Interracial-Voice
Speech

Charles Michael Byrd
Multiracial Solidarity March I, July 20, 1996.

Thank you all for coming this afternoon, and what a great day to be multiracial in America! Let me also thank Washington's own Interracial Family Circle, its President Phillip Savage and the other organizations that endorsed this March, including "A Place For Us" -- the first national organization to sanction the Multiracial Solidarity March. This is a precedent-setting event, and you should be proud that you're a part of it. Never before has there been an attempt to offer the perspective of racially mixed people on racial issues, but that blessed day has finally arrived.

We are no longer invisible, and "mixed-race" should never have been viewed merely as a "subset" of "blackness." That is patently absurd, is hypodescent-driven, and it ignores other mixed-race individuals not of the black/white variety -- such as hapas, mestizos, metis, creoles and latinos. Identifying all individuals of mixed-race as black is nothing more than a lustful embrace of the mythical concept of white racial purity, and proponents of such an ideology are essentially in bed with the slavemaster. We reject the notion of white racial purity, and we affirm the right of otherwise self-determined individuals to identify as they see fit -- not as others would force them to identify. Hypodescent, the inheritance of only the lowest status racial category of one's ancestors, also known as the infamous "one-drop rule," 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.

To those who say that we're trying to create a new race, I submit that this new "race" or "new people," if you will, was created centuries ago when European settlers and African slaves mingled with the indigenous people of North America. Lamentably, this "new race" or "new people" was initially swept under the rug by white racists. That practice is sadly carried on today by racists "of color" in the name of numerical strength, and by their white political allies in the name of social segregation. In doing so, both deny us the right of self-determination and the right to name ourselves.

Often our detractors say that we're "running away from our blackness" or "trying to become honorary whites." These are examples of a pathetic guilt-trip that others try to lay upon anyone who has at least one forebear of African descent but who identifies as multiracial. Many will argue that it doesn't matter what you call yourself because white people will not view you any differently, because whites will always discriminate against non-whites. This question of the inevitability of white racism was recently addressed by William Javier Nelson, author of the Racial Definition Handbook:

"After looking at the objections given by some to the multiracial initiative, I have been impressed with the deep cynicism of those who would keep the One-Drop rule in place. Instead of focusing on such things as ethnicity and culture, One-Droppers usually point to the inevitability and 'normalcy' of the prejudice and discrimination of 'whites.'

"Left without the external control of outside policing based on rigid 'racial' categories, 'whites' are assumed to lack the INTERNAL control to ignore color differences in day-to-day living.

"North Americans are so used to 'racial' conflict and the normal state of the U.S. mind as 'racist' that they have mortgaged the responsibility to grow beyond Jim Crow. Moreover, most of them are able to disclaim racism anyway by saying it's something the other fellow does.

"There is nothing inherently normal about the type of racism practiced in the U.S.

"There is nothing inherently normal about being a racist.

"There is nothing inherently normal about One-Drop (hypodescent)."

I submit that it is *not* the mixed-race community that is "distancing" itself from "color" but quite the reverse. The black community in general and its political leadership specifically that I see in 1996 are not the same that I observed in 1966, and the change has not been for the better. Thirty years have produced tremendous changes, as the black leadership today is more separatist-inspired and too often exhibits the same racist mentality of the long-standing white power structure.

After the assassinations of Malik El-Shabazz and Martin Luther King, Jr. the black community took the wrong fork in the road, particularly forgoing the transcendent nature of King's movement which pointed to the equality of human beings as the benchmark for social justice and which was evolving into a grassroots movement that included whites as soldiers in the cause of justice for black Americans. *Afrocentric nationalism* polarized and hurt the civil rights movement, replacing effective strategy with empty shouting and posturing of the sort that allowed America the opportunity to avoid both identification with black people and the job of bettering this nation. My friends, replacing a white ideal with a black ideal doesn't improve things, it just reverses them.

The arrogant assumption on the part of those who subscribe to nationalist thinking was and still is that those of mixed-descent would meekly tag along -- and many have! I, however, cannot sanction racism or separatist ideology just because someone might accuse me of "selling out" or "running away" from "blackness," or just because the racist happens to be "of color." I suppose if you're not old enough to remember back three decades, then the present seems perfectly natural to you -- the way things ought to be. The turn towards Afrocentric nationalism by the black community coupled with the 1967 Supreme Court decision overthrowing the remaining anti-miscegenation laws in this country, are the two most important factors in the genesis of the multiracial "movement."

Our detractors persist, however. Jon Michael Spencer -- Professor of Afro-American Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill -- once stated that, "If the multiracial movement had taken root, or a 'mulatto' category had been kept throughout the 20th century, black progress might have been no progress at all." I wonder if anyone else finds this statement insulting and degrading to blacks? Humans are very resourceful at crafting ways to enhance their survival, yet Spencer suggests that African-Americans don't have the capacity to flourish and prosper unless aided by some numbers cruncher. Forget that he sees no merit in people of mixed heritage identifying as such, but does anyone else honestly believe that blacks would have made no progress at all if their collective numbers had been measured accurately and not artificially inflated by including us? Spencer assumes that in a multiracial movement, those who prefer to identify as mixed would not fight for the civil rights of others. Separatist ideology rules once again. Why is it that so many so-called intellectuals can only conceive of a society in which each tribe is only fighting for its own rights, and no one exists who might fight for the rights of others?

The burning of African-American churches and any attack against freedom of religion should be deplored by all human beings, and it should be made clear today that our identity as multiracial does not lessen our desire to see these criminals prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

On issues such as affirmative action, however, many of us believe that race- and gender-based entitlement programs should be modified though certainly not abolished. Affirmative action should be based on need, & economics, for it is this country's poor that need empowering, whether they be poor blacks -- who as we all know represent a disproportionate amount of America's impoverished -- poor whites, poor Hispanics, poor Native Americans, poor females or poor multiracials. Too often the people who benefit the most from affirmative action are those kids whose families can afford to send them to expensive colleges and universities. The seemingly permanent black underclass against whose steady growth many African American leaders regularly rail benefits little from affirmative action. Has the black political intelligentsia decided to treat the underclass with a Moynihanesque "benign neglect" in order to perpetuate the middle- and upper-classes? Perhaps so, yet they disingenuously berate a multiracial identifier as being the villain that will eviscerate gains made by minorities under affirmative action.

Some say a multiracial classification would merely replicate the South African Colored category that existed under apartheid. In my opinion, "not" imposing the one-drop rule upon those South Africans of mixed-race was the only thing the racist Afrikaners actually got right! On the other hand, what could be more apartheid-like than creating the equivalent of black homelands here in the United States through the practice of gerrymandering in order to produce mostly black voting districts? What most proponents "of color" of this gerrymandering won't tell you and what many whites gleefully keep to themselves is that the practice invariably produces near lily-white voting districts next door! This is nothing less than a return to "separate but equal," and the question we as multiracial Americans have to ask is where are we supposed to position ourselves: amongst segregationist whites or amongst separatist blacks? The point is largely moot, however, since the U.S. Supreme Court recently ruled against the constitutionality of these bizarre shaped districts that one justice referred to as looking like "a sacred Mayan bird." No principled multiracial can endorse separate but equal. How can we? We are the living, breathing antithesis of separatist and racist dogma. We can not be separated!

We are here today to proclaim that individuals of mixed-race and of mixed-ethnicity should have the right to legally self-identify. Our opponents feel that we should be forced to adhere to a particular political agenda against our will, reducing us to nothing more than abstract figures in a Census headcount. Along this line, historian A.D. Powell addressed the concept of ethnic rape back on June 4. She wrote:

"Throughout history many nations and ethnic groups have tried to forcibly assimilate others. The English tried to assimilate the Celtic nations of Ireland, Scotland and Wales. The Castilians tried to assimilate the Basques and Catalons. The government of Turkey says there is no such thing as a Kurd, only another variety of Turk. Black Americans are one of the few cases of a subordinate ethnic group thinking it has the 'right' to commit the ethnic 'rape' of conquerors. American Indians, Asian-Americans and others might inappropriately claim some mixed people but they do not generally go into a towering rage over the thought of losing the 'blood' of their 'white' rivals.

"The 'one drop' advocates should be told that they have no right to commit racial or ethnic 'rape,' telling others that they will be taken against their will. They have no right to 'rape' either the living or the dead -- 'blackening' the names of people who were not 'black' and never claimed to be (Jean Toomer, Alexander Dumas, Alexander Pushkin and numerous others subjected to 'kidnapping' when they are dead and unable to defend themselves). Anyone who says he wants to 'unite' with you and will do so whether you like it or not is a rapist. Ethnic rape can be just as real and demeaning as sexual rape.

"The people who are subjected to the 'You just don't want to be black' accusation should proudly respond in the affirmative and say that they don't want to pretend to belong to a 'race' that doesn't describe them merely to ease the inferiority complex of the 'one drop' advocates. Indeed, let the 'one drop' advocates say to the Hispanics (almost all mixed race), Jews, Italians, Greeks, etc. that those groups cling to their various heritages just because they don't want to be 'black.' That's partly true. They don't want to be something else either. They want to be who they are."

Some thought A.D.'s composition a tad harsh. The June 17 edition of The New Yorker magazine, however, proved her words prophetic. That edition included an article by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. entitled "The true lies of Anatole Broyard," in which Gates sought to trash the reputation of the late New York Times book critic, a man now six years in his grave. Gates attacked Broyard as "really black" and only "passing" as white. Gates' racist article is an extreme example of the devotion to the myth of white racial "purity" and to the "one drop" mythology that is still so prevalent amongst minority academicians and politicians. Broyard, of Louisiana Creole descent, is also victimized by the typical ploy of claiming that because there are no 100% "pure" whites in his immediate ancestry, he is really descended from "blacks" and has only a "small amount" of white ancestry from a "distant" ancestor. Gates and other "one drop" fanatics know no shame.

How is it anyone's business that Broyard did not identify as black? If it's valid to assert that Broyard was "passing for white," is it also not valid to say that the likes of Gregory Howard Williams are "passing for black?" Broyard was and Williams is as light-skinned as any person who identifies as white that you've ever seen walk down the street, yet the former is viciously vilified in death because of his refusal to adhere to the one-drop rule, and the latter is glorified to the hilt because he embraces it tenaciously. Williams is the author of "Life On The Color Line," the story of a young lad born in Virginia -- my home state, too -- who thought he was "white" until he moved to Indiana and then suddenly found out he was "black." Of course, Williams was "black" because of hypodescent, and he plays that card at every turn today.

Gregory Howard Williams' story is not unique. There are plenty of mixed-race folk who are so light they "involuntarily" pass for white every day. I have many pictures of me standing next to black relatives, and most people looking at the photos would say: "Who's the white boy?!" The difference between me and Williams is that I encountered "one-drop" from day one and came to loathe it. He was introduced to hypodescent later in life and is now seemingly embracing it as some sort of profound political statement. That, however, is in direct contradiction to his statement a couple of months ago to Nightline's Ted Koppel that he views race as an artificial, social construct. Well, if Gregory Howard Williams views "race" as being invalid, how can he so strongly proclaim that he is "black" and not also touch upon alternative identities? It is his right to identify as he desires, but not once did Williams, Dean of the Ohio State Law School, speak to the validity of a multiracial identifier that many of us have adopted.

It is contradictory to say on one hand that race is invalid, but on the other hand that you're black because of the one-drop rule. The sense was that ABC and Ted Koppel wanted to leave the impression with Nightline's viewers that hypodescent was still the rule of thumb vis--vis identity formation in mixed-race individuals. Unfortunately, Williams seemed all too willing to go along. Anatole Broyard, however, is pummeled in death because he "refused" to go along.

Two excellent books which address being racially & culturally mixed in America are "American Mixed Race: The Culture of Microdiversity," edited by Naomi Zack and published by Rowman & Littlefield, and Maria Root's "The Multiracial Experience: Racial Borders as the New Frontier" by Sage Publications. Root has also written what she calls the "Bill of Rights for Racially Mixed People." It reads as follows:

I HAVE THE RIGHT...
Not to justify my existence in this world.
Not to keep the races separate within me.
Not to be responsible for people's discomfort with my physical ambiguity.
Not to justify my ethnic legitimacy.

I HAVE THE RIGHT...
To identify myself differently than strangers expect me to identify.
To identify myself differently from how my parents identify me.
To identify myself differently from my brothers and sisters.
To identify myself differently in different situations.

I HAVE THE RIGHT...
To create a vocabulary to communicate about being multiracial.
To change my identity over my lifetime -- and more than once.
To have loyalties and identification with more than one group of people.
To freely choose whom I befriend and love.

I deeply regret that Anatole Broyard never had the opportunity to read that, and I strongly urge Henry Louis Gates, Jr. to read it and to try to learn something.

Ladies and gentlemen, today we are initiating the most serious and honest dialogue on race that this country has ever witnessed. Eventually all racial categories must be discarded, but until our society becomes sufficiently enlightened to do so, interracial individuals deserve to be able to identify themselves as they see fit. As my Seattle colleague Jana Wright, who submits a regular book review to Interracial Voice, says:

"My struggle for identity is much like anyone else's: I am here, valuable, and damn it I want to be accepted for who I am. I believe in alliance with all folks struggling for the simple right of acceptance and decent treatment in this country."

Ladies and gentlemen, I firmly believe that we have satisfied the goals of this Multiracial Solidarity March. Coming in, they were:

1-) To petition the government to establish a multiracial category for the 2000 Census, giving mixed-race individuals the currently denied right to legally self-identify.

2-) To show the country that multiracial individuals aren't mere abstract considerations but "flesh and blood" humans who are not sickly mutants born of "savage couplings." I've been reminded that in one of David Duke's essays he referred to us as "harbingers of the Apocalypse." I would say to the former Klansman and current Louisiana senatorial candidate that mixed-race folk *are indeed* forerunners but of the sort that will lead this country away from its race-obsessed present to an ideal future of race-less-ness in which his kind are considered persona non grata.

3-) To allow those individuals who've had to previously choose one side of their racial/ethnic heritage at the expense of the other to both publicly and proudly affirm their multiraciality, to allow them to see they no longer have to choose and deny to satisfy a particular political agenda.

4-) To unmask hypodescent -- the inheritance of only the lowest status racial category of one's ancestors, a.k.a. the infamous "one-drop rule," -- for what it is: one of the most vicious aspects of American racism.

5-) To spur the creation of a political alliance between all multiracial & multiethnic individuals, not just black/white but hapas, mestizos, metis, creoles, latinos, and all the rest.

6-) To allow interracially involved monoracials to publicly affirm that their offspring should have the inalienable right to legally recognize and to honor both heritages.

7-) To repudiate the rising tide of separatist ideology that is engulfing the traditional civil rights organizations and their leaders.

8-) To signal the beginning of the end of "race" as the social construct that divides humanity.

Would you all agree with me that this March has been a success? Have we achieved its goals? Are we achieving solidarity as a community? I think so, too! I love you all. Power and Solidarity!


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