Actor and singer Taye Diggs might be black, but he wants folks to understand that his son, Walker, isn’t — at least not entirely. That’s the message he’s been shopping around as part of a tour to promote his new children’s book, “Mixed Me.”
The tome is both inspired by and intended for kids like 6-year-old Walker, whose mother — Diggs’ former wife, Idina Menzel — is Caucasian. As Diggs sees it, Walker isn’t black, he’s biracial. And both whites and blacks seem equally invested in denying it.
A similar situation befell President Obama — whose mother was white and who decided early in his career to opt in to blackness at the expense of his white half.
Diggs’ decision to embrace his son’s biracial identity is brave — particularly for an African-American. For while America’s “one-drop” rule may have been established by white segregationists, it’s often been embraced by blacks themselves.
Stung by racism and seeking political potency (and safety) in numbers, blacks want to keep as many folks in their fold as possible — all black, half-black or whatever. How else to explain why black leaders were some of the most vocal opponents of the introduction of a “multi-racial” category in the 2000 US Census?
Then there’s the common black contention that all African-Americans are of “mixed” ancestry as a result of miscegenation during slavery. That might be true, but Diggs is speaking of his son being “biracial” — not “multi-racial”; his book focuses on kids whose parents are of two entirely different races, not mixes of many.
For whites, meanwhile, “one drop” helps them do what they’ve always done best — protect their privilege by any means necessary. To them, it’s not so much about who is Caucasian, but rather making it clear who isn’t. This is where “one-drop” comes in — to shut their biracial brethren out of the cultural, historical and economic benefits of whiteness.
Diggs is challenging both of these sentiments and should be applauded for doing so — particularly with nearly 7 percent of Americans describing themselves as mixed-race, according to a June Pew Research study.
No one is suggesting children like Walker should be described as white. But Diggs rightly demands that it’s time folks stop denying that his son is, ultimately, as much white as he is black.
Or, perhaps, even more so — I know from personal experience.
For the first four decades of my life I assumed my genes were equally derived from my white Jewish mother and African-American dad. Sure, like most black families, we knew history had “whitened” my father’s blood line. A great-great-grandfather, for instance, was an Irishman who had almost certainly married his slave (my great-great-grandmother) in antebellum Texas. But it wasn’t until I took the simple genetic test from 23andme that I found out just how whitened our family had become.
The test’s results ranged from the obvious — a predisposition for myopia and overeating — to the startling. For it turns out that genetically, at least, I’m actually 50 percent “more” white than black — 39.1 percent “Sub-Saharan African,” to be precise, compared to 59.1 percent “European.” My mom’s line, as expected, is pretty pure — virtually 100 percent Ashkenazi Jewish. But along with bits of Native American, my father was nearly 20 percent white — far more than we’d ever imagined.
Of course all of this data was just that — numbers and graphs and charts. As cases like Tamir Rice and Trayvon Martin illustrate, my 23andme test isn’t going to protect me from racist vigilantes or shield me from bigoted cops. Nor might my newfound “whiteness” exempt me from the history of injustice and inequality that continues to define much of the contemporary African-American experience.
But the results did upend many of the racial preconceptions that had guided my life, causing me — like Diggs — to further question the very notion of racial categorization itself.
Critics of Diggs have dismissed the actor as attempting to “deny” his sons’ blackness, which is both simplistic and untrue. Diggs hasn’t “invented” a white identity for Walker — he hasn’t had to, the kid’s mom is white. Rather, he’s demanding his boy be allowed to claim what is merely a biological fact.
Progressives of all colors insist they respect the right to ethnic self-determination — but that respect seems to wane when it comes to being biracial. In Obama’s case, “choosing” blackness probably helped simplify what was already a complicated and combative political journey. Saying he was “black” — no matter the half-truth — made it easier for Americans of all colors to contend with his historic candidacy. And with (sadly) none of his white family at his side to muddle the message, Obama’s “all-black” narrative was easy to maintain.
Two generations later, Diggs seeks to spare his son from a similarly small-minded fate. America may not yet be truly “post-racial.” But perhaps, as Diggs discusses, the country can begin to accept that biracials are here to stay.
Biases influence how multiracial individuals are categorized
Throughout U.S. history, individuals who were part-white and part-black were typically treated as black, a tendency that has been called the “one-drop rule.”
New University of Michigan research, published inPsychological Science, demonstrates that this bias, also known as hypodescent, persists in the U.S., and is driven in part by anti-black attitudes and beliefs about the genetic basis ofrace.
“Our research offers a window into the psychological mechanisms that govern how we categorize others when we are confronted with individuals who blend identities differing in social status,” said Arnold Ho, U-M assistant professor of psychology and organizational studies.
In the first of two studies, Ho and U-M colleagues Steven Roberts and Susan Gelman surveyed nearly 150whiteAmericans about race, asking respondents about their feelings toward both African-Americans and whites, and about their beliefs concerning whetherracial categoriesare biologically determined.
The researchers also asked survey respondents to categorize multiracials (as relatively black or white, or equally black and white), and found that respondents who believed that racial categories are biologically determined and had negative feelings about African-Americans, were most likely to believe that black-white multiracials are primarily black.
The second study, involving 121 white American participants, was designed to manipulate whether individuals think about race as biologically determined. This study also measured feelings toward African-Americans and whites, and asked participants to categorize 20 racially ambiguous faces as black, black-white multiracial, or white. Participants who were exposed to the idea that race can be biologically determined, and who harbored anti-black biases, were more likely to categorize faces as black, Ho said.
“Multiracialindividualsmake up a rapidly growing population, and they often identify in ways that do not reflect traditional ‘black‘ or ‘white’ categories,” said Roberts, a U-M doctoral candidate in psychology. “However, our data show that biological concepts of race and intergroup biases prevent people from thinking about race more flexibly.”
Blacks More Likely to Die Suddenly From Cardiac Arrest, Study Finds
African-Americans are twice as likely as whites to die from sudden cardiac arrest, and they are younger on average when it happens, too, researchers reported Monday.
It’s more troubling evidence that blacks have more severe heart disease than whites, but it’s still not clear why.
Sudden cardiac arrest can be caused by heart attacks but it’s also caused by irregular heart beat and electrical disturbances. The study of more than 100 blacks and 1,200 whites who suffered cardiac arrest in the Portland area showed that blacks were, on average, six years younger than whites when it happened.
Blacks were also more likely to have other diseases, such as diabetes, high blood pressure and kidney disease, than whites.
“We do not know why African-Americans are more likely to have sudden cardiac arrest,” said Kyndaron Reinier of the the Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute, who led the study.
“It could be due to the higher burden of illnesses that increase risk of heart disease, like hypertension and diabetes. Or it could be genetic because we know that certain health conditions are more prevalent in particular groups of people. Or, the reason could be environmental, such as access to good healthcare. But there is no doubt that there are differences between the races when it comes to clinical outcomes.”
The study, published in the journal Circulation, adds to a growing number of studies showing that U.S. blacks are far more likely than whites to suffer from many chronic diseases, from heart disease to some types of cancer. Heart attack rates are higher among African-Americans, for instance.
And there’s some evidence that it’s not all due to different diets, different lifestyles or even different access to health care. There’s evidence of biological differences, such as the discovery that one test of heart disease risk is more accurate in black women.
“Because sudden cardiac arrest is usually fatal, we have to prevent it before it strikes,” said Dr. Sumeet Chugh of Cedars-Sinai, senior author on the study. “These findings suggest the possibility that when it comes to prevention of sudden cardiac death, different races and ethnicities may not necessarily be painted with one broad brush.”
Rural African-American women had lower rates of depression, mood disorderAfrican-American women who live in rural areas have lower rates of major depressive disorder (MDD) and mood disorder compared with their urban counterparts, while rural non-Hispanic white women have higher rates for both than their urban counterparts, according to an article published online by JAMA Psychiatry.
MDD is a common and debilitating mental illness and the prevalence of depression among both African Americans and rural residents is understudied, according to background in the study.
Addie Weaver, Ph.D., of the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and coauthors examined the interaction of urban vs. rural residence and race/ethnicity on lifetime and 12-month MDD and mood disorder in African-American and non-Hispanic white women.
The authors used data from the U.S. National Survey of American Life, a nationally representative household survey, which includes a substantial proportion of rural and suburban respondents, all of whom were recruited from southern states. Participants included 1,462 African-American women and 341 non-Hispanic white women.
Overall, when compared with African-American women, non-Hispanic white women had higher lifetime prevalences of MDD (21.3 percent vs. 10.1 percent) and mood disorder (21.8 percent vs. 13.6 percent). And non-Hispanic white women also had higher prevalences of 12-month MDD than African-American women (8.8 percent vs. 5.5 percent), according to the results.
The study also found that rural African-American women had lower prevalence rates of lifetime (4.2 percent) and 12-month (1.5 percent) MDD compared with their urban counterparts (10.4 percent and 5.3 percent, respectively). The rates were adjusted by urbanicity and race/ethnicity.
The same was true for mood disorder, with rural African-American women having lower adjusted prevalence rates of lifetime (6.7 percent) and 12-month (3.3 percent) mood disorder when compared to their urban counterparts (13.9 percent and 7.6 percent, respectively), according to the results.
However, rural non-Hispanic white women had higher rates of 12-month MDD (10.3 percent) and mood disorder (10.3 percent) than their urban counterparts (3.7 percent and 3.8 percent, respectively).
“These findings offer an important first step toward understanding the cumulative effect of rural residence and race/ethnicity on MDD among African-American women and non-Hispanic white women and suggest the need for further research in this area. This study adds to the small, emerging body of research on the correlates of MDD among African Americans,” the study concludes.
Addie Weaver, Joseph A. Himle, Robert Joseph Taylor, Niki N. Matusko, Jamie M. Abelson. Urban vs Rural Residence and the Prevalence of Depression and Mood Disorder Among African American Women and Non-Hispanic White Women. JAMA Psychiatry, 2015; DOI: 10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2015.10
Michelle Obama’s mom says she was wary of ‘biracial’ Barack, but glad he wasn’t ‘completely white’
An interview Michelle Obama’s mother gave during the 2004 Chicago Senate has resurfaced thanks to a new book about the first lady, and it brings new attention to Marion Robinson‘s misgivings about her daughter’s marriage to the biracial Barack Obama.
Robinson, now 77, said she was wary about her daughter marrying Obama, who had a black father and white mom, but it could have been worse.
“That didn’t concern me as much as had he been completely white,” she said during the interview with WTTW’s “Chicago Tonight,” which was unearthed by Michelle Obama biographer Peter Slevin .
“I guess that I worry about races mixing because of the difficulty, not for, so much for prejudice or anything,” she added. “It’s just very hard.”
Slevin wrote that Obama’s interracial background wasn’t enough to make Robinson oppose the marriage, according to the Daily News.
“Marian, no pushover, was favorably impressed with Barack.” he wrote.
Robinson famously moved in with the first family when they moved into the White House in 2008.
The book, “Michelle Obama: A Life,” is due to hit bookstores April 7.
Apparently Black is also beautiful in Japan, despite the nation’s reputation for a lack of diversity.
Ariana Miyamoto, daughter of a Japanese mother and African-American father, recently became the first multiracial contestant to be crowned Miss Universe Japan, according to news reports. The former Miss Nagasaki will represent Japan in the 2015 Miss Universe pageant.
Local media describe the 20-year-old as a “saishoku kenbi,” a woman blessed with both intelligence and beauty. She holds a fifth-degree mastery of Japanese calligraphy, according to JapanToday.com.
But there have been mixed reactions to a “hāfu,” the Japanese word used to refer to half-Japanese individuals, representing the country.
“The selection of Ariana Miyamoto as this year’s Miss Universe Japan is a huge step forward in expanding the definition of what it means to be Japanese,” Megumi Nishikura, filmmaker and co-director of the film “Hafu: The Mixed-Race Experience in Japan,” told NBC News. “The controversy that has erupted over her selection is a great opportunity for us Japanese to examine how far we have come from our self-perpetuated myth of homogeneity while at the same time it shows us how much further we have to go.”
The Japanese Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare has reported that one in 49 babies born in Japan today are born into families with one non-Japanese parent, according to “Hafu.”
While the nation remains a center of global tourism and trade, it remains skeptical of diversity and actually prides itself on its homogeneity—more than 98 percent of the population comprise Japanese nationals, according to Vox.com. As such, it has a long and complicated history of racism.
A high-ranking member of our family administration, who wishes to remain anonymous, has the audacity to characterize me as “contrary.” She has never understood that I am just an early adopter of enlightened views that the masses eventually will embrace.
For instance, I’m still waiting for America to elect our first African-American president. In my view, Barack Obama is just another in the long line of white guys to hold that office. Long before we knew what the prez put on his census form, everyone looked at Obama’s dad and considered Barack “black.” Well, I find it just as reasonable and a lot more logical to look at Obama’s mom and declare him “white.”
Why not? This “one-drop of black blood” thing for assigning race is not only old school, it is colonial Virginia old school, which over time has become generally accepted. Both whites and blacks like it because it makes it quick and easy to categorize folks. Black people also find it appealing since we then can claim mixed-race celebrities as one of us. (This can sometimes lead to buyers’ remorse, however. In my barbershop, as Tiger Woods’ personal problems surfaced, the talk quickly went from, “Our brother, Tiger, has got that golf thing whipped” to “What was that Asian dude thinking?”)
Obama missed a lot by not playing his “white race” card. He could have had birthers tied in knots over Kansas instead of Kenya. He could have explained his attendance at the Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s church by saying he was just doing research on black folks. It also would offer an account for Obama’s lame basketball game. And don’t give me that, “Well, he certainly looks black.” Hello, so does Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, and no one challenges his authenticity.
Maxine Waters, Tavis Smiley and Cornel West are starting to tilt in my direction as they criticize Obama for not being “black enough.” Well, duh, maybe the man wasn’t black to begin with. What brother do you know who was reared in Indonesia and Hawaii? Even if my man started out certified 100% African, growing up in those two places would have sucked all the black out of him.
OK, so up to now, no one but me considers Obama white. But why isn’t he ever referred to as biracial? How can that be overlooked? Americans claiming multiracial identity is burgeoning, with one in seven marriages now multiracial and mixed-race individuals are a population that has increased by roughly 35% since 2000. (Interestingly, the rates of intermarriage are lowest between blacks and whites. Go figure.)
Anyway, the aforementioned critic embedded in my marriage advises, “Enough with the labels” and says that my inverting stereotypes is hardly constructive. Once again, she’s right, of course. In truth, no matter how you come at it, there’s no excuse for putting people into boxes based on their birth.
I think it is Dr. Seuss who appropriately said: “A person’s a person, no matter how” bred (or whatever).
The world of racial identification according to Pew Research:
First, the multiracial categories that include black racial identity are categorized as black. (7 CPS categories)
Next, if the multiracial category does not include black, but does include Asian or Hawaiian/Pacific Islander, the person is categorized as Asian or Hawaiian/Pacific Islander. (6 CPS categories)
Then, if the multiracial response includes white, the person is categorized as white. (This option has the effect of assigning persons reporting white and American Indian as white.)
Finally, because the CPS includes only 14 of the 26 possible multiracial categories, it has two residual multiracial categories—“2 or 3 Races” and “4 or 5 Races”. Persons in these two residual categories are assigned as black.4
The Financial Consequences of Saying ‘Black,’ vs. ‘African American’
People make vastly different assumptions about salary, education, and social status depending on which phrase is used.
One hundred years ago, “Colored” was the typical way of referring to Americans of African descent. Twenty years later, in the time of W.E.B. Du Bois, it was purposefully dropped to make way for “Negro.” By the late 1960s, that term was overtaken by “Black.” And then, at a press conference in a Hyatt hotel in Chicago in 1988, Jesse Jackson declared that “African American” was the term to embrace; that one was chosen because it echoed the labels of groups, such as “Italian Americans” and “Irish Americans,” that had already been freed of widespread discrimination.
A century’s worth of calculated name changes are a testament to the fact that naming any group is a politically freighted exercise. A 2001 study catalogued all the ways in which the term “Black” carried connotations that were more negative than those of “African American.” This is troubling on the level of anindividual’s decision making, and these labels are also institutionalized: Only last month, the U.S. Army finally stopped permitting use of the term “Negro” in its official documents, and the American Psychological Association currently says “African American” and “Black” can be used interchangeably in academic writing.
But if it was known that “Black” people were viewed differently from “African Americans,” researchers, until now, hadn’t identified what that gap in perception was derived from. A study, to be published next month in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, found that “Black” people are viewed more negatively than “African Americans” because of a perceived difference in socioeconomic status. As a result, “Black” people are thought of as less competent and as having colder personalities.
The study’s most striking findings shed light on the racial biases undergirding the professional world. Even seemingly innocuous details on a resume, it appears, can tap into recruiters’ biases. A job application might mention affiliations with groups such as the “Wisconsin Association of African-American Lawyers” or the “National Black Employees Association,” the names of which apparently have consequences—and are also beyond their members’ control.
In one of the study’s experiments, subjects were given a brief description of a man from Chicago with the last name Williams. To one group, he was identified as “African-American,” and another was told he was “Black.” With little else to go on, they were asked to estimate Mr. Williams’s salary, professional standing, and educational background.
The “African-American” group estimated that he earned about $37,000 a year and had a two-year college degree. The “Black” group, on the other hand, put his salary at about $29,000, and guessed that he had only “some” college experience. Nearly three-quarters of the first group guessed that Mr. Williams worked at a managerial level, while 38.5 percent of the second group thought so.
Curiously, the authors of the study itself avoid taking a side in the question of whether to use the term “Black” or “African American,” instead using “Americans of African descent.” The lead author, Emory University’s Erika Hall, told the podcast On the Media that this was done primarily out of a desire not to confuse the reader. She has doubts about the practicality of the term “Americans of African descent”—it’s kind of a mouthful—but is hopeful that a new phrase, purged of the old weight, will arrive someday. “I think a lot of the stigma is embodied in the time in which the term was created,” Hall told On the Media. “Eventually, there shouldn’t be a stigma attached with the word that’s created out of a more positive time.”
Hall’s findings suggest there’s an argument to be made for electing to use “African American,” though one can’t help but get the sense that it’s a decision that papers over the urgency of continued progress. Perhaps a new phrase is needed, one that can bring everyone one asymptotic step closer to realizing Du Bois’s original, idealistic hope: “It’s not the name—it’s the Thing that counts.”
Stroke Incidence Down in Whites and Blacks Across the U.S.
The incidence of stroke has declined significantly since 1987 in both blacks and whites and in both men and women, according to a prospective cohort study of residents in four U.S. communities.
Several studies have documented a decline in stroke rates in many other countries over the past decade, but there have been persistent racial, ethnic, and gender disparities in stroke rates in the United States, according to Silvia Koton, Ph.D., of Johns Hopkins University School of Public Health, Baltimore, and Tel Aviv University.
To assess long-term temporal trends, Dr. Koton and her associates analyzed data from the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities (ARIC) study, a prospective cohort study of nearly 16,000 residents who were aged 45-64 years at baseline in 1987-1989 in Minneapolis; Washington County, Md.; Forsyth County, N.C.; and Jackson, Miss. ARIC included a comparatively large sample of black participants, and more than half the study subjects were women.
The researchers assessed 14,357 ARIC participants with 282,097 person-years. A total of 1,051 (7%) had a stroke during a median follow-up of 22.5 years for a incidence rate ratio of 3.73 per 1,000 person-years. Over time, the incidence of stroke showed an absolute decrease of 1.16 per 1,000 person-years after adjustment for age, other demographic variables, and time-varying prevalence of risk factors.
The incidence of stroke declined in blacks and whites, as well as in men and women. The incidence was 2.96 per 1,000 person-years for whites and 6.02 for blacks, with absolute, age-adjusted reductions of 0.83 per 1,000 person-years and 1.75 per 1,000 person-years, respectively. However, the decrease occurred only in people aged 65 years and older; the incidence of stroke remained steady throughout the study period in younger adults, the investigators said (JAMA 2014;312:259-68).
The risk of stroke mortality significantly declined by 20% after adjustment for age, but the reduction shrank to a nonsignificant 10% after the researchers fully adjusted for age, sex, race, center (demographic variables), hypertension, diabetes, smoking, and cholesterol-lowering medication use. In contrast to the decrease in incidence, the decrease in mortality was observed primarily among patients younger than age 65.
Stroke incidence and mortality have declined across racial groups, but the disparity between blacks and whites still persists, Dr. Ralph L. Sacco and Dr. Chuanhui Dong of the department of neurology at the University of Miami wrote in an editorial (JAMA 2014;312:237-8).
“Unless health disparities are addressed and innovative strategies to change behavior are developed and adopted, the cerebrovascular health of the population will be unlikely to improve.” In particular, younger segments of the population must protect their brain health – especially by managing controllable risk factors such as diet, exercise, smoking, and obesity – to enhance the chance of successful cognitive aging, they noted.
The study was not designed to determine why these trends occurred, but it is likely that these factors played a significant role: improvements in the control of risk factors such as hypertension, smoking, diabetes, dyslipidemia, and atrial fibrillation, and the use of reperfusion therapy and improved postacute management strategies, the researchers said.