Leftist Socialism or Multiracial Libertarianism:
Our Community's Two Choices?

By Charles Michael Byrd

Previously we informed you of the decision by the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) to consider endorsing a return to segregated education for black kids. That discussion took place this summer at the organization's national convention in Pittsburgh and raised serious questions about the group's commitment to an integrated America.

On September 26 of this year, a New York Times article by Kevin Sack entitled, In Little Rock, Clinton Warns Of Racial Split, detailed the 40th anniversary commemoration of the desegregation of Central High School. President Clinton honored the "Little Rock Nine," black students who, aided by armed paratroopers, climbed the steps of that school on September 25, 1957 and struck a blow for freedom and equality for us all.

While all the "Little Rock Nine" attended the services and heard the President's speech in which he expressed concerns about the dangers of racial separation and in which he pleaded for Americans not to give up on the idea of integration, one organization chose to boycott the event. Which one? The NAACP. Excerpted from Mr. Sack's piece, consider these two paragraphs which reference Clinton's message:

He asserted that discrimination still exists in America. "There are still people who can't get over it, who can't let it go, who can't go through the day unless they have somebody else to look down on," he said. He added: "In so many ways, we still hold ourselves back. We retreat into the comfortable enclaves of ethnic isolation. We just don't deal with people who are different from us."

Indeed, the state and local chapter of the NAACP boycotted today's events because they maintain that little progress has been made over the last 40 years.

For sure, the President aimed much of his speech at those whites who still cannot see a person's color without making a negative value judgment based upon it. Conversely, his appeal to Americans not to retreat into "comfortable enclaves of ethnic isolation" could well apply to the NAACP and its decision to stay at home that day and sulk. Can any of us honestly say that we've made "little progress" in race relations over the past 40 years? A more sensible response would be to acknowledge that we've made much progress but that much more remains to be realized. The NAACP's stance inescapably endeavors to invalidate at least three items: a-) a growing black middle-class to which all of its leaders belong -- at a minimum, b-) the existence of the first self-identified black man, Colin Powell, who has a legitimate shot at winning the Presidency if he ever wants it and, of course, c-) the burgeoning mixed-race population, the natural result of people of all "races" converging under the covers strictly on the merits -- regardless of color.

Then there is this interesting business centered around a demand for reparations. Some black politicians argue that it's time for descendants of white slave owners to pay and acknowledge that they owe their American Dream to the nightmare of the U.S. slave trade. Reparation proponents argue that there cannot be social progress in America unless there is economic redistribution of wealth. Opponents assert that African-Americans didn't lose any wealth through slavery, because they didn't have any wealth to leave behind. My friends, reparations are a pipedream. Even Bill Clinton is on record disagreeing with the idea of paying reparations to the descendants of slaves. The President maintains that it doesn't make sense inasmuch as slavery ended so long ago, and we're so many generations removed from those who were actually in bondage. As you may have surmised, however, the NAACP has come out in favor of reparations.

Taken one by one, a discussion of segregated education for black kids, a claim that we've made "little progress" over the past 40 years and a call for reparations might not seem overly important or worthy of your time and consideration. Viewed together, however, they reflect a sociopolitical philosophy that seeks to keep black folk's collective attention riveted on past hardship and heartache instead of urging them as individuals to both look and strive forward. It is what Shelby Steele refers to in his book "The Content of Our Character: A New Vision of Race in America" (1990, St. Martin's Press -- 1991, HarperPerennial paperback): "When our leaders put a spotlight on our victimization and seize upon our suffering to gain us ineffectual concessions, they inadvertently turn themselves into enemies of the truth, not to mention enemies of their own people."

Therefore, we need to seriously question the wisdom -- or apparent lack of same -- of the creation of the AMEA/HAPA Forum/NAACP political federation. This issue goes deeper than the now decided check all that apply versus multiracial category debate, as it speaks to sharp philosophical differences concerning -- among other things -- what constitutes progressive, visionary leadership for mixed America. After all, if we are the community uniquely qualified to demonstrate the insanity of the race game -- to become society's racial mentors, if you will -- how can we allow others to prescribe rigid parameters for our "racial" identity?

None of the "leaders" of the traditional racial groups have any interest in eradicating "race" as a social construct. For sure, they pay the requisite lip-service, but, in fact, they use that institution which has historically persecuted them the most -- "race" -- as the foundation for their previously accrued and future political power. They do not intend to relinquish that in a thousand years.

A prime example of the sanctimonious hypocrisy of national check all that apply advocates is the "If people cannot call themselves what they want, they cannot call themselves truly free" mantra they chant while attempting to ram their ideology down the rest of our throats and make us love it at the same time. (Actually, that phrase is a clever misappropriation of syndicated columnist Clarence Page's quote from his NewsHour essay on Tiger Woods.) The problem, of course, is that not all of us want to identify merely as people who check multiple boxes, so how do we glean the freedom to call ourselves what we want?

If one of the tenets of libertarianism is that individuals should have the right to exercise sole dominion over their own lives, and that they should have the right to live in whatever manner they choose -- so long as they do not forcibly interfere with the equal right of others to live in whatever manner they choose -- then I identify as a mixed-race libertarian, having extended that philosophy to my own "racial" self-identification.

That said, a further manifestation of the aforementioned hypocrisy is the unconscionable slight of the late Anatole Broyard by the AMEA/HAPA Forum bosses and their allies, while they simultaneously trip and fall over themselves in a licentious bumrush to embrace Gregory Howard Williams. Let me explain.

Broyard (photo left courtesy of Vintage Books; also see Publisher's Notes/Media Reviews on "Kafka Was the Rage: A Greenwich Village Memoir" by Anatole Broyard), a New York Times book critic, columnist and editor now seven years in his grave, was "outed" -- based on the one drop of black blood rule -- by Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. in the June 17, 1996 edition of The New Yorker magazine. In the article, "The True Lies of Anatole Broyard," Gates defiled Broyard's character by accusing him of being "really black" and only "passing" as white. Many of us who can claim African ancestry but who "look white," involuntarily "pass for white" every day of our lives. The rap on Broyard is that he consciously passed. This raises some interesting questions, though. Do we know with one-hundred percent certainty that he intentionally passed, or should we take Gates' word for it? Even if Broyard did pass, how is it anyone's business? The only thing we know for sure is that he did not identify as black, and we all now understand that so identifying is not synonymous with identifying as white. Would Broyard have availed himself of a mixed-race identifier if that were possible back in the '40s, '50s and '60s? Perhaps. Is it possible that he identified more as a "universal man" beyond racial demarcation (to steal a page from Jean Toomer)? Yes. Is it possible that, as Gates suggests, Broyard deliberately passed for white? Yes, but, again, whose business is it?

Where is the righteous indignation we would expect to emanate from the AMEA/HAPA Forum camp if they truly believe that "If people cannot call themselves what they want, they cannot call themselves truly free"? Truth is, these people don't give a damn about the Anatole Broyards or the Jean Toomers of the world, because universal men beyond racial demarcation and multiracial libertarians view ourselves as more than mere statistical abstractions. We are more than nameless and soulless numerical contributions to a particular political agenda. I resent being viewed solely as part of a government demographer's collection of "racial" data, no matter how "rich" that information. At the same time, I understand and respect that there are many multiracial Americans who don't mind being so viewed. God bless 'em.

The paramount reason that few challenge Gates (photo right) on this matter is simple: he is the preeminent representative of the contemporary black academic elite and many see any challenging of his pronouncements as an attack on "blackness." (Even many white reporters and commentators affectionately refer to him by the "all-American boy" sobriquet "Skip".) In defense of his New Yorker article, Gates told the Boston Globe Magazine on September 22, 1996 that he deplores the one-drop rule and that, concerning Broyard, "I was not trying to reclaim him for my race. I was exploring complexity." Skip lied, y'all.

Random House promotes Gates' newest book, "Thirteen Ways Of Looking At A Black Man" in this manner: "In these stunning portraits of prominent black American men, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., takes us behind closed doors and into the lives, minds, and experiences of some remarkable people to reveal, through stories of individual lives, much about American society and race today." The book focuses on James Baldwin, Colin Powell, Harry Belafonte, Bill T. Jones, Louis Farrakhan, Albert Murray and -- you guessed it, sports fans! -- Anatole Broyard. Gates refers to the latter as one who "chose to hide his black heritage so as to be seen as a writer on his own terms."

Gregory Howard Williams is the Dean of the Ohio State Law School and author of "Life On The Color Line" (Plume/Penguin 1996), the story of a young lad born in Virginia who thought he was "white" until he moved to Indiana and then suddenly found out he was "black." Williams is quite the darling of the hypodescent crowd (hypodescent: the inheritance of only the lowest status racial category of one's ancestors), as they see him as someone more than willing to play the game of looking very white yet steadfastly identifying as black. Having read his book, however, I believe Williams is genuinely sincere about owing a debt of gratitude to the black side of his family in Indiana who raised him when many of his white relations shunned him, ergo his solid "black" identity.

What's unsettling about Gregory Howard Williams (photo right) is that those on this country's political left who have opposed any discussion of multiraciality from the movement's inception have manipulated him -- with his tacit consent or not -- and employ the Williams paradigm to further bash both Broyard's memory and those of us who eschew a false "black" identity. They proudly point to Williams as an example of how a loyal and obedient "light-skinned black" should act, while decrying Broyard as the quintessential "race-traitor," running away from "blackness." (Personally, I believe Broyard made the decision that, being the intellectual that he was, he was going to do what he wanted to do in life and was going to travel in those social circles in which he wanted to travel and to hell with anyone who objected.)

A couple of months before last year's Multiracial Solidarity March in Washington, D.C., Williams appeared on ABC's Nightline program with Ted Koppel. In short, Williams stated that he views race as an artificial, social construct, yet strongly proclaimed that he was "black" primarily based on the one drop rule. Not once, however, did Williams speak to the validity of a multiracial identifier that many of us have adopted.

I don't care how Gregory Howard Williams identifies. He can call himself a Martian, a Venusian or a Jovian, because, after all, that's his business. I submit, though, that he has a moral responsibility -- due to his high-profile status not only as an Ivory Towers type but as an author enjoying national attention and notoriety -- to not leave the impression with those who read his writings, hear him on radio or view him on television that hypodescent is still the rule of thumb vis--vis identity formation in mixed-race individuals.

Did I mention sanctimony before? Let's revisit that notion before concluding, shall we? In a New York Daily News Op-Ed page essay concerning the multiracial initiative from August 7, just two days before MSM II in Los Angeles, AMEA President Ramona Douglass referred to those of us who advocated for a multiracial box and who were not particularly pleased with the OMB check all that apply decision as, "...dissident voices within the multi-racial movement...wedded to the recognition of a specific term: a single 'multi-racial' category."

Actually the Daily News format was a point-counterpoint session between Ms. Douglass and Larry Hajime Shinagawa, chairman of the Department of American Multi-Cultural Studies at Sonoma State University in California. Mr. Shinagawa's position was that there should be no multiracial category, because it would dilute minority power. (Gee, where have we heard that before?) Oddly, Ms. Douglass joined Mr. Shinagawa in arguing against the category, even though the News had included an artist's sketch of a Census form that included a multiracial box!

Proponents of such a box were totally void of a representative voice, as Ms. Douglass completely sloughed over the issue of a separate category and, instead, rambled on about special medical concerns that afflict mixed Americans. I understand the health concerns, but they are in no way the predominant concerns of multiracial individuals. Health problems do not override the primary matter of self-identification, of an individual being able to name self and to describe self. At the risk of sounding terribly insensitive, mixed-race folk are not dropping like flies and dying in the streets because of urgent medical needs.

Ms. Douglass deliberately finessed and circumvented the purpose of that Daily News essay, and we can only attribute that to being the quid pro quo demanded by the NAACP in exchange for their acquiescence to the check all that apply recommendation. The quid pro quo demanded by the NAACP?: denounce all who still favor the category and don't even mention the word "multiracial" in public.

The ridiculousness of all this, however, is that, for many of us, it's never been about the specific word "multiracial." If that were the case, then you'd all be reading Multiracial Voice. You could have chosen multiracial, multiethnic, interracial, biracial, triracial, mixed, mixed-race, mixed-heritage, mixed-descent, blended, hell even mulatto, and it still would not have been about the word itself. ("Multiracial" just happened to be the designation under consideration, and it's as good as any of the others.) Rather, it's about the concept behind the word, that of someone whom society construes to be of mixed-race, yet who, of his or her own free will and volition, chooses to self-identify other than monoracially, other than with the despised "other" category and other than as some combination of monoracial boxes.

Not only did Ms. Douglass -- in a loathsome act of political expediency designed to curry favor with those who have been the most opposed to this initiative from the beginning -- repudiate her own long-standing championing of a multiracial identifier, she intentionally sought to cut the throats of everyone else who was involved with this enterprise.

In her headlong, near-fanatical quest to garner recognition as mixed America's paramount leader, Ms. Douglass would do well to remember what a true leader knows and never forgets, as it sets him apart from run-of-the-mill politicians: Never withdraw allegiance once granted.


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