The Political Color Continuum
The multiracial community must not fall into unconscious lockstep with the "black" community.

By Charles Michael Byrd

There is a train of thought coursing through the community "of color" suggesting that "black" is an appropriate term to represent all non-whites, even those of mixed descent. Here's the thinking as once explained to me by a biracial college professor who self-identifies as "black."

"The fundamental racial distinction in America is between white and non-white. Non-black racial designations carry their own unique freight, but in the American context these have always functioned as intermediate points on the black/white continuum. This is true because in America, race is about purity, and whatever is not white is dirty. The intermediate status of Asians, for example, on this continuum, serves to reinforce the racial hierarchy."

According to adherents of this philosophy, Asians, Native Americans, Hispanics, multiracials and any other "non-whites" are all, presumably, part of the permanent minority and, consequently, "black" or "of color."

This philosophy also suggests that to fight racism, we are to use racism. It proposes that until the last remnant of white racism is verifiably eliminated from the Earth, all "non-whites" -- however one defines that -- must contribute to the continuation and the strengthening of the aforementioned "fundamental racial distinction" in America by identifying solely with their/our non-European roots. Instead of attempting to bridge the chasm, to minimize this long-standing dichotomy along "racial" lines, we are to help perpetuate this senselessness. Once the "black" segment of the black/white continuum is "victorious," how many centuries will we have to wait until the "black" racism necessarily engendered by this struggle vanishes itself? This is like a pendulum swinging back and forth between two opposing sides in a never ending battle for "racial supremacy." When does it end? We can see that "linear" thinking about race serves to sustain this insanity in perpetuum.

If you could line up every individual on the planet, shoulder to shoulder, starting with the lightest on one end and ending with the darkest on the other, you could indeed say there is a color continuum. (You would also have a devil of a time discerning where one "race" ends and another begins.) Amazingly, however, humans delight in ascribing a political interpretation to this naturally occurring biological phenomenon. Europeans did this when they introduced the concept of "race" into the Western Hemisphere centuries ago, and the historical victims of white racism now use their own interpretation to foster their "racial" worldview.

We see evidence of this in yet another political interpretation -- the one concerning Homo Erectus. Most anthropologists agree that "Original Man" came to be in what is we now call Africa. Does that make us all Africans as afrocentrists delight in pronouncing? Depends on whether the question is political or scientific doesn't it? I'd say it's political about 99.9% of the time, and it's used for the greater glory of the black side of the black/white continuum. It's an argument many believe a sufficient and appropriate counterweight to long-standing notions of white supremacy, yet both are dangerous, and we should avoid them like the plague. The multiracial community in particular should be exceedingly careful in this regard.

How does the political color continuum reconcile the slaughter in Rwanda, where both the Hutus and the Tutsis are "black?" Was our outrage over the attempted genocide of the Muslim population in Bosnia unjustified simply because they are "white?" Should we ignore the bloodletting in Northern Ireland because it's about two sects from the "white" side of the continuum, and who cares about them anyway?

If you think my argument alarmist, read Alicia Banks' Afronet essay -- Rainbow Saboteurs -- in which she contends that those who embrace new labels (those of mixed-race who self-identify as such) "are CO-CONSPIRATORS of racist neocons who fear a Black planet." Ms. Banks' essay demonstrates both the limits and the curse of binary thinking. She and other political color continuum partisans can only see "black" or "white" with no alternative philosophical doctrine conceivable or permissible.

In the quest for political allies in our struggle for a recognition of multiraciality, we need to be mindful of when our emotions get in the way of our common sense. The tug on the heartstrings from many of our relatives and friends "of color" compels some within our community to assert, "Yeah, I'm multiracial, but you know I'm still down with the struggle against the white man!" Others suggest that, "We're at odds with the black leadership on this issue, but we don't want the white man to overhear the argument!" Why the hell not? Whites have as much to learn if not more than anyone else on this issue of "racial" superiority versus inferiority; they need to understand the racial brainwashing they've undergone as have the rest of us. Not wanting whites to witness "in-fighting" between blacks and multiracials buys into the political color continuum completely.

Obsessing with preserving the civil rights of others while allowing our own to be sacrificed is ludicrous. Likewise, government bureaucrats and politicians -- no matter how originally well meaning -- should never have transformed the Census into an instrument whose sole purpose is to monitor race-based entitlement programs. It's supposed to truthfully and accurately reflect this country's citizenry. Relative to the inane argument that a "stand-alone" multiracial category represents the mixed-race community "separating" itself from monoracial folk, just ask yourself a commonsense question. Can anyone honestly say that the black category is not separate from the white category is not separate from the Asian category is not separate from the Native American category is not separate from the nebulous Hispanic category? Nome sane?

My philosophy is simple, though more humanistic than political. Below the level of spirituality, I identify with humanity, not with "whiteness" or "blackness" or "of colorness" or "minorityness." As we construe the artificial construct yet social reality of race, I'm of "mixed-race" and prefer to leave it at that, sans sub-identifiers that serve to strengthen and perpetuate the political color continuum. We are born as individuals, not as group members -- save the species Homo Sapiens. Any subsequent group affiliation subordinate to the "human race" should be voluntary.

There are two other reasons why someone of mixed-ancestry might eschew sub-identifiers. When you consider the number of mixed-race individuals who were put up for adoption -- particularly prior to the 1967 Supreme Court decision outlawing this country's remaining anti-miscegenation laws -- and who don't know to this day one or both of their biological parents, you can see it's patently unfair and immoral to force such an individual to "check all that apply." In many cases it would more aptly be called "take your best guess," as the individual may know of one biological parent but not the other due to not being able to view official adoption records.

Then there's also the case of numerous mixed-race individuals who -- again, before the 1967 "Loving vs. Virginia" Supreme Court decision -- were born out of wedlock and who do not know one or both parents. Whether the individual feels resentment over a perceived abandonment by one or both parents, or the individual simply doesn't know with 100% certainty about one or both of his parent's "races," we should not force that person to "check all that apply" -- particularly any scheme that does not incorporate a "multiracial" header! That is as unfair and immoral as forcing a multiracial individual to check the monoracial "black" designation. It should always be the individual's choice.

Conversely, I realize and fully respect that many multiracial individuals desire to enumerate the various components of their "racial" background on official forms that require this kind of self-identification. Therefore, Interracial Voice vigorously advocates nothing less than a separate "multiracial" category with an optional "check all the races that apply" section below. This is a win-win situation for all of us who self-identify multiracially!

From our opponents, however, come words like those of Democratic Congressman Danny K. Davis of Illinois in his 05-22-97 statement to the Government Management, Information and Technology Subcommittee which held hearings on "Federal Measures of Race and Ethnicity and the Implications for Census 2000. Davis said: "I understand that a multiracial category may make sense for the first generation, but when you begin to look at it long term and those multiracial children marry others, their children are classified as multiracial." No foolin', Danny! Wow! Another example of one of our best minds at work! What he means to say is that he believes longterm "multiracial coupling" will weaken the political color continuum.

Davis goes on to say: "Therefore, I strongly believe that any attempt to weaken or diffuse the social impact that race has on our society today or the ingrained impact that race has had on our society in the past, denies justice to the very people who are the objects of current and past discrimination." Silly me. All along I thought the civil rights community was fighting to do exactly what Davis rails against in his statement -- "to weaken or diffuse the social impact that race has on our society today." In George Orwell's 1984, the three slogans of the Party of Big Brother are:


Davis and other political color continuum adherents have appropriated those as integral ingredients in a mad scientist's brew that deems racism's continuation imperative. Again, racism is used to fight racism.

Then there is South African novelist Nadine Gordimer's essay in the 06-08-97 "How the World Sees Us" Special Issue of The New York Times Magazine. Gordimer contrasts black South Africans who "have their own earth under their feet, their own mother tongues, their own ancestral names" with American blacks who "want to stay segregated." Further she writes, "And who can blame them? The history of the country isn't theirs." Personally, I believe that blacks have contributed mightily to both the history and the culture of America, and black/white multiracials are compelling proof. The unwillingness of blacks to recognize the legitimacy of a multiracial identifier, however, supports Gordimer's basic conclusion:

"It is unfortunate to have to say it: history is against you, in the U.S.A. White Americans cannot give back to blacks a lost identity; black Americans are reluctant to accept that that identity cannot be found in an avatar of apartheid. They are all Americans, and whether the whites like it or not, and whether the blacks like it or not, a common destiny has to be worked out. Alas, Martin Luther King is dead and you have no Mandela. A common identity is not simple. It's not simple in South Africa either, but in my observation (and participation) we are doing better than the U.S.A., despite staggering problems of poverty, unemployment and vast numbers of the homeless, a legacy of the apartheid regime."

Isn't it interesting that a South African points out many of the same things that Interracial Voice has been saying for a long time, particularly a nostalgia for the days of Jim Crow that afflicts too many American blacks? Interesting, too, that mixed-race activists are accused of trying to establish an American version of apartheid by advocating for a new multiracial Census category (decried by our opponents as merely replicating the S.A. "Colored" classification), yet a world renown South African author nails the issue perfectly -- "black Americans are reluctant to accept that that identity cannot be found in an avatar of apartheid."

On black-oriented KISS-FM (WRKS-FM) here in New York City, the Sunday morning "Open Line" program of 04-27-97 centered on the Census 2000 debate. Freelance journalist Charles Ethridge -- noticeably mixed himself -- had this to say about a mixed-race identifier:

"Well, I don't think this is South Africa, so I'm not in favor of making anybody an honorary non-black. The fact of the matter, though, is that this designation comes from a historical fact, and that was -- number one -- that we were chattel slavery, so the master and the feudal society we were brought into wanted each and every one of us that had black blood to be a slave and therefore to have that permanent stigmata.

"The other thing is that this is not a situation of forced conversion like with the Marranos of the Jewish community in Spain and Portugal during the Spanish Inquisition. It's not a question here of a person with mixed-heritage or birth being given the opportunity to select sides. No one gave anybody with any black blood in this country the opportunity to pick and choose. So, I'm not for letting anybody off the hook. What I do have an objection to is the color issue, because we have so many people coming from other parts of the world that are either as brown or blacker than a great deal of black Americans. And like they don't want to have anything to do with us. I think what we have to do is find a way not to have anything to do with them -- whether it means stopping to buy newspapers at certain stands or giving our money to other people that don't want to be like us and will speak any language in the world rather than be a nigger. Now that is their problem, but a dollar is green, and if they don't want us, then they don't want our money."

Ethridge would seem to validate Nadine Gordimer's conclusion, with the addition of a desire for economic isolation & separatism along with social.

Then there was the front-page New York Times headline of 06-23-97 that stunned and shocked us: At NAACP, Talk of a Shift On Integration: "Separate But Equal" Wins New Support. Steven A. Holmes' article stated that the NAACP expects to debate its traditional stand in favor of racially mixed schools this month in Pittsburgh. The organization began to rethink its advocacy of public school integration following the ouster of some local chapter directors who expressed views that were at odds with the organization's policy.

The following paragraphs are from Holmes' piece:

WASHINGTON, June 22 -- Facing continued white resistance to busing to achieve school desegregation, an increasingly conservative judiciary and now criticism from inside and outside its ranks, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People is rethinking one of its fundamental principles: advocacy of public school integration.

The NAACP has always supported school integration as a way to improve educational opportunities for black students, but other black leaders have begun voicing doubts about that goal. They say the organization should focus more heavily on seeking the improvement of majority-black schools.

Efforts to reduce school busing are winning some black support. Earlier this year, the Board of Education in Guilford County, N.C., which includes Greensboro, voted to redraw its district lines to minimize its large-scale busing program and preserve neighborhood schools. Among the groups advocating the end of large-scale busing in the county was a group of black ministers called the Pulpit Forum.

"Our biggest concern now is whether our schools will be equal," said Amos Quick, a black member of the 60-member citizens committee that will redraw the school boundaries, writing in the Greensboro News & Record last month. "Separate but truly equal would not be so bad."

This lunacy begs the question: Where should mixed-race kids attend -- in segregated "white" or segregated "black" schools? Oops. Silly me again. I forgot that the NAACP and others of the traditional civil rights organizations consider black/white multiracials as mere "renegade blacks" who will eventually "come to our senses" and "return to the fold."

As the new millennium approaches, the NAACP is contemplating recommending a return to separate but equal education for black kids. This is also the group that is exercising effective veto power over the multiracial Census 2000 initiative that OMB (Office of Management and Budget) will decide on by summer's end. Yet, too many -- though certainly not all -- within the leadership of national multiracial organizations have sought the NAACP's blessing on the Census 2000 issue. Why? Because too many who would speak for millions of multiracials across the country have bought into the political color continuum -- lock, stock and barrel -- and have been afraid to offend "blackness." My friends, "blackness" is no more sacrosanct than "whiteness" or any of the other "intermediate colors" along the political color continuum.

So, we've but briefly touched upon Alicia Banks' neocon conspiracy theory, Congressman Davis' seeming embrace of Newspeak, Nadine Gordimer's observation on black separatism, Charles Ethridge's refusal to let anyone off the "racial" hook and the NAACP's apparent longing for and shift toward separate but equal. Do you see a pattern here, or need I cite five or six more references? As I've written previously in this space, if black folk want to live in a segregated environment -- fine, but they shouldn't expect us to sign-off on the blueprints. No principled multiracial can endorse separate but equal.

At the first Multiracial Solidarity March last July, I offered that the black community took the wrong fork in the road after the assassinations of Malik El-Shabazz and Martin Luther King, Jr., forsaking their more humanistic visions for the path of afrocentric nationalism -- viewed by many within the mixed-race community as but a euphemism for black racism. It wasn't easy to speak those words, but the rising tide of separatist ideology that we proclaimed to be engulfing the traditional civil rights organizations manifests itself more every day.

One hundred years from now, what will our descendants say about the great multiracial debate of 1997? Will they say that America began traveling the long road to a society based on racelessness, or will they say it capitulated to monoracism and continued to refuse to acknowledge "mixedness" -- itself a total repudiation of the absurd notion of racial purity. Will our descendants say the multiracial community stood firmly on principle and invited others to join us on a higher plane, or will they say we accepted a cleverly negotiated line segment along the political color continuum?

I once read that if you continue to think the way you always thought, you will continue to get what you always got. It seems to me that's applicable to the political color continuum, and that's totally unacceptable!



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