Date: Tue, 02 May 2000 00:00:56 -0500
From: A.D. Powell
Subject: “Jefferson’s Blood”
Here are my comments on the PBS “Frontline” program, “Jefferson’s Blood.” It seemed obvious to me that Shelby Steele, the black-identified son of a “white” mother and father of two 3/4 “white” children, had an “anti-passing” ax to grind. First, where the hell were the descendants of Eston Hemings Jefferson – the ONLY Hemings descendants so far who have PASSED the damn DNA test? I believe they were absent because they have been successfully “white” for generations and Steele didn’t want the PBS audience to see that as a legitimate option. He focused on the previously unknown Cooper family, descendants of one of the Hemings sons who remained in a mulatto (as opposed to “black”) community, because he could easily use them to project a “tragic mulatto” stereotype.
Here’s why Steele focused on the Coopers instead of the Eston Hemings descendants:
1) The “white” Coopers have a “passing” father upon whom Steele and the “black” Coopers could heap abuse.
2) The very white-looking “black” Coopers are fanatics who insist that they are “black” and NOT “mixed.” (Note that this is asserted while obviously practicing endogamy for generations with other physically “white” people of mixed ancestry.)
3) The confusion of the “white” Amalia Cooper (daughter of the “passing” father) as to why her “black” relative are nearly all so “white” and why they jump on her if she uses the world “white” to describe even the “whitest” person with “black” ancestry, can be twisted to portray Amalia as another “tragic mulatto” who is no longer “white” but not accepted as “black” (unless she embraces the “black” Coopers’ “one drop” fanaticism).
Not only does Steele condemn anyone with the “criminal taint” of “black blood” who identified as “white,” he glorifies the obsessive behavior of the “black” Woodson family to have their supposed descent from Thomas Jefferson accepted when they FAILED the DNA test and (unlike the Eston Hemings Jefferson and Madison Hemings descendants) lack ANY documentation that their mixed-white ancestor Thomas Woodson was descended from even Sally Hemings much less Thomas Jefferson.
This is Steele’s lesson for his PBS audience: “Whites” with “black” ancestry who call themselves “white” (or otherwise non-black) are evil frauds, while “blacks” who maintain an obsession for claiming descent from a “great white man” without any real evidence to support their claim are somehow heroic. Frankly, I think the “passing” father was heroic to leave and claim a “white” identity that his black-identified relatives had always maintained was too damn good for anyone “tainted” with the “black blood” in which they CLAIM to take pride. The very “white” but black-identified Coopers are a jealous, inferiority-complex-ridden and mean-spirited bunch. They are also hypocrites. Tell me how people who claim to take pride in being “black” and expressed disdain for a “mixed” alternative identification managed to stay so “white” in phenotype throughout the 19th and 20th centuries? Obviouly, when it came to marriage partners, their passion for “blackness” was not so great.