We Are all Mutants: Uncovering humanity’s vast diversity

Posted in Articles, Health/Medicine/Genetics, Media Archive on 2014-03-24 20:42Z by Steven

We Are all Mutants: Uncovering humanity’s vast diversity

The Chronicle Review
The Chronicle of Higher Education
2014-03-24

Paul Voosen, Senior Reporter

On the hunt for disease genes, researchers uncover humanity’s vast diversity

The first people to set foot on Barbados, a wind-battered eastern spur of the Caribbean’s Lesser Antilles, came from the south, and relatively recently, no more than 1,700 years ago. Little remains of them: enough to know they were skilled farmers from the Orinoco Basin, in modern Venezuela. And like those of all humanity, their journey had started far earlier, when their ancestors, tens of thousands of years before, ventured out of Africa, across Asia, and into the Americas.

More people rolled in: The Lokano, clustered in scattered villages, hauling whelk and conch from the sea; and, in the 13th century, the Kalinagos, slipping on to the horizon in 50-foot-long dugout canoes. The Kalinagos reigned until the conquistadors. Hounded by European slavers, they fled windward to better defenses. By 1536, a Portuguese explorer could report Barbados as “uninhabited.”

It didn’t last. The English landed a century later and soon began importing slaves, ripped from their Ga, Igbo, and Ashanti communities in West Africa. By 1700, some 134,500 Africans lived in Barbados, in bondage; soon enough, 90 percent of Barbados’s population could claim African heritage, a percentage that holds true today.

A couple of decades ago, there was one more arrival: Kathleen C. Barnes, a graduate student and biological anthropologist from the University of Florida, who one day in 1991 walked into the emergency room of Barbados’s main hospital, the Queen Elizabeth. Throughout its human history, the island had had its share of plagues and troubles. Now Barnes was there to study a modern, quiet epidemic.

In a dedicated bay, child after child sat listless, worried mothers by their sides. The children were masked, inhaling medication for their wheezing, swollen airways. The machines hissed. Nearly one-fifth of Barbadians had asthma, far above the global average. Barnes wanted to find out why.

A native of a Virginia tobacco town known for housing the “Last Capitol of the Confederacy,” Barnes, who is white, grew up a witness to the civil-rights movement; in second grade, her school was forcibly desegregated. Trained initially as a nurse, she was troubled by the health disparities she saw in the United States. For example, African-Americans suffered from asthma far more than white populations did. There were many possible socioeconomic reasons. But Barnes thought it was mostly about pests.

Past research had tied some of the asthma rate in African-Americans to dust mites and cockroach feces, exposures that are more likely in poor communities. Barnes saw many similarities between African-Americans and the Afro-Caribbeans of Barbados, with one important caveat: Unlike residents of Baltimore, where she would go to work for decades as a professor at the Johns Hopkins University, the Barbadians had only just begun to live in homes conducive to household pests. A natural experiment had begun.

Barnes lived in Barbados for a year, running a lab across the street from the Queen Elizabeth, visiting homes to gauge their exposures. At the time, many Barbadians lived in chattel houses, movable wooden homes to which many residents had added bit by bit, enclosing them in concrete structures, with indoor plumbing. Dust mites loved the enclosed homes: Some of the levels Barnes measured were the highest ever recorded, she says. Surely that had to explain some of the asthma rate.

It probably did, as did other factors in a rapidly modernizing country: shifting diet and microbiome, rising obesity, wealth—the type of influences that are often lumped together as “environment.” But controlling for those, Barnes saw that a disparity still remained between people descended directly from Africa and those who came through Europe. Something more fundamental was at play, she realized. Something that would shape the next 20 years of her work.

“It seemed like the missing piece,” she said, “was understanding the genetic basis for these complex diseases.”…

…Let’s stop here to note: If you took any section of a person’s DNA and compared it with a stranger’s, no matter their ethnic background, odds are high they’d be identical. This is not platitude: These odds guide large-scale genome sequencing. They are fundamental. Humanity is deeply shared. It just happened that when it comes to asthma, for this one gene variant, people of European and African descent are distinct. At some point, after they diverged in ancient times, a mutation had taken hold. It wasn’t about race. It was about contingency. History.

“One thing we can’t do is use race as a proxy,” says Carlos D. Bustamante, a genetics professor at Stanford University and a Barnes collaborator. “It’s a very blunt tool. But we also can’t say there are no genetic differences across populations. Because it’s just not true.”…

Read the entire article here.

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The End of the ‘Postrace’ Myth

Posted in Articles, Barack Obama, Media Archive, Social Science, United States on 2013-07-06 18:13Z by Steven

The End of the ‘Postrace’ Myth

The Conversation: Online opinion on ideas and higher education
The Chronicle of Higher Education
2013-01-14

Pamela Newkirk, Professor of Journalism
New York University

Over the past four years, it had become increasingly difficult to mount a public discussion about how racial bias continues to permeate our society, North and South, in boardrooms and newsrooms. Despite glaring signs of racial segregation in our schools, prisons, and pews, many commentators—including some scholars—idealistically clung to President Obama’s 2008 election as evidence of a new, postracial era.

John H. McWhorter, a linguist and fellow at the Manhattan Institute, was among the first to proclaim that Obama’s 2008 election proved that we had moved beyond race as a major impediment for black people. His optimism was widely embraced by the media…

…Now, as President Obama is set to begin his second term, after an election marred by blatant forms of black and Latino voter suppression that evoked post-Reconstruction practices, our blinders have been yanked aside, exposing claims of a postracial nation as premature.

What can be said of the spectacle of prominent men reduced to “birthers” demanding that the nation’s first black president reveal his birth certificate and college transcript? Or state officials and a defeated presidential candidate openly lamenting the strength of black and Latino voter turnout? Residents of some states have called for secession rather than face the reality of a multiracial America. White college students in Mississippi rioted over Barack Obama’s re-election…

Read the entire opinion piece here.

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Pacific Islanders: a Misclassified People

Posted in Census/Demographics, New Media, Oceania, Politics/Public Policy, United States on 2013-06-03 19:19Z by Steven

Pacific Islanders: a Misclassified People

The Chronicle of Higher Education
2013-06-03

Kawika Riley, Chief Executive and Founder
Pacific Islander Access Project
also adjunct lecturer at George Washington University

Imagine that you’re a parent, teacher, or counselor who helped a promising student apply for financial aid. She’s an underrepresented minority, so you encouraged her to apply to several scholarships for minority students. A few weeks later, she receives a wave of responses from them, all saying the same thing: She’s not eligible to apply. Why? Because the colleges have misclassified her; even though she’s an underrepresented minority student, they’ve decided to treat her as if she’s not.

Now imagine that instead of one student’s being misclassified, this is happening to every student who belongs to one of the fastest-growing minority groups in America. Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders don’t need to imagine any of this. This is their reality.

For more than 20 years, U.S. Census data have shown that Pacific Islanders are far less likely to graduate from college than is the general population. The statistics have fluctuated slightly over time, but the trend is that Pacific Islanders are about half as likely as the general population to hold bachelor’s degrees, and even less likely to receive advanced degrees.

…Before 1997, the federal standard for racial classification grouped Asians and Pacific Islanders together. But 16 years ago, the standards were updated, and Pacific Islanders and Asians were recognized as two distinct groups. Unfortunately, the myth of a homogeneous “Asian Pacific” race persists, and the use of “API” data suggests that statistics on “Asian Pacific Islanders” reflect the conditions of both Asians and Pacific Islanders.

They don’t….

Read the entire article here.

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Brazil’s Affirmative-Action Quotas: Progress?

Posted in Brazil, Campus Life, Caribbean/Latin America, Law, New Media, Politics/Public Policy on 2012-11-06 19:24Z by Steven

Brazil’s Affirmative-Action Quotas: Progress?

The Chronicle of Higher Education
2012-11-05

Ibram H. Rogers, Assistant Professor of Africana Studies
State University of New York, Albany

Brazil recently passed what was probably the most sweeping affirmative-action law in the modern history of higher education. While the livelihood of affirmative action in the United States is in the hands of the Supreme Court, Brazil now requires its public universities to reserve half of their admission spots for its low-income students and compels its institutions to diversify significantly.
 
Yes, Brazil instituted what was firmly resisted by liberals and conservatives in the post-civil-rights-American push for affirmative action—quotas. The law comes after Brazil’s Supreme Court in April unanimously upheld the racial quota at the University of Brasilia, enacted in 2004, reserving 20 percent of its spots for black and mixed-race  students. The Law of Social Quotas will most likely face a challenge in the courts but, based on this earlier decision, it seems likely to stand.
 
The law forces the nation’s superior and largely free public universities to assign spots according to the racial makeup of each of the 26 states and the capital. Lawmakers and educators know that will lead to a surge in diversity in states with large black or mixed-race populations (well, surge may be putting it mildly). Officials expect the number of black students to jump nearly sevenfold, from 8,700 to 56,000.
 
The law gives public universities just four years to ensure that half of their entering classes come from public schools, which low-income students disproportionately attend. (Middle- and upper-class students, who are more likely to be white, typically attend private elementary and seconday schools.)
 
The law is nearly universally popular among Brazilian lawmakers. Only one out of 81 senators voted against it last month. President Dilma Rousseff signed it into law on August 29. Brazil’s former president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva told The New York Times he is “completely in favor” of quotas.
 
“Try finding a black doctor, a black dentist, a black bank manager, and you will encounter great difficulty,” Da Silva said. “It’s important, at least for a span of time, to guarantee that the blacks in Brazilian society can make up for lost time.”…

…For scholars of race, Brazil and the United States present a fascinating contrast, despite some similarities. The United States and Brazil have the two largest populations of people of African descent in the Western Hemisphere. A slight majority of Brazil’s 196 million people identify as black or mixed-race. Like in the United States, many of these black and mixed-race people are subjected to forms of racism that prevent access to higher education. Unlike in the United States, however, denial of this reality is not a problem. There is a vibrant national mainstream discussion of racism, and new dynamic legislators and laws to undo its effects…

Read the entire article here.

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Deep Roots and Tangled Branches

Posted in Anthropology, Articles, History, Media Archive, Slavery, United States on 2012-10-05 03:34Z by Steven

Deep Roots and Tangled Branches

The Chronicle of Higher Education
2006-02-03

Troy Duster, Chancellor’s Professor of Sociology
University of California, Berkeley
Also Professor of Sociology and Director of the Institute for the History of the Production of Knowledge
New York University

People who know their biological parents and grandparents typically take the information for granted. Some have a difficult time empathizing with the passionate genealogical quests of adoptees and, increasingly, products of anonymous sperm banks and other new technologies where one or both genetic contributors are unknown. In recent years, new legislation has enabled people to search for information about genetic progenitors – even in cases where there had been a signed agreement of nondisclosure. The laserlike focus of that search can be as relentless as Ahab’s hunt for the white whale.

Mystery of lineage is the stuff of great literature. Mark Twain made use of it for biting social commentary in his Pudd’nhead Wilson, a story about the mix-up of babies born to a slave and a free person. Sophocles, Shakespeare, Molière, and Dickens built grand tragedy and enduring comedy on the theme. In England in 2002, a white Englishwoman gave birth to mixed-race twins after a mix-up at an in vitro fertilization clinic. Imagine what Shakespeare would have done with that!

If one person’s passions can be so riled by such a puzzle, imagine the emotions involved when the uncertainty applies to a whole group – say, of 12 million people. The middle passage did just that to Americans of recent African descent. Names were obliterated from record books, and slaves were typically anointed with a new single first name. Sometimes no names were recorded, just the slaves’ numbers, ages, and genders. Some African-Americans have deliberately and actively participated in the erasure, showing no desire to pursue a genealogical trail. For others, fragments of oral history generate a fierce longing to do the detective work.

That is the case among the prominent subjects featured in “African American Lives,” a two-night, four-part PBS series scheduled for February 1 and 8. The host and executive co-producer is Henry Louis Gates Jr., chairman of the department of African and African-American studies at Harvard. Gates has assembled eight notably successful African-Americans, among them the media entrepreneur Oprah Winfrey, the legendary music producer Quincy Jones, and the film star Whoopi Goldberg. Each participant, along with Gates, is the subject of some serious professional family-tree tracing. There are surprises for each of them, and the series has undeniable human-interest appeal…

Read the entire article here.

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Race (Part 1)

Posted in Anthropology, Articles, Media Archive on 2012-04-22 15:05Z by Steven

Race (Part 1)

The Chronicle of Higher Education
Blog: Brainstorm—Ideas and culture.
2012-04-09

David Barash, Professor of Psychology
University of Washington, Seattle

Here’s a delicate subject, especially given the nationwide anguish over what appears to have been the cold-blooded, racially lubricated if not racially motivated murder of Trayvon Martin: race itself. More specifically and more delicately: whether race is a “socio-cultural construct.” My response, and one that may well disappoint and annoy many readers, regardless of their ideology (but perhaps especially my fellow travelers on the left): It is and it isn’t, but mostly isn’t. That is to say, an objective, science-based look at the subject and at its use in other contexts requires us to conclude that race is both socially constructed and biologically “real,” but probably more the latter than the former.

Of course, in the old days of racist pseudoscience, it was universally assumed that the human races were genuine biological entities, and moreover, that they were linearly arrayed with whites on top, then Asians, then blacks at the bottom. From that bizarre and altogether unscientific misuse of biology, there was, not surprisingly, a backlash that went overboard in the other direction, maintaining as a matter of faith that there is simply no such thing as human races, that they are purely an arbitrary figment of our sociocultural proclivities. Sad to say, this is arrant nonsense … just as was the earlier insistence that the human races could be evaluated in terms of “modernity,” “distance from the apes,” or simply, “degree of advancement” or “intelligence.”

If we’re going to talk about the alleged reality or unreality of human races, we need first to discuss the meaning of “race” itself. When biologists talk about races in other species, they are essentially concerned with a convenient grouping of individuals that comprise phenotypically distinguishable populations characterized by some consistent genetic differences between themselves and other, comparable populations, and that typically inhabit different geographic regions, and are therefore normally prevented from interbreeding (which was essential to the initial distinctiveness of each race in the first place). Of course, human races are all capable of interbreeding; hence, we know for certain that they are all members of one species, Homo sapiens. Moreover, we are not restricted to separate, non-overlapping (“allopatric”) populations. Nonetheless, there is no question that what are generally identified as different human races have historically been allopatric, with much of the geographic and genetic mixing being a comparatively recent phenomenon…

…When Barack Obama identifies himself similarly, only an idiot would deny him the right to make such a self-designation. Clearly the President had a choice, and thus his identification as “black” is also to some degree a socio-cultural decision: his. But equally clearly, it was made possible by the fact that his biological father was black (which is why, incidentally, the president noted that if he had a son, he would “probably look like” Trayvon). On the other hand, if Obama’s mother had reproduced with someone as Caucasian as she was, their offspring would most certainly have been Caucasian, not black. Moreover, when Toni Morrison called Bill Clinton our “first black president,” it was obvious to everyone that she was speaking allegorically: Bill Clinton is no more African-American than Trayvon Martin was Caucasian…

Read the entire article here.  Read “Playing With Fire: Race (Part 2)” here.

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Obama, Blackness, and Postethnic America

Posted in Articles, Barack Obama, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy, Social Science on 2012-02-06 00:45Z by Steven

Obama, Blackness, and Postethnic America

The Chronicle of Higher Education
2008-02-29

David A. Hollinger, Preston Hotchkis Professor of American History
University of California, Berkeley

The Obama candidacy challenges our notions of identity politics

In their support for Hillary Rodham Clinton over Barack Obama, prominent black leaders have made it clear that black skin color itself is not as big a deal in American politics as it once was. The spectacle of John Lewis, Charles B. Rangel, and Andrew Young, among others, trying to persuade black Americans to vote for a white woman rather than the first black man with a real chance at the White House is a striking example of how the Obama campaign has become a postethnic phenomenon.

There are plenty of other signs as well. In a society long accustomed to a sharp black-white color line — and to relying on the rule of “one drop of black blood” to locate that line — commentators are discussing the choices of identity available to the mixed-race Obama. In a recent video on The New York Times Web site, Glenn C. Loury and John H. McWhorter, two prominent black intellectuals, casually reviewed Obama’s range of options. Yet it was not so long ago that the lightskinned Colin Powell declared matter-of-factly: “When you look like me, you are black.”…

…Obama’s mixed ancestry, however, is not what most generates the new uncertainty about blackness. Much more important is the fact that his black ancestry is immigrant rather than American-born. Before getting to that, however, let me clarify the postethnic flavor of the support for Clinton on the part of a substantial segment of the black political establishment…

Read the entire article here.

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Episode 13: An ‘All-American’ Student Leader’s Search for Identity

Posted in Articles, Campus Life, Gay & Lesbian, Identity Development/Psychology, United States on 2012-01-26 19:51Z by Steven

Episode 13: An ‘All-American’ Student Leader’s Search for Identity

Say Something: College Life. One Student at a Time.
The Chronicle of Higher Education
2011-03-25

Robin Wilson

“One assumes it’s very hard to be religious and still be gay.”
 
Ari Shroyer
Roosevelt University, Chicago, Illinois

In this episode, we hear from Ari Shroyer, a sophomore at Roosevelt University, who tells us what it’s like to be a gay, conservative, biracial student-body president—and explains how the university’s openly gay president has served as an inspiration.

Listen to the interview here.

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Rejoining the Parts: A Conversation with Jane Lazarre About Race, Fiction, American History and Her New Novel, Inheritance

Posted in Articles, History, Interviews, New Media, Social Science, United States, Women on 2011-11-17 22:38Z by Steven

Rejoining the Parts: A Conversation with Jane Lazarre About Race, Fiction, American History and Her New Novel, Inheritance

Tenured Radical
The Chronicle of Higher Education
2011-11-15

Claire Potter, Professor of History and American Studies
Wesleyan University, Middletown, Connecticut

Jane Lazarre is a writer of fiction, memoir and poetry who has published many books, beginning with her memoir, The Mother Knot (1976; reissued in 1997 by Duke University Press) and most recently, Inheritance, A Novel (Hamilton Stone Editions, 2011). She has taught writing and literature at New York’s City College and at Yale University; and for many years directed and taught in the undergraduate writing program at Eugene Lang College at the New School.
 
Tenured Radical: The title of the book — Inheritance — asks the reader to think about what is passed down, generation to generation.  But in the first chapter we are confronted with Sam’s frustration and anger that, as a young woman with a white and a black parent, she knows so little of her family history. We come to understand that our historical “inheritance” not only can’t be taken for granted and but also sometimes requires active recovery. How did you come to understand that this was the story you wanted to tell about America’s racial past?
 
Jane Lazarre: From my early experiences in the late 1960s as a new member, by marriage, of an African American family, and throughout the years of raising two Black sons, I became deeply aware of how much I, as an American and as a white American, did not know about African American history — which is a central, defining part of American history. At the same time, of course, I began to understand all I was unaware of about race, despite a deeply anti-racist upbringing. As a mother, a writer and teacher, I began to study the subject. I saw that I was part of a great majority of white Americans of all ethnic backgrounds, in my ignorance of the complex forces of American racism…

…TR: We’ve heard so much since 2008, and the election of Black president with a white mother, about the United States finally being “post-racial,” and a new kind of fantasy about the beneficial effects of race-mixing, or multiracialism, seems to play a big role in this. But several multiracial characters in Inheritance make the point strongly that they are not immune from racism and that not to be recognized as Black is to deprive them of an inheritance of struggle. Can you elaborate on this theme a bit?

JL: I wrote extensively about this subject in my memoir, Beyond the Whiteness of Whiteness, a title that is a take on Ralph Ellison’s famous exploration, in Invisible Man (1952) of “the blackness of blackness.” I disagree strongly with the idea that the election of President Obama is the signal and sign of our “post-racialism.” I know that people of color, including people with one white parent, experience racism every day, even if there have been significant changes in our legal, and even social, attitudes. I believe that all of us, as Americans, are inheritors of the struggle of African Americans to both liberate and recreate themselves, and we deny this connection at our peril and to our great loss. Samantha Reed, the daughter of a (half) black father and a (Jewish) white mother, knows at a very early age that her identity, her history, her future, and even her unconscious (shown in the “white dream” she inherits in the Prologue of the novel,) are profoundly affected by, laced with, absorbed in, her heritage and her life as a Black woman in America. That does not mean she rejects or dismisses her other ethnic histories, nor that she does not love “the three white women whose histories flow into [her] own,” as she says in the early pages of the book. But I am saying, in this novel, as in other works, the lessons I have learned from my life as a mother, now a grandmother, as a teacher of African American literature and a writer about race: that so-called mixedness means little in American history. As I said above, many enslaved Americans, including the great Frederick Douglass, were “mixed” due to rape or forced sexual unions, and nevertheless remained enslaved. Racism in this country is not unchanged from previous centuries, or even previous decades, but as many cultural theorists have written, our educational and prison systems are evidence to the ongoing racism still permeating much of our lives…

Read the entire interview here.

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Jean Toomer’s Conflicted Racial Identity [Reader Responses]

Posted in Articles, Biography, New Media, Passing, United States on 2011-03-10 05:16Z by Steven

Jean Toomer’s Conflicted Racial Identity [Reader Responses]

The Chronicle of Higher Education
2011-03-06

Charles R. Larson, Professor of Literature
American University, Washington, D. C.

To the Editor:

Congratulations to Rudolph P. Byrd and Henry Louis Gates Jr. for concluding that Jean Toomer was a Negro who decided to pass for white—the same conclusion I made in my biography of Toomer, Invisible Darkness: Jean Toomer and Nella Larsen, published in 1993. Nothing like reinventing the wheel.

———————————————————————————————
Kimberly A. Barrett, Vice President for Student Affairs
University of Montevallo, Montevallo, Alabama

To the Editor:

Despite the interesting investigative work of its authors, the recent Chronicle article on Jean Toomer was troubling to me because it served as another apparent grain of truth that sustains two deeply entrenched stereotypes. One of these is the myth of the confused mulatto who is disabled by incessant struggles with his or her racial identity. The other is the “one-drop rule“—the idea that anyone with an identifiable black person in his or her lineage is assumed black. I think it’s time we acknowledge the reality of the existence of the well-adjusted multiethnic/biracial white person. As the self-identifying African-American mother of a young man who fit that description while growing up, I’d like to share part of our story in the spirit of balance.

“Your mom is black?” was a frequent refrain and innocent nod to the notion of the one-drop rule when my son’s acquaintances met me for the first time. I must admit that I, too, did not escape the influence of this perennial rule. On those dreamy weekend mornings when my husband and I lay awake pondering who our child would look like, I smugly argued that of course our child would be black because one parent was black. My husband, on the other hand, who is white (of Irish and Danish descent) and a card-carrying member of a Native American tribe, asked with dismay, “Where am I in this equation?”…

———————————————————————————————

Marcia Alesan Dawkins, Visiting Scholar
Brown University

To the Editor:

In their article on Jean Toomer, the authors Rudolph P. Byrd and Henry Louis Gates Jr. claim that Toomer suffered from a case of “conflicted racial identity” (“Jean Toomer’s Conflicted Racial Identity,” The Chronicle Review, February 11). Toomer, one of the first proponents of thinking about race in multiracial “American” terms, is now said to have been passing as white. The authors justify this assertion by presenting new evidence that Toomer identified himself differently based on location and situation.

It is true that Toomer most likely self-identified as “Negro” when he registered for the draft. It is also true that in Toomer’s era, and the eras in which his ancestors were identified, census takers were allowed to list racial designation as they perceived it. So, whether Toomer is listed as white or black on the census may say little about his own thoughts on racial identity. It may, however, say much about how he was perceived by the person taking the census and/or responding on his behalf. A similar case can be made for the marriage licenses. In the absence of a handwriting expert, eyewitness, or recorded conversation, it is not verifiable that Toomer self-identified as white or whether he was designated as white by the licensor.

Nevertheless, Byrd and Gates maintain that Toomer had to be passing—and therefore engaging in racial deception—because it is not documented that any of his “direct ancestors chose to live or self-identify as white.”

Flying in the face of decades’ worth of scholarship that builds on Toomer’s work, Byrd and Gates ignore Maria Root’sBill of Rights for People of Mixed Heritage.” In it, Root states that multiracial people may identify differently over time, may identify differently than their parents or siblings, and that doing so is totally acceptable. As my colleague Ulli K. Ryder of Brown University put it, “It feels like Byrd and Gates have made a conflict where, in fact, there isn’t one.”…

 Read the entire responses here.

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