indicate that they were Native American. In some counties where Native Americans were a minority they may now end up as a majority. There are lots of headaches with counting and civil rights and voting rights and districting that are going to come in the next two years as a result of this census decision…

Read the entire interview here.

Tags: , ,

“Slave genes” myth must die

Posted in Anthropology, Articles, Slavery, United Kingdom on 2012-08-24 21:21Z by Steven

“Slave genes” myth must die


Amy Bass, Associate Professor of History
The College of New Rochelle, New Rochelle, New York

Michael Johnson links African-American sprinters to slavery, and revisits a particularly ugly pseudo-science

In 1988, Jimmy “The Greek” Snyder (in)famously stated that the prowess of African-American football players could be traced to slavery, saying “the black is a better athlete to begin with because he’s been bred to be that way … [They] jump higher and run faster.” The reaction to such obviously racist remarks was fast and furious: Amid the uproar, CBS Sports fired him. So when Olympic gold medalist Michael Johnson predicted this month that African-American and West Indian track athletes would dominate the London Olympics because of the genes of their slave ancestors, I paid little attention, thinking there was no way this could become a viable conversation yet again. “All my life I believed I became an athlete through my own determination, but it’s impossible to think that being descended from slaves hasn’t left an imprint through the generations,” Johnson told the Daily Mail. “Difficult as it was to hear, slavery has benefited descendants like me—I believe there is a superior athletic gene in us.”

As a historian, what I find to be stunning about what he said is the claim that the supremacy of black athletes in track had never “been discussed openly before.” Actually, with his words, Johnson plunged himself into a century-old debate that seems to rear its (rather ugly) head every four years, just in time for the opening of sport’s largest global stage. Johnson supported his theory with the example of the men’s 100m final at the Beijing Olympics: Three of the eight finalists came from Jamaica, including record-breaking winner Usain Bolt, and two from Trinidad; African-Americans Walter Dix and Doc Patton and Dutch sprinter Churandy Martina, who hails from Curacao, rounded out the line.

But racial assumptions don’t work as easily as simply noting that four years ago all eight finalists in the quest to be “world’s fastest man” likely had ancestors who were slaves, because race is, well, never simple, but rather works as an amoebic identity formation that changes throughout history. It’s a social construction deeply entangled with definitions of class, gender, sexuality and so on…

…Such scientists first engaged in racialized theories of athletic aptitude in the 1930s, during the large-scale breakthrough of African-Americans in track and field:  following DeHart Hubbard’s gold medal at the Paris Olympics in 1924; the success stories of Ed Gordon, Eddie Tolan and Ralph Metcalfe; and, of course, Jesse Owens’ legendary performance at the Berlin Games in 1936. Although the number of African-American track champions would greatly decline in subsequent decades, the belief in some sort of quantifiable connection between race and physical ability would not wane, with scientists creating comparative analyses between “white” and “black” calf muscles, bone densities, heel lengths and so on. “Is there some difference between Negroes and white in proportions of the body,” asked Iowa State physical educator Eleanor Metheny, “which gives the Negro an advantage in certain types of athletic performance?”

While one such study was plagued with what to do about subjects of “mixed parentage,” and Metheny admitted that “Negro” was heterogeneous by its very constitution, few scientists defined “Negro” or “white” beyond skin color, never pausing to wonder how they quantified categories that were subjective to begin with.  These scientists easily translated the racially infused stereotypes of the 19thcentury minstrel stage, in which physical traits such as fat lips, wide-open red mouths and large noses existed alongside the perceived innate ability to dance and sing, to have athletic bodies.  In doing so, these studies – which took place in labs at Harvard, Vanderbilt and Duke – produced some of sport’s most venerable racist convictions: Black athletes are more adept at sprinting, more relaxed, make better running backs than quarterbacks, and jump farther, all of which reduced their athleticism to a solely physical condition with no room for intellectual capacity, training nor discipline.

One notable exception was W. Montague Cobb, Howard University, the first black physical anthropologist in the United States. His extensive work on “the physical anthropology of the American Negro” never referenced slavery directly, but did make several assertions regarding the environmental and physical challenges African-Americans historically faced as a means for survival in the modern world. Yet Cobb, whose most famous subject was Owens himself, refused to simplify the complexities of race, which he insisted could not be a fixed category because of “interbreeding.” Indeed, he concluded, Owens was more “Caucasoid rather than Negroid in type” based on measurements of his foot, heel bone and calves. Jesse Owens, according to Cobb, did not have the body of a “Negro star.”…

Read the entire article here.

Tags: , , ,

The future of whiteness

Posted in Articles, Census/Demographics, New Media, Politics/Public Policy, Social Science, United States on 2012-05-29 20:31Z by Steven

The future of whiteness


Michael Lind

Both Republican and Democratic racial politics are doomed. How culture shifts will reshape American ideas on race

The Census Bureau has announced that a majority of new-born infants in the U.S. now belong to categories other than what the U.S. federal government calls “non-Hispanic white.”
While so-called “non-Hispanic whites” still account for 49.6 percent of American newborns, immigration has expanded the Hispanic and Asian categories, while the African-American or black share of the U.S. population has remained roughly constant. Whether they celebrate or dread it, progressive champions of the “rainbow coalition” and white conservative nativists at least agree on a fact:  in the future, whites in the U.S. will be a minority.
But what if both the multicultural left and the nativist right are wrong? Definitions of racial identity in the U.S. have changed over time. In the twentieth century, Americans with different degrees of African ancestry who in earlier generations would have been described as negroes, quadroons and octoroons were all lumped together in a single category as blacks. And in the nineteenth century, eminent American ethnologists debated the question of whether Irish-Americans belonged to the same race as Anglo-Americans.
In the 1970s, the federal government came up with the bizarre “non-Hispanic white” label, lumping together Arab-Americans, Norwegian-Americans and Irish-Americans into a single government-created pseudo-race. To compound the absurdity, at the same time the federal government invented a category of “Hispanics” who, as government forms invariably note, “may be of any race.” The artificial “Hispanic” category is even more preposterous than the “non-Hispanic white” category, including blond, blue-eyed South Americans of German descent as well as Mexican-American mestizos and Puerto Ricans of  predominantly African descent.
These government racial labels are increasingly out of touch with America’s fluid demographic reality.  But for the sake of argument, let us take America’s official racial classifications, all too reminiscent of Soviet nationality labels, at face value.  According to polls, a slight majority of Hispanics (or Latinos) identify themselves as “white.” Between 2000 and 2010, the percentage of government-labeled Hispanics who identified as “other race” dropped in percentage from 42 to 37 while those who identified as white rose from 48 to 53 percent…

Read the entire opinion piece here.

Tags: ,