From Where I Sit: On the Roberts Nomination

From Where I Sit: On the Roberts Nomination
& Civil Rights Leadership

by Valerie A. Wilkins-Godbee
December 2005/January 2006

Originally published, Harmony People Sentential “From Where I Sit”: ISSN: 1068-8226

Just a couple weeks ago, I was sitting, as usual, in my wheelchair, (surgery on my vertebrae in June 2004), in my “new” home of two years—I relocated to Little Rock on August 18, 2003—transplant from the majestic Black Bear Mountain region of the Empire State), I turned on one of my favorite television channels, C-SPAN, with a cup of horsetail tea and wheat toast with cream cheese. There right before my walnut brown cornea under a pair of tortoiseshell eyeglasses—I’m nearsighted—was another urgent pressing news conference being held live! on the pending hearing confirmations about to start regarding Judge John Roberts the nominee for Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the U.S., and his likely nomination thereto. It was not a surprise to witness these types of announcements by leaders and lobby groups alike: pro and con.

I was intrigued, however, at how this mosaic mingled so well ideologically, that humid hot summer morning in The Natural State, yet how only just a short time ago—I remember something very different—in 1997. These same (or similar) groups forged a political crusade, and fought tooth and nail, against the very same premise, ‘interracial’, they were now exhibiting to us all—on this particular sunlit morning in front of the American viewer; that they were indeed united interracially-speaking. On a united front, not based on race but rather on a core set of beliefs.

In 1997 interracial leaders and members—some in the movement for a decade—campaigned in support of our constitutional constituents—invisible though they suffered at the time—right to be counted and to legally self-identify, as all American citizens had the constitutional right to, and specifically as ‘multiracial’ and to have ‘multiple check offs’. The Office of Management and Budget had been inundated with an avalanche when the ‘interracial leadership’ initiated a letter-writing campaign to abolish the dehumanizing Directive 15: better known to the ‘interracial community’ as the infamous ‘One Check Mandate’. Which translated to a succinct phrase: ‘check one appropriate box’! Amazing! Appropriate?

The groups (leaders’) that stood firm in oneness of mind and ideology against the Roberts nomination on that hot sun-drenched Arkansas morning in September, in the bastion of our nations people-powered Capitol (live! No less.) seemed very interracial-enough, probably to most on-lookers, ordinary and not-so-ordinary folks. It was a united front of diversity and gender, however, when you take a closer look and rub away the shiny veneer you’ll find that their opposition to the interracial community’s struggle in the 1990’s to legally self-identify as a “mixed race” group of Americans legend. You’ll find not only their opposition but also their vulgar disdain for the concept to express our belief in our nations blended heritage and our cultural legacy. It was clear to me then and now that it was a power-tripping and a racially separatist philosophy from the traditional and non-traditional civil rights and ethnic assemblages and political lobbyist alike that had far too much to loose.

One incident in point, in 1997, when at the last minute an interracial couple from Berlin, Maryland, whom I had groomed and mentored and introduced into the organization, A Place For Us/National a 501 (c) (3) non-profit interracial support group, the largest and most influential in the country at the time, just months before, where I was the national director (presiding over four regional directors), backed out of a deal to go to sit on a subcommittee hearing—1 of 3 being held throughout the spring and summer—regarding the changes we lobbied for in support of the upcoming Census 2000/Directive 15; chaired by Representative Stephen Horn (R-CA). APFU California folks said I was the “strategic type”, and although I wasn’t quite sure how to take that statement, as a compliment or not, I had to get to work, since the couple had left due to issues with “me”. I, hurriedly, contacted my Representative Sue Kelly (R-NY) to solicit her support and intervention to secure our organizations’ voice on this modern-day interracial civil rights hearing. This was to insure that we as a people would finally be heard and recorded. (For the record.) Thankfully, it was her support and clout that saved the day!

I got packed and boarded an Amtrak train to Union Station that sweltering summer in July 1997. Camping out at a third maternal cousins’, a native of Virginia, lovely estate in the District. (I was preparing for providential positioning in my life.) We were there to cash our symbolic check, which the government promised to make good on for all of its citizens; we still had not been able to cash it. To my horror, I witnessed the sycophants spew their “Ole Time” familiar jargon—which made me feel like I was stuck in a time warp living in the 1960’s where M.L.K. might just re-appear and speak to us next. (But, obviously he wouldn’t.) Nostalgia run a muck.

In an interview a reporter asked Dr. King what he thought about “Interracial marriage?” and his response was legend, he was quoted as replying, “People marry, colors don’t.”, words of the wise. Courage in the face of fire! It is too bad that many that followed his foot-works refused our rightful place–wrongfully so– for decades, to be seated securely at the table of Democracy in our Republic. Those on the other side of the aisle were opposed to our campaign: to dismantle the “Other” box and get rid of Directive 15. . Representative Maxine Waters (D-CA) was in attendance to testify on that fateful morning. As I listened intently to her opening statements, which only seemed to infuriate us more, the more she spoke—“She of all people.”, I mused was preposterous. Waters an African American, from a liberal state like California, usually ahead of the curve, on the cutting edge on trends effecting community based people, animals and environmental orientated issues speech was bizarre. I knew, deeply, we wouldn’t get the support of the traditionalist civil rights groups who felt no compunction in trashing the modern-day civil rights issues and public-policy of the day: Rights of the Interracial American!

One of the multiethnic leaders, however, the powerhouse Ramona Douglass of ***AMEA was unique in that she was a child of the civil rights era who had marched with Dr. King, but now was a leader in her own right in the multiracial movement. She went behind closed doors, to the dismay and consternation of more than a few national ‘interracial leaders’ and members, male and female, and advocates alike. It resulted in a borderline coup de etat and an out right e-mail war was born. It was bitter, contentious, and disturbing. Many were profoundly hurt in the crossfires—I wasn’t gung-ho about, nor was I using e-mail at the time—if not permanently put-out-of-commission for a while. I am a very loyal woman, so this was dreadful to watch unfolding between people that once would have given all for their compatriots, that had such utter brotherly love for in the fight for our self-identity.

Newt Gingrich, a well-known Republican and former Speaker of the House supported the concepts of ‘multiple check offs’ accompanied by a ‘multiracial’ box in place of “Other”, amazingly, and was scheduled to be at the hearing to testify before Chairman Horn and the sub-committee hearings, but he was needed on the floor to cast a vote on finance matters. Gingrich offered written testimony and it was noted in the widely known tome the WASHINGTON POST, the very next day! Over a cup of Joe the next morning a prelude to a finely elegant southern & hearty breakfast I read with glee the front page of the POST. It was crimson and wholly absurd he would be so visible for our just cause, and Rep. Waters opposed, and leading the charge to keep our constituents in a perplexed state of depersonalization in our own home, and water-down (no pun intended) our political prowess we were developing, which certainly would have been triumphant once we were officially and legally counted in the upcoming 2000 Census. Some, however, remained suspicious of leaders like Gingrich, wondering about their real motives with respect to our constituency.

There were a mixed set of feelings that beset my heart and the other leaders present that afternoon in July 1997, while we sat around a table in the Capitol cafeteria trying to swallow our lunch of brown-bagged-whatever and tea & coffee while a group of students from a local university began taping us at our tables for a documentary on the movement. It infected our agenda in a way that we wouldn’t recover, for quite some time, due to the extraordinary controls the traditional civil rights leaders were privy to. They’d secured a vice grip on the cash cow milking apparatus over the last two decades. Especially allegorical was realizing how hard the ‘interracial leaders’ and their constituents fought for nearly two decades for change on the Census, for the rights that were owed to all Americans. And, the way the traditionalist civil rights groups fought harder to marginalize us even further off to the sidelines of second-class citizenry. (The gay community garnered more respect!) With no compunction or the least bit of embarrassment, Rep. Waters lined herself up squarely with the likes of the Louis Farrakhan sympathizers and the many like his creed. (A separate nation for African descendants from slavery.)

Furthermore, for all those who died in the greatest American U.S. civil social engineering struggle in our nations history for all to have a voice and for a seat at the table of democracy, that they’d be so blatant and mean-spirited on its face. Suddenly, now, to witness a republican “right-winger” a leader in the House, very highly-profiled, at that, reach across the sea of rejections that we had all become acclimatized to and make it so plainly clear and visible for all to stock was quite emotive and visceral. Frankly, rather confusing for many “mixed race” politically active folk who were in the Democratic Party, although most were found to be moderate to conservative, leaning republican, according to findings in a study conducted by a plainspoken and genial & tolerant African American woman named Kim Williams, Associate Professor at Dartmouth who had been following the multiracial leadership over the past decade since her days at Cornell University.

I left not confused about my ‘black & white’ “mixed race” heritage, i.e., the infamous mixed-nut-syndrome, so many ill-informed folks enjoyed amplifying in the 1950’s and 60’s and throughout the early 70’s; now Jungle Fever was the 1980’s template, and it was to brand the interracial couple derisively and to profess that these relationships were purely on the bases of sexual attractions—that ignorant and bigoted Americans alluded to and dreamed about. Once while in Manhattan having a stroll in Central Park after having taken in a nostalgic dinner at a retro 1960’s restaurant, on Restaurant Row in the Village, with Steven a “white” Jewish male companion of mine, at the time, (a special ed high school teacher in ‘Hell’s Kitchen’, NYC) from Bensonhurst (sub-division of Brooklyn), a bunch of teenaged boys strutting towards us, as we sat on a park bench sharing a cigar, chuckling and humming the Jungle Fever theme song. Dressed the part, in my mini-flared puffed out black & green plaid skirt with fun white bobby socks & penny loafers and denim jacket with a flimsy dingy champagne colored top underneath, and big-hair, we ate a retro-dinner of burgers & buns, fries and rum & coke, which tasted like the 1960’s, and unfortunately, so did the gang of rabble-rousers that gave us both pause. Instead, I left the hearing feeling stronger about this fight, renewed in that I needed to dig my stilettos deeper into the ground and roll down my fishnet stockings and get in the trenches at my kitchen table to fire up the base and get cooking again. (No more brewing or baking, we had to come together and fight these clowns!)

I was confused about one thing and that was about the political home I once sermonized for: the Democratic Party, the ‘party of inclusion’. We were now in the fight of our very lives. We had been perforce to fight to the end to petition our government to give us all our due and place to legally self-identify, once and for all. (The first-ever interracial rally on Washington in July 1996 was titled the Multiracial Solidarity March, it was a triumphant fait accompli) The sense of betrayal and abandon were impossible, and the constant drumbeat about the Republican Party turned out to be hogwash. As educated as I thought I was on the party I believed would help us, for all the support I tried to offer over the years, recruiting people to their side—in many cases, I must admit, I was not voting until I pulled the lever during the senate race in 1998, voting for the first time-ever for Chuck Shumer (D-NY)—were noble, only on that day I found I was a political refugee. Confused, but committed to regain my composure with the line now drawn in the sand, and I like many leaders would later draw as well to attempt and create a “new” home or at least take another look at the party that they so cunningly painted as the “racist party”.

Well, thanks—and “no thanks”, to Ramona Douglass, a behind-the-scenes deal was being erected with those associated with the NAACP, (It was the kiss of death for the ‘multiracial’ box) we could have the ‘multiple check offs’ which essentially gave carte blanche to the race-police to replace each “black & white” person using the “new” designation(s) on the Census forms in 2000, squarely back in the hypo-descent box or category, or in this case, the “black” group or box. All of these groups like the NAACP, the various Latino and Hispanic groups, Asian associations as well as the American Native Tribal leaders and organizations, declined, transparently, to go along with the ‘multiracial’ box in the place of the infamous “Other” box.

Some were not as overly enthused with the new deal struck by a considerable heavyweight, like Douglass, and her less than dignified compromise. Some lamented it was because she’d failed to ‘advise and consent’ with the other prominent national constellation of leaders and activists. Not forgetting the absolutist in theory about the race question in America, the Uniracialist. I thought about what my “white” grandma from the Blue Ridge Mountains, ‘Ole blue eyes’ would sometimes crank out, slogans like, “If you can’t beat em join em!” and “If you can’t say nothin’ good about a person, then don’t say nothin’ at all!’” and other morsels of wisdom. The demur Douglass a stately handsome woman of healthy form, bright intellectually, could have informed and consented with us; and I believe this is what largely detonated such an explosive reaction, setting off an e-war across the country for over a year. (To be sure, there is an archival of e-letters to the editors that were splattered across websites such as the Multiracial Activist, the Abolitionist Examiner, New Peoples Journal and Interrace Magazine the latter two were also on newsstands.)

Douglass sought out my organization, ,b>Multiethnic Women for Media Fairness’, assistance to try and quell the firestorms engulfing her. I did what I could to intervene in her behalf and mediate a settlement. For my part, the wisdom in joining with her was to keep the ‘interracial leadership’ at the table, in the “Situation Room”, as it were, and enhance our dialogue with our elected officials, now, seriously listening to us. The redemptive powers, at my slender sized-four fingertips, trying to handle the ball, was to spotlight that her motives were of “goodwill and charity”. Compromise, however, is what I took from both my grandma’s (one Dutch/native-mingled in and one of Irish & ‘black’ native heritages), and other more poetic words of wisdom.

We would all go back to the drawing board to our respective stations, in our home states, until the next plan of action or attack, to be executed in the coming months, possibly in the next decade in 2010. We survived an avalanche of snide, acridly quarrelsome and volatile e-mails—nearly 1 more full-moon crazed year—and finally on March 31, 2000 I created and held a conference at the Radisson Barcelo Hotel in Washington, D.C., with and sponsored by A Place For Us/National(with the support of **Ameurofian Heritage Foundation) were I was its deputy chief national director, one day before the actual Census enumerators where scheduled to knock on doors, titled the Multiracial Leadership Conference: A healing discourse on our choices. President Bill Clinton addressed the nation on April 1, 2000 that morning in his Radio Address to remind us of the need to participate and prepare to fill out the forms that the enumerators would bring to our home visits. It was our duty as Americans to be supportive and be ready. It was an especially joyful year beginning in 1999 thru 2000 I had such hope… in our cause and gaining support!

The recent C-Span news conferencees each spoke about 10 minutes long and it brought back a wellspring of memories…. Floodgates of emotions ran unbridled throughout my bloodstream that fateful morning a few weeks ago, in early September, while watching C-Span, which felt like ice water soon after…. When Debra Ness of the National Partnership for Women & Families formerly the Women’s Legal Defense Fund, was introduced, I sat in anticipation for what exactly her organization uncovered about the Presidents’ nominee for U.S. Chief Justice. I feared it would be more of the same. Ness began to speak about the detrimental plight and legal positions Judge Roberts was notorious for, way back when. “When”, I mused, “he was a mere 20 year old in college….” She went on to state the case about how women across the land ought to be very afraid. Basically, that was her stance. When finally she blurted out something to the affect at how the “…interracial community…” would be a community of folk her group was aiming to protect against Robert’s extreme judicial philosophy on a host of issues especially regarding our ‘unique’ civil rights.

Basically, alluding to the nominee as one whom would be most detrimental to the “mixed race” community. It gave the impression that they were speaking in our behalf, that day. Roberts would not only be devastation to American “blacks” and “browns” and women but he’d roll back the clock to prior cases like Roe vs. Wade, the Voting Rights Act, and Loving vs. The Commonwealth of Virginia, a case which dismantled anti-miscegenation laws in 1967 in the remaining thirteen states. We would experience a probable throwback to that atmosphere where interracials’ especially “black & white” couples would be harassed without severe penalties and tangible protections from our government.

I could hardly believe it, but it wasn’t a magnificent surprise to me, in the sense that it happened at all or on live! It is, however, a shock in that they are becoming comfortable and flip with the term interracial/multiracial and multiethnic, words you’d be hard-pressed to even find in most dictionaries. We need to call these people out that use the terminology loosely, to help them understand precisely the constituents it effects; and not to use it to further their separatist agenda’s when speaking about “minority” concerns. Since they chose to walk away on what they labeled insignificant in the 1990’s, our express self-expanse and self-identity and the counting, accurately the millions of households of “mixed race” people (*6.8 million to be exact), in 1997 during a pivotal moment at the sub-committee hearings at the Capitol. When we needed the support of these groups in our diversity struggles: Interracials as a community that wanted desperately to live, love, marry, birth, worship freely, build, work & play, laugh & cry school, sing & dance, buy & sell, communicate, and assemble peaceably, and fight our battles…which they had determined should remain, for the most part, privately sublime and wholly separated from the public square, and unbelievably with our hearty acceptation, during our fight.

Play actor and not keeping it real, comes to mind. But, it’s true of those of us who would rather appear a certain way on first impressions, on the outside, however, the discreet veil worn and which is clung to is oftentimes something disturbingly juxtapose entirely to what they have falsely clarion in the publics eye; their ‘interracial oneness’!

I didn’t hesitate to write down the leader’s name, title and organization, and telephoned her immediately. I stated my concerns and left my name, organization and telephone number. Within 24 hours I got a return call! After a long explanation about Judge Roberts, and what my concerns were, from the communications director, Myra Clark-Siegel, she offered a tepid vague apology for any “misrepresentation” that it might have appeared like to me. I came away from this experience satisfied confident fully that I had once again defended our constituent’s non-conforming positioning and their pilgrimage for continued acknowledgement of our mosaic heritage and in its truest American form: One America, the one the Clinton Administration proposed to the nation. E Pluribus Unum. That many in his party, in leadership positions, refused to build upon in its truest form, were incomprehensible.

I continued to do this and you all should be willing to do like-wise! Al Sharpton was once quoted, a few years ago, as stating he was the “new multiracial leader.”(?). I contacted the New York Daily news immediately, and explained to the columnist Karen Hunter that we are well known and well informed and a well-connected community and have not elected nor appointed Reverend Al Sharpton, despite some of the good things he has accomplished, for some select few, to represent our issues. I had put her on notice tactfully, and foremost enlightened her. Hunter was surprised to learn about our circles and how we are a vibrant, well-established and growing circle of friends and family. Now many political officials, elected and appointed, like the ostensible Newt Gingrich in support of our concerns about our identity having expressed so publicly was hard to comprehend. I, too, was concerned about the genuine support of the GOP.

It has been rumored widely in interracial circles that a college student asked the then President-elect Mr. Bill Clinton what were his views on the Census having a “multiracial category” and his answer was legend and with all enthusiasm of expression, “I think it’s a great idea!”. Although President Bill Clinton signed the Multiethnic Placement Act in October 1994 in support of transracial adoption, in his first term, in his second year in Office and won the prestigious Candlelighter’s Seal of Approval Award certificate in 2000, his party’s leaders had no desire to work towards his goal of one America; it was all window-dressing sadly on their part. The certificate that was bestowed on President Clinton was for his concept and the publication One America and the directory of organizations from around the country working towards the goals he aspired to. For the providential powers for the people to self-identify with their interracial heritage was being maligned by his very own party leaders. Many interracial leaders felt he caved into his party’s special interests groups hence we were left on the sidelines for most of his 8 years in Office. Undoubtedly, this was likely a thorn in his side for the rest of his presidency.

They were fairly successful in stifling his initial support of our constituency (although we were not officially counted in the Census, until 2000), and though many agreed that he could have done more to show his support instead of bowing to the strident heraldic voices of separatists in the Democratic party, I believe his administration gave us our first politically historical tour de force and we won despite the flame-throwers’ attacks in support of the infamous slavemasters definition when describing one’s identification in America, the “one drop rule” of blood.

This however idealism was up against the accretions of the “pro” black in his beloved Democratic party. Mr. Clinton was subtly swayed and absorbed some of their “separatist for now” ideas in which he was perforce to live. The influence was delicate (he was not about to be seen as a “redneck” from a small state!) and all pervasive he assimilated slightly their racially prone if not suspect agendas. True to form, he rose up out of the ashes of ethnarchy and its impregnable suspiciousness of the “mixed race” people’s need and their constitutional right to legally self-identify and saved his party from utter shame. Mr. Clinton will go down in the annals of American U.S. history as the interracial president. For without President Clinton as accoucheur there would be no interracial constituent.

The 2000 U.S. Census in 1997 was forced to abolish the dehumanizing Directive 15: the governments idiotic “One Check Mandate”, a cause celebre! With a political genius of nature and experience at the helm the discreet undercover support he bestowed and his subtle strong-arm of those he admired in Congress he stroked towards our side. We did not get the whole lot. It was wholly better to win half of what we aimed for with our rifles then to loose completely all of what we stood for and pistol-whipped! Later, in 1999, Ward Connerly co-author of the controversial Prop 209 in California, and founder and chairman of the American Civil Rights Institute, in Washington, D.C., and at my urgent request for President Bill Clinton to long over due receive recognition, they were both awarded the coveted Racial Harmony Crystal 2000 Award given by A Place For Us/National for their vital roles in our struggle.

Our constituents are a colorful array of folk around the country from all walks of life and political and religious backgrounds and philosophies on matters they hold near and dear. I think that those who creatively develop organizations, political or otherwise, on the foundation of a cookie-cutter motto, image or outlook, and holds captive any person(s) who descents in another direction perhaps or an opposite direction entirely, and are looked upon as “the enemy” is foolhardy to believe for a nano-second –lets not forget the Uniracials— that they will have secured any significant threads from our circles into such a stagnate forming institutions’ inaugural ground-breaking. Simply put, because of their (our) non-conformity in vital matters they (we) are non-conformist to the ump degree, and I as their leader respects that.

Finally, whatever yard stick the more recent senate has utilized in ‘advise and consent’ formulating questions, voting up or down, fair and square, when it comes to nominating any Justice to the United States Supreme Court as they had done so respectfully with the former general counsel for the ACLU, Justice Ruth Bader Gingsberg’s nomination (the second woman on the Supreme Court nominated by President Clinton in August 1993), it should be the same measure meted out in the confirmation hearings that are just underway…. Or the millions of informed and somewhat frustrated Americans watching these allegorical hearings on C-Span will likely sift out the mind-numbing caviling on both sides and make their voices heard at the threshold of the ballot box and at the voting booths in 2006 and beyond….

*Census bureau statistics for 2000
**Ameurofian was created in 1989, which are people in North America with a tri-ethnic heritage of Native American, European and W. African. Valerie A. Wilkins-Godbee, Founder and President and Creator.
***AMEA is the Association of Multi-Ethnic Americans.

Update: Judge Roberts has been confirmed for Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Honorable Samuel A. Alito, United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, has been appointed to replace Justice Sandra Day O’Connor as is the coming hearings. Congratulations to the 17th Chief Justice John Roberts, Jr.! And, if he happens on this commentary, I am also a Dr. Zhivago movie fan, my other two favorites are West Side Story, and as of late High Noon!!!

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