Interracial-Voice
Editorial

A Vested Interest In Maintaining Jim Crowism
By Charles Michael Byrd

"I want to pop over to an email that we've got here. It's unsigned, but it goes on to say, 'As a white male whose family has lived in the South for over a century, I'm sure I have black relatives, and I'm fairly sure that I have at least one black ancestor. It's fascinating to see who has a vested interest in maintaining racial conflict and divisiveness.'"

Gary Flowers and Eric Rodriguez could not have possibly wanted to hear those words read by Todd Townsend, positioned at NewsTalk's cyberspace control, at host Denise Richardson's prompting. NewsTalk is one of those high-tech, cutting-edge programs that lean heavily on Internet email from viewers, displays of pertinent websites, VideoCall links to guests from remote locations, and -- oh, yes -- the traditional telephone call-in. A segment of the September 25 national cablecast dealt with the issue of establishing a multiracial category on the 2000 Census.

It was my privilege to appear on the program and to be in the Manhattan studio along with Jean Waters from BiRoNY (Bi-Racials of New York). Messrs. Flowers and Rodriguez, representing the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and The National Council of La Raza respectively, were live via VideoCall from Washington, D.C. Project Race Director Susan Graham was on the phone from Atlanta.

The Susan Grahams of the multiracial movement have too long served as convenient "whipping boys" for those in the black community who fiercely oppose any Census change allowing mixed-race folk to legally self-identify. We've all heard the lame rap: "This mixed-race thing is the invention of white women who don't want their biracial kids identifying as black!" (This is the same feeble mindset and intelligence level that suggests interracial dating and marriage is a conspiracy to deplete the ranks of black men available to black women, a precursor to black racial genocide.) Any country boy knows, however, if you throw enough crap on the side of a barn some will eventually begin to stick, and the bogus claim that ofay females who can only relate to mixed-race children were the sole spokespersons for this movement was beginning to take hold and stink to the high heavens. So it was that Flowers and Rodriguez encountered two self-determined multiracial adults who keep their own counsel and who are not disposed to buying "wolf tickets" from hucksters with smiles masking covert hostility.

Flowers announced that "while we're sensitive to the goal of people self-identifying, we are opposed to the means by which -- in this case a proposed multiracial classification -- is used to achieve that goal." Sensitive? This is the same dude whom the New York Times quoted in an article from July 6 of this year as saying: "This multiracial hocus-pocus pleases only a relatively few individuals, and for everyone else, it's dangerous. It contributes to the pigmentocracy that already exists in America, that says it's better to be light-skinned. Will it be better to be multiracial than to be black?" Yes, Mr. Flowers, if the individual is multiracial to begin with and desires to so identify.

He labored to distinguish the difference between legal classifications, which deal with the dispensations of money or electoral power, and social classifications, which supposedly transcend whatever someone checks on a piece of paper. Flowers, however, quickly fell back to the hackneyed position that regardless of a child's ability to check multiracial on a Census form, society will still classify that child according to his or her skin tone. (I.e., America will "always" view that child as "black.") No use attempting to alter racist postures, huh, Gary? On the other hand, we now know that even if society does not view or identify someone as black or "of color," the Henry Louis Gates, Jrs. of the world feel compelled to "out" certain people even if they have chosen a path that they deem best for them. Case in point is Gates' attack in the June 17 edition of The New Yorker magazine on the reputation of the late mixed-race New York Times book critic Anatole Broyard who chose not to identify as black. Gates essentially accused Broyard of "passing for white."

("Claim us if we're famous" presumably was the motivation for Gates' maltreatment of Broyard, but the former needs to reflect, to cease such infantile witch-hunts, heaping scorn, trying to shame others into "returning to the fold." He needs to realize that his choices are not necessarily other people's choices. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and others like him need to understand that they are not reacting to Broyard's decision to not identify as black but rather to their own feelings about that decision. Broyard is not responsible for Gates' feelings of indignation and jealousy, and when he recognizes and understands this completely, he will be ready to take responsibility for how he feels and to change it. His hatchet job on Broyard, a man six years in his grave and obviously unable to defend himself, violated all measures of human decency.)

Susan Graham stated that one reason a new category is imperative relates to bone marrow donor transplants where patients cross racial and ethnic lines. There are no studies or statistics available on the health risks for multiracial people in this country, and not having a multiracial classification makes it more difficult to find suitable matches for those who need a transplant. Her assertion that her black husband knew his risk for high blood pressure and other illnesses that plague African-Americans, but that their multiracial son knows nothing about what his health risks might be drew no sympathy from the two policywonks in D.C. Graham observed that opponents point out that discrimination is still prevalent in America and needs to be remedied, yet they discriminate against multiracial people. "Where is the racial justice in that," she asked.

Jean Waters concurred adding that, since there was osteoporosis on her mother's side of the family, she would like to know what her medical risk was. She resolved that no one has the moral authority to "just impose on me to tell me who I am," that she should be able to count her white mother's heritage as well as her black father's, and that it shouldn't hurt funding. She offered that the burden was on politicians like Flowers and Rodriguez to seek to change the laws concerning funding streams by going to Congress if need be.

Flowers pompously declared the Lawyers Committee would allow a bifurcated Census model where a black/white person would still mark the "black" box but could list his or her entire racial background underneath. This is both morally bankrupt and manifestly racist since it still forces a black/white multiracial to adhere to the tenets of Jim Crowism and automatically select "black." Whither a black/Asian? Would he or she have to opt for black as the dominant race? This model forces the individual to choose one and deny the other, to deny the totality of his or her existence.

(A separate, "freestanding" multiracial category with an optional "check-all-that-applies" section underneath -- for those wishing to list their racial/ethnic background -- is the common sense answer to this situation, since, logically, the boxes should have to fit the individual, not the other way around. Anything less -- the Lawyers Committee model for example -- is unacceptable as it reduces America's mixed-race population to political chattel in an inhuman numbers game.)

African-American adversaries of a multiracial category are loath to speak of mixtures other than black/white, however. After all, they can't accuse a black/Asian of "trying to be white," and they can't saddle a white/Native American with that pitiful guilt-trip line of "trying to run away from your blackness." Acknowledging the existence of these other blended individuals, many of whom support the multiracial initiative, blows a hole in the notion that the proposed designation is merely a ruse for black/white multiracials seeking more "privileges" and "freedom" -- however one defines those -- based on their lighter skin color.

What terrifies many is that a majority of Americans might eventually adopt said multiracial identifier, effectively rendering the concept of "race" invalid. That's the direction in which numerous "intellectuals" say they want to go, yet many of them oppose arguably the only vehicle available in which to make the journey. While some Republicans are disingenuous at best when they speak of their desire for a colorblind society, it is fascinating to see exactly who is the most opposed to even discussing the subject. That black leaders are the ones most adverse to eradicating the artificial concept of race demonstrates the old adage that to the extent the oppressed cannot throw off the oppressor, to that extent they become as the oppressor. If you can't beat 'em, join 'em seems a strange axiom to espouse for a people previously victimized so long by white racism.

The opposition of Mr. Rodriguez and The National Council of La Raza is disgraceful given that Hispanics are by definition a mix of European, African and "New World" indigenous people. They are a group that didn't hesitate fighting for a separate "Hispanic" category for themselves when the government was throwing around largess in the form of entitlement programs. Now, instead of helping this country out of the racial wilderness it finds itself in, they have joined forces with the traditional civil rights organizations to oppose another multiracial group. Unfortunately, too many "Hispanics" have come to view the term monoracially, and too few publicly acknowledge any African ancestry whatsoever.

When Denise Richardson mentioned a General Accounting Office report that stated ten million people checked the "other" box in 1990, Rodriguez was eager to add that, according to his sources, ninety-eight percent of those who checked "other" in that Census were Hispanic. He added that "other" is an ambiguous category and that "multiracial" is simply another name for another ambiguous category. Richardson nailed the issue when she suggested that Rodriguez feared those "Hispanics" who checked "other" in 1990 would opt for "multiracial" in 2000. He agreed by saying his organization lost much data on the overall Hispanic community which consequently lost Congressional seats as a result of what he considers this undercount. "Perhaps, you should ask why they feel compelled to check 'other' instead of 'Hispanic.' Maybe it's up to you to go to those people and find out why," Waters submitted. Rodriguez had no reply.

(When I was a boy, I'd ask parents and relatives why they called me "black" when I looked more "white" than anything else. The standard reply was, "Chile, black ain't no color. It's a state of mind." To those who say that "multiracial" is an ambiguous term signifying nothing, I would respond, "Chile, multiracial ain't no color. It's a state of mind." It's an appropriate term for those who have had their ancestry denied too long by a racist government and by racist special interest groups. Inasmuch as no human resembles either a gob of tar or a piece of chalk, then "multiracial," "biracial," "interracial," "triracial" or even "melange" emerge as no less descriptive and meaningful than the abstractions "black" and "white." That America continues to officially suppress and sweep under the rug its over three-hundred year-old mulatto culture does not invalidate its existence.)

Gary Flowers eventually expressed what I felt all along was his true anxiety when he opined that this initiative would merely re-create the old mulatto Census category. ("Mulatto" comes equipped with tremendous emotional baggage and the attendant "light-skinned" versus "dark-skinned" battle predicated upon an irrational inferiority complex.) There is general agreement that at least seventy-five percent of Americans who identify as black have some European heritage, yet anyone who understands the racial dynamics within the "black" community, particularly the intense group pressure applied upon an individual to remain black, knows that not all of that seventy-five percent will readily opt for multiracial. "How do you know that?" Flowers demanded. Ahh. The truth at last. It just wouldn't do to have people exercise their God-given prerogative to call themselves what they want, eh, Gary and Eric? Specifically, we know that a 1995 telephone survey, conducted by the Bureau of Labor Statistics on nearly 60,000 households, found that when the multiracial category was available there was no statistically significant decline in the number of Americans identifying themselves as black. Flowers seems foolishly concerned that the drop could be precipitous.

Ms. Richardson brought up the historical perspective of whites identifying people of mixed-race as black. This is the infamous one-drop rule or hypodescent, the inheritance of only the lowest status racial category of one's ancestors. Jean Waters agreed that this is being perpetuated even on U.S. Census forms.

"They've accepted the classification that's only a few decades old, but it's not something in stone. It's not something from God. It's a social construct that our country has decided to accept to keep people separate. Now, if you want accurate data, then let people put down what they are, and if you need to change the law, if you need to change income streams to make sure that money goes to the right places, then do it, through the law, through politics. Let us see accurately who is part of this country."

'Nuff said.


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