Monday, April 19, 2010

The Census in Black and White

If there is a subject that makes some people downright goofy, it's race.

Check out the AP's Jesse Washington's piece on race and the census.

Highlights:
Steve Bumbaugh, a 43-year-old foundation director in Los Angeles, who also has a black father and white mother. "It's not as if I'd have been able to drink out of the white and colored water fountains during Jim Crow," he said. "And I most assuredly would have been a slave. As far as I'm concerned, that makes me black."
Steve was born in or around 1967 quite a few years after Jim Crow became illegal and many years after slavery was abolished. But no doubt being "black" enabled him to drink from the affirmative action water fountain as an adult.
Exhibit A is President Barack Obama. He declined to check the box for "white" on his census form, despite his mother's well-known whiteness.

Obama offered no explanation, but Leila McDowell has an idea.

"Put a hoodie on him and have him walk down an alley, and see how biracial he is then," said McDowell, vice president of communications for the NAACP.
As viewed by whom? A cop? A drug dealer? A voter? McDowell's daddy? Her mother? She goes on to explain.
"Being black in this country is a political construct," she said. "Even though my father is white and I have half his genes, when I apply for a loan, when I walk into the car lot, when I apply for a job, they don't see me as half white, they see me as black. If you have any identifying characteristics, you're black."
But isn't that a good thing when you're applying for a job as vice president of communications for the NAACP?

Jesse continues:
There is evidence, though, that while some may be resistant to the idea of identifying as multiracial, white attitudes are moving in that direction. In a January poll by the Pew Research Center, 53 percent of white people said Obama is "mixed race" and 24 percent said he is black. In contrast, 55 percent of black people said Obama is black and 34 percent said he is mixed.
What a second. Isn't Barack Obama's racial make-up "mixed" as a matter of FACT? Doesn't having a "white" mother and a "black" father make their progency of mixed race? I guess not. It's just another thing people get to vote on and individuals get to declare.

Not that Jesse didn't interview a couple of sensible people:
... Ryan Graham, the brown-skinned son of a white-black marriage who defines himself as multiracial.

"Say you're wearing a black-and-white shirt. Somebody asks, 'What color is your shirt?' It's black and white. There you go. People ask me, 'What race are you?' I say I'm black and white. It's that simple," said Graham, a 25-year-old sales consultant from Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
You would think so. But if it was, Graham's mother would not have had to found Project Race and testify before Congress "to fight for a multiracial classification in the census."

As for Graham:
He's disappointed that Obama chose not to check the white box on the census, but said that people should be allowed to define themselves however they choose.
Of course they should, if by that Graham means they shouldn't be arrested for filling out their census form inaccurately. But if I choose to declare myself "Asian" I think people should be allowed to laugh at me. Not right in my face, but, you know, behind my back. And ask things like, "Is that dude, crazy?"

Like for instance, meet Tony Spearman,
author of "Why Am I Black," (he) was born to two white parents. He grew up in a mostly black town, worked at a historically black college, taught physics to predominantly black students.

On every census since 1996, Spearman has marked one box: black.
So to answer Tony's question: Why Am I Black? A very reasonable answer is "Dude, NO you're not." To which Tony says,
... Race is a foolish thing. It has nothing to do with our humanness."
He'll get no argument from me on that. Still that doesn't change the fact when a white person and a black person have a baby that kid is of "mixed race."

But Spearman and others believe there will come a day when the racial classification system - whether it is used by government or society in general - is with us no longer.
"The system is breaking down, and I hope it continues to break down. Because when it fully breaks down, we'll start to measure people by the content of their hearts."
Here's the good news. System or no system, people are already free to measure others by the content of their character. It is done every day and more so now in this country than ever.

1 Comments:

Blogger Dannytheman said...

How about the white cops that checked that they were black on the testing for advancement? The law ruled that you are what you say you are.

April 20, 2010 at 12:04 PM 

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