Interracial-Voice
Editorial

Why the multiracial community must march on July 20!
By Charles Michael Byrd

Any group needs and deserves to know why someone makes a particular decision, especially when that person asks them to act upon that decision, to contribute and participate. So, too, you need to understand the reasons behind the calling for a march -- the Multiracial Solidarity March -- scheduled for Saturday, July 20, 1996, on the Mall in Washington, D.C.

There has never been an attempt to bring together large numbers of mixed-race individuals to petition the government for anything -- in this case, a multiracial Census category that would allow millions of Americans to, for the first time, legally self-identify. This march will be the first ever devoted to multiracial rights and to offering the perspective of racially mixed people on racial issues.

Many people, including most government bean-counters, think of us merely in hypothetical terms, and no one has kept track of our collective numbers since shortly after the turn of the century. As a result, no one knows exactly how many multiracials there are in the United States. Estimates are that the number of Americans who identify as "black" who have some "white" ancestry is 75+%, and the number of "whites" who have some "black" ancestry is around 25%. The problem with these formulas, however, is that 75+% of the black population will not identify as mixed nor will 25% of whites -- as is their prerogative. Just how many individuals desire to use "mixed-race" or "multiracial" as a social identifier? ("Race" is an artificial, manmade construct that has no scientific basis, but it is a social reality that we must deal with.) The Census Bureau kept tabs on "mulattoes" until the early 1900's when the agency stopped that practice. Then, "mulattoes" represented approximately 20-25% of the total "Negro" or "colored" population. Twenty percent of today's black population would yield a mixed-race figure of around 6,000,000. Add to this the number of biracial folk who are Asian-black, Asian-white, American Indian-black, American Indian-white, Hispanic-Asian, Hispanic-black, etc., and you see the numbers can potentially be very high. Therein lies the rub as many of the traditional civil rights organizations fear a loss of their accrued political power if, God forbid, people of mixed heritage won the right to self-identify -- legally. (No one should construe the 6,000,000 figure as even remotely close to a march "target number," and this is certainly not being billed as the "Million Mulatto March." Six million merely refers to the number of black/white multiracials who could, theoretically, respond to the call and appear at the march. We fully understand that many whiners, some reporters and all naysayers will seek to label the march as a failure if we establish an attendance goal that we don't achieve on July 20.)

To date, the multiracial "movement" has been abstract at best. Representatives of the recognized national advocacy groups have testified before Congress as to the appropriateness of such a category, and we should laud them for that effort. Carlos Fernandez, former President of the Association of MultiEthnic Americans (AMEA) and now that group's Coordinator for Law & Civil Rights, has written eloquently about the severe shortcomings of OMB's -- Office of Management and Budget's -- Statistical Policy Directive No. 15, which sets forward the Race and Ethnic Standards for Federal Statistics and Administrative Reporting. Fernandez writes: "OMB Directive 15 forces government agencies to make unconstitutional demands of multiracial/multiethnic individuals by: (1) requiring them to give false information on official forms; (2) invading their personal privacy right to their actual identity; (3) invading the privacy of multiethnic families by interfering with the child-parent relationship, that is, by requiring a child to deny the ethnicity of one or the other of her/his parents; (4) invading the privacy and equal protection rights of individuals, particularly public school children by subjecting them to a so-called 'visual inspection' procedure to which members of no other populations are subject; and (5) denying them the benefits and civil rights protections which other people enjoy by virtue of being counted specially." (Fernandez' reference to "visual inspection" is nothing more than the old practice of "eyeballing" in which school and government officials determine for individuals what race they are just by looking at them.) In a similar vein, the Project Race organization reported on December 11 that a lawsuit had been filed in Federal Court against OMB on behalf of two multiracial children. The complaint was filed by the mother, Lorretta Edwards, on behalf of her minor children, A.M.M. and A.J.S. The complaint states, "Directive 15 is arbitrary, unjust, discriminatory in effect and on its face, and is not in accordance with the authority of OMB and the United States Constitution. It has the effect of denying to A.M.M. and A.J.S., and to their mother, equal protection of the law."

Not much effort, however, has been expended to disseminate news of the movement to mixed-race individuals on a grassroots level, and if the multiracial initiative fails (OMB will make a determination by mid-1997), it will be because the government simply did not take our arguments or our numbers seriously. They don't think there are enough of us to matter, especially in a political context. Fernandez believes that OMB will yield to the enormous pressure being applied by black civil rights leaders and will not approve the multiracial box. Interracial Voice believes there is an alternative between the wailing, moaning and gnashing of teeth if black proponents of the slavemaster's hypodescent principle (the "one-drop rule") win the day and Lorretta Edwards' seeking legal recourse in Federal Court -- a process that could take quite some time. Hence, we march on July, 20.

(The "one-drop rule" is the Jim Crow-inspired maxim that says that if you have a "drop of black blood," notwithstanding how fair your complexion or relatively straight your hair, American society automatically classifies you as black. Generally speaking, mixed-race individuals are perfunctorily pigeonholed from birth according to the minority parent, forcing them to deny the race of either their mother or father. The way society denies some people the right to self-identify is comparable to tactics of Hitler's Nazi Germany. State University of New York philosophy professor Naomi Zack, multiracial herself and highly revered in the mixed-race community, made this point clear in her 1993 book "Race and Mixed Race" (Temple University Press). Zack refers to an asymmetrical kinship system in which society designates a person as black if he or she had a black forebear, and that forebear was designated as black if he or she had a black forebear, and so on, ad infinitum. She further asserts: "This one-drop rule, which has been in effect since about 1915, is in theory more stringent than the Third Reich's designation of Jews. The Nazis designated a person as a Jew if that person had one grandparent who observed the Jewish religion.")

One positive development is current Association of MultiEthnic Americans President Ramona Douglass' recent appointment to the 2000 Census Advisory Committee in Washington on behalf of AMEA. She has also seen to it that Maria P.P. Root's new book, "The Multiracial Experience: Racial Borders as The New Frontier" (Sage Publications) is now in the hands of key people in Washington. Ramona's appointment is merited, but we need to also apply and maintain as much external pressure on the system as possible.

We need to show in large numbers, and all mixtures must participate. This endeavor cannot succeed without the participation of hapas, mestizos, metis, creoles, latinos, et al. (Black/white multiracials are not the only group that has been "racially marginalized" and emotionally torn in America. Susan Clements writes of mixed-blood American Indians in Five Arrows: "We could be considered the flesh-and-blood embodiments of the history of the United States, both conquerors and conquered..." Too, a kind of reverse one-drop rule -- or "blood quantum" -- is at work with mixed-race American Indians relating to property entitlements. Teresa Kay Williams notes in The Theater of Identity: (Multi-) Race and Representation of Eurasians and Afroasians: "As a Japanese-European American, these are the paradoxes and contradictions within myself, within my families, and within my homelands I must synthesize and integrate into the construction of my personal and political identities.") This is not merely a struggle for black/white multiracials to throw off the shackles of the modern-day slavemasters. All who are of mixed descent and their friends, political allies and parents -- regardless of racial identity -- must come to Washington to publicly affirm their multiraciality, to signal the beginning of the end of being identified by politically motivated monoracial interests -- to signal, hopefully, the beginning of the end of "race" as the social construct that divides humanity. Hypodescent is no mere "curious quirk." It is an integral aspect of American racism, and it could not -- did not -- survive and does not survive today without the complicity of many of its victims. This is unacceptable and must end.

(If you feel it too harsh to use the phrase "modern day slavemasters," reference syndicated columnist Clarence Page's Chicago Tribune article of September 10, 1995 in which he asserts: "As far as I am concerned, speaking as one who plans to continue checking the 'black' box, my response to those who do not want to check it is: Let them go." Sorry, Clarence, but we don't "belong" to you or to anybody else; you don't "own" us. How supremely arrogant for you to think, therefore, that you can "Let us go." Now, we hear that the Rev. Benjamin Chavis, one of the organizers of the Million Man March, says he's planning another one, this time for entire families. Chavis says, "The momentum that this [Million Man] march generated should be enough to carry it to next year. October 16 could end up being a national day for black affirmation and unity." Do you believe Chavis' National African American Leadership Summit (NAALS) organization and the Nation of Islam -- Chavis' chief benefactor, will actively seek and allow the participation of mixed-race individuals and interracial couples in their "Million Family March?" )

To you mixed-race college and university students who have been forced to take monoracial loyalty oaths, who have grown increasingly apprehensive over rising neo-segregationist sentiment on campus and who have long wondered how you could aid the process, you now have the opportunity. We implore you to come to Washington to support this cause and to let your voices be heard! In Naomi Zack's latest work, "American Mixed Race: The Culture of Microdiversity" (Rowman & Littlefield, 1995), F. James Davis says: "The movement helps mixed-race persons to resist the American pressure to identify with only one distinct racial category and instead to define an identity of their own. It has been suggested that 'this is the next logical step in the progression of civil rights.'"

To you interracially involved monoracials, married or not, you must come to Washington to publicly affirm the belief that your offspring and future offspring should have the inalienable right to legally recognize and to honor both heritages.

Other people of goodwill, of mixed-race or not, from this country or abroad, you must come to Washington to affirm the belief that all individuals should have the right to identify as they see fit and not have an other-determined monoracial identity shoved down their throats. People of goodwill, you must come to Washington to repudiate the rising tide of separatist ideology that is engulfing more and more of the traditional civil rights organizations and their leaders. We cannot afford to join those who say, "Maybe separate but equal wasn't so bad after all!" Acknowledging and repudiating the long-standing and pervasive racism of the dominant white power structure goes without saying, notwithstanding some black leaders' contention that those at the forefront of the multiracial movement are "pawns for racists" (Emerge Magazine, January '96). We say racism exists on all sides, and all kinds of racism are deplorable, especially to those of us who were born straddling the "color line."

Please monitor the Multiracial Solidarity March Update page on IV for constant and last-minute updates. Let us know how you'll be traveling to Washington and what tips we might pass along to others concerning inexpensive modes of transportation. Let us know if you can pick up someone in your vicinity or on your campus. Of course, tell as many people in your individual sphere of influence as you can! A rule would be: "Tell all, and commit to ten." Commit to seeing that at least ten others besides yourself finalize plans to come to Washington on July 20, and tell all others to make the same commitment. That way, exponential growth should guarantee a solid turnout.

Just march, baby!


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