Letters to the Editor

George Winkel vs. Dr. Vernellia R. Randall

Date: Thu, 01 Apr 1999 14:37:59 -0800 (PST)
From: “George A. Winkel” gwinkel@ivic.net
Subject: Letter to the Editor

Dr. Vernellia R. Randall is Professor of Law and Director of the Academic Excellence Program at University of Dayton School of Law. She is also editor of several Web-pages, including “Race and Racism in American Law”.

Professor Randall and I found ourselves debating the “One-Drop Rule” (the once legally enforced custom of defining as “Black”, or African American, all mixed-race persons with Black ancestry). We agreed to move our e-mail debate to this open forum where anyone may join in.

Having introduced myself, white man in an Asian-White mixed marriage which has produced our grown, biracial son, I suggested promoting the burgeoning multiracial community as a means eventually to ending racial tensions. In our discussion I pointed out that Hispanics are curiously exempted from One-Drop, even though they concededly “may be any race.” Also, I tried to support my view that racism problems are more explainable in cultural (e.g., “cast”) terms than “race” (e.g., color), by reporting, for example, a number of black Africans are active and singing in the choir in my father’s predominantly White Methodist church, in Houston. Dr. Randall has kindly consented to my copying her reply here:

Dr. Randall’s opening:

I don’t agree with your characterization of the debate. I am not debating retaining the “one-drop” rule. As far as I am concern, a person should not be black merely because they have “one drop” of African ancestry. That thinking is a biological construct. Rather, I think that race is a social construct based on shared culture and shared history. Thus, being African American is about being a part of the shared history born out of slavery, segregation and racism with primary cultural roots from Africa. Thus, a person may have a parent of a certain “racial” culture, but unless they feel that they share that racial culture and history they may not identify racially with the parent’s group and that is fine. It seems to me that setting up a multi-racial or biracial group maintains the biological construct of the “one-drop” rule. That is, if you have “blood” of African American and “blood” of White American you are mixed race. But there is no shared culture or history. What I see is another attempt to develop another racial construct. I just don’t think we need it. I do think individuals should be able to identify themselves anyway they want and in multiple ways. The only exception I guess is Native American Tribes should retain their sovereignty to define who is and isn’t a member of their tribe.

Dr. Randall’s 31/3/99 message follows:

Being African American is NOT about being African. Comparing African Americans to Africans would be like comparing Irish American to Irish. There is ancestry in common but not history or culture.

African American is not about “blood” it is about culture. Which is why I have problems with a separate mixed race category. It seems to maintain the same biological blood idea of race so instead of the one drop rule we replace it with the mixed blood rule. Children of interracial couples are similar to children of intercultural couples. For instance, a person from England marries a person from France (two very different culture), the children can culturally identify with both their English heritage and French heritage. They can identify cultural with one such as they view themselves more English than French. It is not a denial of their heritage to have a stronger cultural identification with one over the other. Similarly, for children of interracial couples. I realize that there is an issue of color and the racism that goes with color. For instance, we are very willing to accept a very light skin person as black but would have a difficult time accepting a very dark skin person as white. Race is a social construct. We have enough problems with the social constructions that we currently have. Introducing a new construction complicates not relief the issue. I feel this is particular true since there is a solution: “check all that you think applies”.

As for Hispanic, Hispanics are a ethnic construct that is separate and different from the racial construct. Hispanics don’t get to choose to Black or White, any more than Jews don’t get to choose Black or White. There are Black Hispanics just as there are Black Jews. Hispanic is no more a racial construct than religious constructs are racial.

Finally, this obsession with ancestry in the African American Community covers self hatred. The people running around claiming other ancestry are blacks and multi-racial children. You don’t see whites (25% of whom could claim black ancestry) claiming that ancestry. Why? Because people would rather be anything than African American.

Vernellia R. Randall
Professor of Law and Director
Academic Excellence Program

Date: Sun, 04 Apr 1999 11:46:12 -0700 (PDT)
From: “George A. Winkel” gwinkel@ivic.net
Subject: Letter to the Editor

Hi again, Professor Randall,

Thank you again for letting me post your e-mails here. I would like to start by responding to your very first e-mail to me, dated 29/3/99, and quoted below:

Actually, there are less interracial children now then there was at the turn of century. Frankly, I have mixed feelings about creating new racial classifications. Certainly, people should be able to identity themselves anyway they see fit. On the other, when we look at other societies that have many more classifications, you don’t find less racism or problems but more stratification with those having the most black features on the bottom. Another problem that I have is that for African Americans whose roots are in slavery, being African American by definition is being interracial and multiethnic. There is hardly an African American who can’t claim significant interfamily ethnicity. For instance, in my own family, my mothers side of the family was largely Indian. In addition, as a black woman, I find that the demographics is one sided, it is black men marrying white women that largely make up the black-white demographics. One study shows that percentage of black women marrying white men is largely unchanged since the early 70’s. I guess, the issue raise is important and the position you take is valid, but, for every action there is an equally and opposite reaction. Creating a new racial category, will have unanticipated negative effects. This is not an argument against doing so, just a cautionary note.

My answer:

I have heard an objection to creating a multiracial category sounding similar to yours. Some object to creating a new “intermediate” multiracial class, positioned between Black and White. Moreover, a Multiracial class in South Africa was observed in recent years complicating that country’s emergence from apartheid.

A fundamental conceptual distinction needs to be grasped. The “Multiracial problem” is demographic, not classificatory. Society is changing into a multiracial format biologically. Words and categories have nothing to do with it. Interracial marriages are increasing exponentially, roughly doubling each decade since 1960 (The count passed 1.4 million in 1990). Against that demographic reality, disputes about nomenclature pale.

Someone has contrived to keep a propaganda lid of sorts on part of the growing mixed-race community — the black multiracial portion mainly. The One-Drop myth (law until it was overturned by the Loving v. Virginia decision in 1967 — and somehow perpetuated since by custom), has deceived many multiracials into identifying themselves “African American” because one or more of their ancestors was black. That myth-structure is breaking down. Also, Government welfare-state commitments have been pigeon-holing everyone into single Blumenberg race classifications. No accurate census has been taken of multiracial people. On public documents they seem nonexistent. Finally, reality is ending this bureaucratic absurdity.

I believe One-Drop and government pigeon-holing will not work anymore. The multiracial community is bursting from its containment into full view. The development is likely to spark still faster multiracial growth. If the general public becomes comfortable with the idea of exogamy (e.g., interracial marriage), multiracialism might explode. I think it will happen, and I am doing all I can to ignite it.

Characterizing Multiracial as an intermediate stratum in the socialistic, civil-rights-entitlement layer-cake (so goes the argument, heard before) is both inaccurate and short-sighted. First, multiracial people — once again — are human beings, not a bookkeeping anomaly. I beg my adversaries, please tell me honestly if you simply are opposed to my marriage. Opposing miscegenation is a different issue from how best to describe and count the progeny of racially mixed marriages.

Second, “Multiracial” is much more than simply a “new race,” another hungry entitlement mouth to feed in the vernacular of the welfare state. Multiracial is the demise of “race.” It contains within it the promise of ending racism (discrimination) and “race” — both concepts should rapidly become meaningless and obsolete for multiracials. My old biology book teaches me, given the way things are going, we can look forward to a multiracial or one-race world.

You raise an important point. Race mixing (multiracialism) has been almost total in Hispanic countries for many years, yet they still practice mejorando la raza (improvement of the race by whitening), and they discriminate by color rather than race. I believe this was what you had in mind, writing: “…when we look at other societies that have many more classifications, you don’t find less racism or problems but more stratification with those having the most black features on the bottom.” I fervently hope it will not happen that way in the U.S.A. I believe our nation’s quest after the chalice of equality will see our success where other societies have failed. I believe we can do it. I suggest speed though.

All the multiracial (e.g., Hispanic) societies are very old, very traditional. They mixed slowly for hundreds of years. I learn they are steeped in Old World class consciousness and engrained prejudices. By contrast, classism is not entrenched here. In its place we have racism. But because our U.S. racism is situational — it arose from White greed — founded on silly pseudo-scientific and religious excuses formulated to justify the unconscionable exploitations of slavery, I think the roots of racism in the U.S.A. are weak, severable. And we have our cherished Constitutional principal of equality under the law.

When people finally feel confident nothing is biologically “inferior” about black blood, genetics when Asian, white, and native Americans can trust that their part-Black children will not be stigmatized by One-Drop, or condemned in perpetuity to the servile pariah caste — a time coming soon, I hope — then I believe people in the U.S.A. (in time the whole World, which will follow us, of course) of all colors will unhesitatingly embrace one another as equals.

George A. Winkel

Date: Sat, 10 Apr 1999 01:10:10 -0500
From: “A.D. Powell” powell@danenet.wicip.org
Subject: RE: Debate between George Winkel and Prof. Vernellia Randall

Can Prof. Randall explain what, exactly, is this “black culture” that supposedly unites everyone she would wish to call “black” or “African American”?

Why is a French mulatto called the “African American” or “black” founder of Chicago? Why are Alexandre Dumas and Alexander Pushkin presented to school children as famous “blacks” when they were French and Russian, respectively, and overwhelmingly “white” in their ancestry?

Why are African and West Indian immigrants called “African American” when they are culturally distinct from American “blacks”? Why shouldn’t Latinos be called “African American” based on the same standards? Is it because Latinos would throw a fit over being linked with such an “inferior” people and you “blacks” respect that. Sick but true.

Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, “mulatto elites” have been both praised and condemned for their “white” culture as well as phenotypes. There is a historical continuity separate from blacks. Claiming that everyone NON-BLACK descended from “blacks” is part of an “African American” ethnic group is as ridiculous as claiming that Jews constitute a “race” because the Third Reich said so. A stigma is not an ethnicity.

Here is an article I’ve written about Capt. Michael Healy (http://www.webcom.com/intvoice/powell8.html), who is being claimed as a first “black” even though he identified as Irish American and white. When “blacks” claim people like Capt. Healy, they are proclaiming their loyalty to the racist myth that racial intermixture “improves” an “inferior race” (black or non-white) and destroys or degrades a “superior” one (white). I suggest that “black” elites take a clue from American Indians. They aren’t so stupid as to claim everyone with “Indian blood.” The result: No enterprising “Bell Curve” opportunists appear every few years to “prove” them “inferior.” Why not? To do so would be politically unacceptable because of the common acceptance of Indian ancestry within European-American identity. If “black” elites stopped accusing Anatole Broyard, Jean Toomer, Michael Healy, etc. of “passing for white” while being really “black,” maybe your lineage wouldn’t carry such as stigma. Of course, you probably like it that way.

A.D. Powell

Date: Mon, 26 Feb 2001 15:09:31 -0800 (PST)
From: “I. Perry” iperry@surfree.com
Subject: Letter to the Editor

I have two questions for those of you who identify as multiracial activists.

1. Given that African Americans as a group are a “mixed race” people, in the biological sense, why is there such hostility towards being classified as African American amongst multiracial activists who have African ancestry. As a scholar of American studies and Law, I have come across statistics that suggest something in the range of 90% of African Americans have non-African ancestry. Therefore by definition African American as a “racial” or “cultural” group is a multiracial category as is Hispanic or Latino.

When I have posed this question to some people they say, well there is something different about having immediate family members who are classified different racially, versus having some distant ancestors of other races. This brings me to my second question:

2. If we all assume that race is a social construct and not really about biology, how do you classify the children of transracial adoption. Say for example a white couple adopts a child who had two biological parents who were classified as black. Is this person black or African American, or does membership in a multiracial family, make him or her a multiracial person? If not, then biology is somehow significant to the calculation, and therefore I would refer you back to the first question.

Editor: Your first question leaves me a little puzzled, so I really must know, why do people continue to call themselves African-American if they are actually “mixed race people”? Isn’t that a little dishonest and illogical? Why not tell the truth and call themselves “multiracial”? Better yet (and much more preferable), why don’t they get out of the perverse racialist business altogether by shedding “race” as an identity and becoming individuals in their own rights? You seem to have a lot of questions for “multiracials.” Have you been asking “African Americans” the same questions, or are they exempt from this scrutiny? You asked “how do you classify the children of transracial adoption.” I ask, “why do we have to?” What right does anybody have to demand a “racial” identity be fixed to anyone else?

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