White, Black, or Other:
A Reactionary Examination of Choosing an Identity
by Scottie Lowe
How many racial boxes do we really need? Jasper Short, author of a similarly titled article in the September/October 2001 edition of Upscale magazine, poses that question to address the issue of biracial persons with African American lineage choosing their identifying race. It seems he takes offense to biracial people not boldly proclaiming themselves as Black and thus denying their other parentage. If an individual has parents that are both black and white, or black and other, and is asked to select what race they belong to, there is no way he or she can choose only one race. Socially, he or she might identify with one more than the other, but in terms of documentation, there is no justification for only claiming black as their identity. To deny half of your heritage is to deny half of your true self, your essence. The biracial person may have brown skin but their mother may be white. Conversely, they might look white, but their father could very well be Latino. How society, or anyone in general, classifies or categorizes someone is irrelevant. It is the individual that has ultimate autonomy in choosing how to identify him or herself. To force someone to choose black as their race because it makes population figures ethnically advantageous or it offends the political and emotional sensibilities of the oppressed is equally as distasteful as the white majority proclaiming that one’s heritage can be determined by a drop or a fraction of blood. Black people must let go of the diseased ideology ingrained in us for so many years that says that any black blood makes you black. While we may love to claim Halle Berry, Shemar Moore, or Tiger Woods as our own, the truth of the matter is that they are not black. They are only half-black, and the Black community’s desire to commandeer their blackness for our purposes is immoral and selfish. We as black people must caution ourselves not to become the race Gestapo. “You are under arrest for not being black enough.” The face of America is changing; it can no longer been seen as simply black or white. As more and more people intermarry and/or procreate with any number of races and ethnicities, we must deal with the fact that we may need to add many different boxes. Our conscientious struggle and responsibility as people of color must be to make sure that those boxes don’t lead to discrimination, oppression, decreased opportunity, and systematic alienation.
There is another issue boiling under the surface of the implication of this article. There is an emerging trend that belies the phenomenon of African Americans choosing to identify themselves as multiracial out of a sense of self-hatred. In another article entitled Living in Black and White… The Real Reason We Talk About Race, Mr. Short eloquently and accurately states that:
… it’s not black America that originally contrived the heartbeat of race. White America pumped the first drop of blood into this struggle with its acceptance of a superiority based on fallacy, while attempting to enforce a mythical-based inferiority among black people. And to a large extent, they succeeded. While much of black America holds strong to its free and fertile mind, we live in a racially biased system that breeds inferiority and partiality wherever we look.1
Black hair, features, and skin are ugly. In fact, just being black is a shameful and loathsome thing. Those are the thoughts of the racist majority. As vile and offensive as those sentiments may sound, they are what lie at the core of this de rigueur that has black people looking to identify themselves with a distant and unknown relative. “My great-great-great grandmother was Cherokee Indian,” or, “I have white blood in me,” speaks to the need to deny your Negro ancestors out of an internalized hatred. Sometimes, all it takes is a fuzzy black and white photo in an old family album or a suggestion from a great aunt at a family reunion, and one would think that there were summers spent on the reservation doing rain dances or some other such nonsense. In this instance, the question is not of choosing a race, it becomes denying one’s identity. So ingrained in our psyches is the hatred white people have of us, we readily look to claim something else to make us just a little less despised.
BlackPlanet.com, heralded as the number one online destination for African Americans of all backgrounds, has almost four million registered members.2 Of that number, over 300,000 identify themselves as being some part Native American. It is my belief, based upon a brief investigation into the matter, that the vast majority of those identifying themselves as Native American have no cultural stronghold with any traditional Native folklore or history. While the majority of African Americans may have Native American blood in our veins, to identify with a third or in some cases fourth or fifth generation ancestor screams of a need to be something other than African American. To be defined as African American is indeed to be described as a mixture of African, Native American, and Caucasian in amounts that can never be known. Of course, no one will stand up and admit that they hate their blackness or their ancestors, but it would be an extremely difficult task to find many that would proudly proclaim, “I am the descendant of a big ole’ field nigger that labored for his entire life without education..” Instead of being proud of that fact and seeing it as an accomplishment and testimony to our will to survive as a people, we see that as being something of which we are ashamed. To check the box for just plain old black, becomes the metaphor for checking the box that says my history and ancestry is replete with a long line of cotton picking Negroes with thick lips, nappy hair, and black-as-tar skin. As a people, we are more comfortable checking the box that implies that the slave owner raped my ancestors. Even a little bit of other blood surely makes us more valuable than none at all.
I have often wondered about the genealogy of Frederick Douglass and its veracity. Douglass was known to say that his father was “rumored” to be white. Intending absolutely no disrespect, it is my feeble and yet overly active imagination that allows me to question if that story was not made up in his own mind to find some validation in himself. His full nose and wiry hair, in my mind, do not appear to be that of a mulatto child. Going on to marry a white woman in his later years, he found even more connection with the then supposed superior race. Constructing a Caucasian paternity may well have been the psychological crutch he needed to believe himself worthy of his acquired station in life as statesman. I wonder if identifying himself as half-white, obviously the race that held power, money, prestige, and status, made him feel more comfortable interfacing with his new peers. If even a tiny seed of doubt can be raised about the man that was one of the most articulate and sententious African Americans of his or any time, is it not easy to understand how the same issue might be prevalent today? It then becomes easy to see how someone ignorant of the strong and magnificent history of Africans in America would be proud to claim some other blood.
The issue of checking a box and choosing one’s identity raises many questions about public policy, miscegenation, and self-esteem. There is a very fine line between telling someone who has parents or grandparents of a different race that they must claim themselves as black versus denouncing someone else that chooses to consider themselves multi-racial based on a perception of diagnosed self-hatred. It is a subject that demands much investigation. Ultimately, if there were only two boxes, that represented a black and white totalitarian reality, a great many of us would not and could not choose either.
Scottie Lowe is creator and owner of the most unique expression of Ebony Erotica. AfroerotiK . . . Customized and Personalized Ebony erotica, created for and about people of color, to show the beauty, sensuality and passion of Black sexuality from an Afrocentric perspective.
1 Jasper Short, “Living In Black and White… The Real Reason We Talk About Race” [online magazine] The Black World Today, article dated 13 August 2001, accessed 27 October 2001; available from http://www.tbwt.com/content/article.asp?articleid=1277; Internet.
2 Available from http://www.communityconnectinc.com/index_bp.html; Internet.
Copyright © 2004 Scottie Lowe. All rights reserved.
While Scottie Lowe is correct about the rights of a multiracial identity for people from interracial couples, he is completely speculative and pre-assuming in his amateur psycho-analysis, unsubstantiated opinions and double-standards of African Americans embracing all parts of their genealogy.
Even if a person is slightly “mixed”, don’t they have the right and freedom to acknowledge it as long as it’s true. People have the freedom in America to call themselves any identity, even if there wrong, and can even reject “race” all together, If they please.
7/24/2004 8:16:57 AM
I personally hate “race” and only identify as American. I don’t want anyone dictating to me how to identify, regardless of my quantum’s. So I live life my way and respect others right to do the same.
Yet another knew jerk, typical white reaction. It would have been nice to have read my entire article before criticizing it. First, I’m a woman as evidenced by my picture with the full article. Second, I never said that a biracial person had to identify himself or herself as all black. In fact, I said EXACTLY the opposite in the very first paragraph. I find it odd that the supposed colorblind man was quick to espouse reactionary rhetoric without even reading what I had to say based on his assumption that he knows better what Black people should think and feel.
8/28/2005 8:13:37 AM