You are what you look like: biracial, multiracial, black, white, well, most of the time
Originally published: blogcritics.org
March 1, 2011 see article below:
February is famously black history month, but that is not why I am writing about race or racial classification. I am writing about it because of the boundless interest, negative or positive, and the confusion concerning miscegenation in this country. There are four major things that influence my point of view and expertise: my own large extended family (that includes the above categories), genetics, classification-confusion among regular folks (and the rich and famous); what the country of Brazil decided to do a few years back: reclassify everyone based on phenotype (appearance).
Let’s start with Brazil. It is that large country in South America that President George Bush was so unfamiliar with that Condoleezza Rice had to tell him privately: “Brazil is a black country.” In fact it is the blackest country outside of Africa. http://encyclopedia.jrank.org/articles/pages/6027/Brazilian-Racial-Formations.html
The Brazilian system of racial classification is far more complex [than the one-drop rule]. In Brazil, people are assigned to racial groups based on what they look like—their skin color, hair type, and facial features—regardless of their ancestry. As such, individuals may be assigned to different racial groups than their parents, siblings or other relatives. Moreover, how individuals are classified racially does not depend solely on their physical appearance. Social class, education, and manner of dress all come into play in assigning someone to a racial category. As Brazilians put it, “money whitens,” so the higher the social class, the lighter the racial category to which an individual belongs. source
Why are things so complicated in this country? We might gain some insight into it by looking at Brazil’s buzz word: “money whitens.” That is a sword that cuts both ways because it confers on those with the proper phenotype the ability to earn more over their lifetime than their blacker brothers and sisters.
During slavery blacks made this distinction: “field Negro and house Negro” same thing, different name. If you are unconvinced of this wisdom of the crowd then look at unemployment figures: blacks versus whites; the whiteness and foreign-born of Silicon Valley; Hollywood and the wealth of black households versus white, with almost exponential differences.
Let’s look now at what Hollywood and Halle have to add to the conversation. Halle Berry will grace the March issue of Essence magazine.
And in it she speaks for herself but not for Hollywood when she states she wants her daughter known as black. Even though this year’s Academy Awards will be the whitest in ten years, directors have been known to cast “black” actors who look white as white. This is not the same colorblind casting that calls for an individual male or female person, and does not specify race, then someone with stature such as Denzel Washington or Will Smith is cast. That’s colorblind casting and it seems to happen only to those who are big box office draws in the first place.
Halle thinks her daughter is black because her mother is black. She does not stand alone in her assessment but I don’t think she could fill a stadium with that argument either. Opinions online include that Nahla is 75% white and therefore what? That’s where the logic ends. My guess is that they arrived at this figure by adding 25% white genes from Berry and 50% white genes from Gabriele Aubry, therefore she becomes 75% white, but not white based on one drop. That makes no sense to me. The reality is closer to Nahla as 85-95% white genotype. And in any other country would be classified as white. But here she is simply black.
Sounds simple? It is not that simple, as the one-drop rule that Berry invoked implies. Halle was wrong and I hope she reconsiders, or next time has a baby with a black man. I would advise anyone from Tiger Woods to Halle Berry to Alicia Keys to Mariah Carey and others whose offspring look white (or has a white parent) put white on their birth certificate. Some cases do become simple only when a biracial (Barack Obama) or multiracial person marries a black person and their offspring looks identifiably black. But that is not what nieces in my family did and that is not what Halle Berry did—they had offspring with white men, hence their children look identifiably white, not biracial not mixed. Case closed.
Income earning potential and white skin is another fact of life that is tucked away in that same safe deposit box of birth certificates with “white” written on them. That factor cannot be erased as the AAA (see below) would have us believe. There is little doubt that such a birth certificate will determine that white-phenotype adults will live in white enclaves and have a better shot at owning a business or become a tech-savvy billionaire. Since the question of race does not come up in an interview nor is it part of the application process, it probably won’t be volunteered by the applicant. However, oddly enough I’ve seen the mostly white-looking crowd often eager to confess “hey I’m part black.” Probably since their white looks loom larger than the chances of being excluded from the all-white and HB1 Asian (also Caucasian) IT staff at Google, Yahoo!, or Facebook or lose a part that calls for a pretty, young, white face. Don’t make an issue where there is none—you look white therefore you are—a good thing. A good thing because if that person had to take their “blackness” including long blonde hair, slim figure, and educated manner (talking white), fair skin and blue eyes to the “hood” then good luck “passing” for black. I know firsthand that this does not work. These folks cannot make other blacks welcome them as part of the tribe. There is wisdom of the crowd.
Even anthropologists, it seems to me, have backtracked on the issue of “race” with this advice to the federal government http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Race_and_ethnicity_in_the_United_States_Census
The American Anthropological Association (AAA) recommends the elimination of the term “race” from OMB Directive 15 during the planning for the 2010 Census. During the past 50 years, “race” has been scientifically proven to not be a real, natural phenomenon. More specific, social categories such as “ethnicity” or “ethnic group” are more salient for scientific purposes and have fewer of the negative, racist connotations for which the concept of race was developed.
As a student of anthropology I respectfully disagree. Their statement sounds more like pandering to the knee-jerk liberal PC crowd than to what centuries and tomes of anthropological studies have written to the contrary. If the government took this advice, which by look of the 2010 census, it did then they were looking unintentionally to contract race and ethnicity and to marginalize blacks—again. The Federal footprint also made its way into recent surveys given to public school students in Texas (maybe other states as well) which allowed for only ONE ethnic group—Hispanic, and five races: white (this definition of white), black, Asian, Pacific Islander, Native American. An informant’s ability to mix and match is thereby limited to reduce the impact of race and to elevate the significance of ethnicity—for some.
Let’s consider a recent racial example. Throughout the public schools last year the staff and parents of all students were asked to fill out federal forms about their racial identification. If they were Mexican they were “white” regardless to skin hue. Latino or Hispanic as a race was set aside as an ethnic designation only. This angered many Mexican students because they wanted to continue to use “Hispanic” as a racial class. It angered whites on the form and the census because it appeared that now only ONE ethnic group was the glue for all others. Mexican parents did not want to check the “white” box. There has been litigation and precedents set over racial classification for Mexicans living in America. What is interesting about the forms is that regardless to the dark brown skin the students are still whites of Hispanic or Latino origin. And my question is why does this rule not apply to blacks who are biracial and beyond?
But it’s official: Mexicans are white, unless they are black whether they like it or not. While a bit of mixing is allowed with the boxes checked it is race that matters. Choices (same as 2010 census) include: white of non Hispanic or Latino origin; black of non Hispanic origin, or white of Hispanic origin (Mexican-American) or other nationality such as Cuban or black of Hispanic origin (my maternal side of the family). Another link from wikipedia about Hispanic whites illustrates the point better: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/White_Hispanic_and_Latino_Americans
I know that one little article won’t fix February or black history month or change anybody’s mind, but at least people can have a civilized and more informed discussion than some I’ve seen. And just maybe the AAA and white people can stop pretending that race is of no consequence. And pretend that race does not determine financial destiny in this country. That race matters, hue don’t.
- Marcia Dawkins: Halle Berry and Nahla: Not So Mixed, Not So Happy (huffingtonpost.com)
- Why Biracial Means Black (theroot.com)
- You Are What You Look Like: Biracial, Multiracial, Black, White – Well, Most of the Time (blogcritics.org)
Posted on March 2, 2011, in Homme depot, Racial Rundown and tagged barack obama, black people, brazil, Condoleezza Rice, denzel washington, George H. W. Bush, halle berry, hollywood, Mariah Carey, One-drop rule, race, United States. Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.