An Open Letter to Marcus Mabry of CNN

“A Father’s Day message to all dads” was published by CNN today because Mabry works for CNN and therefore knows people. It’s usually not that easy to get an opinion piece published nationally, but I have a lot to say to Marcus Mabry, so I’m glad that it is in print.

His opinion piece is about the fact that he is the father of ten-year-old “mixed” twins. He is a Black gay man and his partner is White, but that’s not really what this is about. It’s more about language than anything else. He says, “With a Black father and a White father, our boys are mixed—Black and White.” His choice of wording is “mixed,” not mine. I have two multiracial children who are now adults. They were raised to refer to themselves as “biracial” or “multiracial.”

I never liked the term “mixed.” First, it usually lends itself to newspaper headlines like “All Mixed Up” and “Mixed Nuts.” When I stopped and really thought about why mixed offends me so much, I realized that mixed is the opposite of “pure,” and do we really want to define people as pure or mixed? I don’t like the groups that are already doing that.

The nomenclature of race has quite an interesting background. Colored, Negro, Black, then African American, this group should completely understand that terminology for races changes over time. Just like mulatto morphed into mixed. The U.S. Census Bureau calls us the “Two or more races” population and will sometimes actually slip and use the term multiracial. It only took 30 years to get them to recognize that people can actually count as more than one race.

Marcus Mabry states that a Stanford University professor advised him that children should know their racial roots, and I completely agree with that, which includes all of their races, not only Black. Many multiracial children have backgrounds in Asian, Hispanic, Native American and many other cultures. They should learn about all of them.

The opinion piece also touched on having “the talk.” That’s when fathers and mothers must talk to their Black and biracial children about how to act appropriately when interacting with police officers or people who might give them trouble for any reason. When his father and I had the talk with our young son and explained why it was called “driving while Black.” He said, “I think I’ll call it “driving while multiracial.”

Marcus Mabry sounds like a good father. He wrote that “We let them decide how they wanted to racially identify themselves. They usually say their ‘mixed.’” All I ask of them is that he introduce biracial and multiracial as important options as well.

Susan Graham is president to Project RACE, the national advocacy organization for multiracial children and adults. She is the author of Born Biracial: How One Mother Took on Race in America.

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Don’t Get Conned

Don’t Get Conned

There is one whale of a story going around online today on CNN called “The blurring of racial lines won’t save America. Why ‘racial fluidity’ is a con.” Don’t get conned by believing the article by someone named John Blake. Shame on Blake and CNN for this lopsided story. It’s below, if you really want to read it.

The article itself is prejudiced against multiracial people who choose to identify as multiracial. Everyone in it identifies as black, so Blake has lots of friends who are multiracial but choose to identify as he does. Where are the defendants of choosing to embrace your entire heritage? Blake begins the academic look at the issue with long-time multiracial racist Rainier Spencer and then makes its way to other academics with similar thoughts. John Blake must get paid by the number of words he writes because he threw in just about everything even remotely having to do with race or the multiracial population.

It would be funny if it wasn’t so insane that the story only points out people who are multiracial but identify as black, like Barack Obama, as if that is the only way to correctly racial identify. That Blake goes into DNA ancestry testing, checking boxes on forms, and racial hierarches is not surprising, but to bring in boxing and OJ Simpson? He’s really stretching in many places. He also illustrates only those interracial families with racist histories, white supremacy and problems that feed into the old “tragic mulatto” syndrome.

The only place I agree with John Blake and apparently CNN on is that today’s youth will have to carry on with the racial identity questions. Until then, let’s hope the media can manage to be less biased than they are now.


Susan Graham for

Project RACE


The blurring of racial lines won’t save America. Why ‘racial fluidity’ is a con

Story by John Blake , CNN
CNN/Mar 2, 2018

 (CNN) — He was a snappy dresser with slicked back hair and a pencil mustache. A crack bandleader, musician and legendary talent scout, he was dubbed the “Godfather of R&B.”

But Johnny Otis’ greatest performance was an audacious act of defiance he orchestrated offstage.

Most people who saw Otis perform during his heyday in the 1950s thought he was a light-skinned black man. He used “we” when talking about black people, married his black high school sweetheart and stayed in substandard “for colored only” hotels with his black bandmates when they toured the South.

Johnny Otis, though, wasn’t his real name. He was born Ioannis Alexandres Veliotes to Greek immigrants in Northern California. He grew up in a black neighborhood where he developed such a kinship with black culture that he walked away from his whiteness and became black by choice.

“As a kid I decided that if our society dictated that one had to be black or white, I would be black,” he wrote in his 1968 book, “Listen to the Lambs.

“No number of objections such as ‘You were born white … you can never be black’ on the part of the whites, or ‘You sure are a fool to be colored when you could be white’ from Negroes, can alter the fact that I cannot think of myself as white.

“I do not expect everybody to understand it, but it is a fact. I am black environmentally, psychologically, culturally, emotionally, and intellectually.”


Otis was born white but chose to be black.

Otis wouldn’t be such a mystery today. He was a pioneer in what people now call “racial fluidity.” It’s the belief that race, like gender, is a choice, not a biological identity you’re assigned at birth. Racially fluid people reject the box they’re put in and craft their own identity.

If picking one’s race seems impossible, consider this example: former President Barack Obama. The nation’s first black president doesn’t fit the conventional definition of black. His father was from Kenya, in east Africa, and his mother was white. At one point, some in the black community said Obama wasn’t really black since he wasn’t a descendent of slaves from West Africa.

Not anymore. Obama said he chose his African-American identity, in part, because of how he’s perceived and because “black was cool.” Rachel Dolezal, the former NAACP official who was born white but now identifies as black, is another example of someone who chose her own racial identity.

Racial fluidity, though, isn’t confined to people in the headlines. The US is entering an era of mass “racial migration” some scholars say: Scores of Americans are leaving old racial categories behind for new ones.

“For a broadening circle of people, ancestry no longer determines identity,” Rogers Brubacker writes in his book “Trans,” which explores the parallels between gender identity and racial identity.

You may be racially fluid and not even know it.

Have you taken a DNA ancestry test that’s caused you to alter your racial identity? Are you a biracial or multiracial person who routinely changes your identity depending on your circumstances? Were your ancestors, say, Latino or Asian immigrants, but you now identify as white? Or maybe the outside world has categorized you as “white,” but that’s not how you define yourself.

Then you might be racially fluid.


Are they members of the same race? Carlos A. Hoyt Jr., with his son Evan, writes about transcending race; he says it’s a “pollutant” that must be discarded.

This racial migration is supposed to be good news for many people. The more we blur racial lines, some have argued, the more racism will lose its sting. How, for example, could a white man remain hostile to Latino immigrants after he learns his first grandchild is Latino?

Combine racial fluidity with another trend — the US is projected to become a majority-minority country by 2044 — and many envision a Brown New World where there will be such a bewildering gumbo in the nation’s melting pot that a racist would get exhausted trying to hate people who look different.

It’s a tantalizing vision of America’s future, but what if it’s not just a mirage, but a giant con?

What if racial fluidity leads not to less racism, but to more?

That’s the warning being issued by many who study racial fluidity — including some who are racially fluid themselves. They say people are naïve if they believe expanding the menu of racial choices will lead to more tolerance; that racism is deeper and more adaptable than people realize.

A brown-skinned man with a white mother can gush all he wants about his DNA mix, but that won’t stop him from being racially profiled, says Rainier Spencer, a professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, who has written extensively about mixed-race identity, including his own.

“If I stand on a corner holding a sign saying, ‘I’m racially fluid,'” says Spencer, “that still doesn’t mean I’m going to get a cab.”

Can interracial love save America?

I am one of those naïve people Spencer talks about.

I am racially fluid. I am the son of a black man and a white Irish woman. Biracial or multiracial people like myself have challenged America’s “either/or” approach to race long before someone coined the term racial fluidity.

I define myself as black. But sometimes I say I’m biracial when describing my family. When asked about my race on forms, I check different boxes depending on my mood. Race has been an inescapable subject for me since I was a kid. It permeated the world I grew up in.

I’m from a West Baltimore neighborhood that’s become a symbol of America’s racial divisions. Race riots erupted there in 2015 after Freddie Gray, a black man, died after police arrested him. The HBO series “The Wire” was set on my street corner. Growing up black in that place could be difficult. Being biracial was even more complicated.

It was a life of racial whiplash.

I experienced racism from my mother’s family. They rejected me and my younger brother at birth for being black. I didn’t meet any of them until I was in college. And they disowned my mother for being with a black man. When my father first tried to date my mother by visiting her home, her father answered the door and called the police, telling them, “I don’t want this nigger trying to see my daughter.”

I also experienced prejudice from blacks. I got into so many fights as a kid for having a white mother that I grew ashamed of her. I told my elementary school teachers that my mother was black. I dreaded the thought of walking with her in public. I just wanted to blend in.

I, too, yearn for a world where race doesn’t matter. I grew up in an era where racial blurring wasn’t cool. Biracial kids were called “mixed-nuts.” People said we were too confused to form a stable sense of self. It was an updated version of the “tragic mulatto” myth — pitiful figures trapped forever in racial limbo.

But then I started hearing people talk about America’s changing racial landscape. Obama was elected. And the tragic mulatto morphed into another stereotype — the magic mulatto. Biracial people like Obama became symbols of a post-racial America, people who would serve as “living bridges between races” as the country moved toward a new era.

That hope still lingers. In a recent New York Times essay marking 50 years since interracial marriage bans were overturned, Sheryll Cashin saidpeople who pursue interracial relationships “are our greatest hope for racial understanding.”

Cashin, a Georgetown law professor, says such relationships chip away at white supremacy because they encourage white Americans to empathize with other races.

“Eventually, a critical mass of white people will accept the loss of the centrality of whiteness,” writes Cashin, author of “Loving: Interracial Intimacy in America and the Threat to White Supremacy.”

“When enough whites can accept being one voice among many in a robust democracy, politics in America could finally become functional.”

Is such a world inevitable? I’m not so sure.

As I delved into the world of racial fluidity, I realized that treating race as a choice invites dangers people rarely consider.

Start with DNA testing. The surging popularity of genetic testing kits has literally placed the concept of racial fluidity into millions of American homes. The home genetic testing market in the US generated $117 million in sales in 2017 and is expected to grow to $611 million by 2026. Companies like 23andMe and market their kits as tools for transcending racial categories, a way of “looking beyond differences, seeing commonalities.

But these tests can actually reopen racial wounds.

That’s what I discovered when I heard of the odd story of H. Bernard Hall.

What the DNA kits don’t tell you

Hall is tall, lanky and wears dreadlocks. He’s a member of the revered black fraternity Kappa Alpha Psi; loves hip-hop; and says when he first read “The Souls of Black Folk” by W.E.B. Du Bois in college, “I thought he was telling my story.”

Hall’s DNA ancestry test, however, told him another story, one he wasn’t prepared to hear.

Hall has a white mother and a black father, but he wanted to get more in touch with his black identity. He decided to participate in a DNA ancestry project at West Chester University in Pennsylvania, where he is an assistant professor of English education.

“I really wanted to get a clearer sense of my Africanness,” he says. “I wanted to know my connections to the African continent.”

Instead, the test virtually annihilated his identity. He was so stunned when he got the results that his reaction was recorded in a New York Times article that spotlighted the DNA project.

  1. Bernard Hall and his wife are multiracial. They are raising their sons, Braden and Noah, as black.

“What are you trying to do to me?” Hall said. “You have caused a lot of problems in my family.”

Hall thought the test would show he was half African, half European. Instead it read: 91% European, 5% Middle Eastern, 2% Hispanic, and less than 1% African and Asian.

“It makes you rethink everything,” he told me later. “I was always looking for belonging and affirmation, and I thought finally science was going to affirm what I wanted to know. I thought I had a chance to fill in some of those gaps. It just opened more questions.”

One of Hall’s questions: What would happen if he shifted his racial identity? He had always defined himself as black. It’s why he and his wife, who is also multiracial, insist on calling their two young sons black, not biracial.

“Even if I’m just 1% African, my momma used to tell me, ‘If the cops stop you, they’re not going to ask if your momma is from Ireland,’ ” he says. “Even though I know that race is a social construction, it is as real as oxygen.”

Many people treat taking a DNA ancestry test as an adventure. Some post live videos on YouTube and Facebook announcing the results. Others send invitations to meet with “DNA relatives” who share the same ancestors. It all sounds like so much fun that some call this trend “recreational genomics.”

But there’s another side to DNA testing they don’t talk about in brochures: It can be traumatic. One black woman who live-streamed her DNA results was shocked to learn she was 26% British. She was confused until she realized why: If some white man had not raped a slave, she wouldn’t exist.

Hall’s DNA test evoked another ugly memory from slavery, when lighter “house Negroes” were pitted against darker “field Negroes,” he says. Some multiracial people today still buy into that thinking, that the lighter their skin the better, he says.

Hall saw his DNA results as a potential trap — an excuse to renounce his solidarity with black people and back it up with science. He wouldn’t be the first one to do so. There is a history of racially ambiguous people of color “passing” for white to avoid discrimination.

“That’s the thing about identities,” he says. “When you say what you are, you’re also saying what you aren’t.”

How racial fluidity can be used as a weapon

Saying what race you aren’t can have immense political implications.

Consider the act of “checking the boxes,” or selecting your race on forms. Multiracial people like Hall could opt out of checking the “black box.” But doing so could make it easier for institutions to conceal racism, some civil rights leaders say.

Those check marks are used to enforce voting rights and civil rights laws. They’re used to redraw congressional districts. They are especially important for uncovering covert forms of discrimination in areas such as housing and employment.

Hall, for example, is concerned about police brutality against men of color. After the 2014 death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Hall posted videos on YouTube talking about the police shooting and his own experiences with law enforcement.

If more multiracial people like him picked “white” on forms, though, it could make it more difficult to monitor racist police practices.

The U.S. Justice Department relied on racial classification statistics in its 2015 report that detailed how the city government in Ferguson, Missouri, systematically violated the constitutional rights of its black residents by treating them more as sources of revenue than citizens to serve and protect.

The following year, a federal appeals court struck down a North Carolina voting rights law it said used racial classification statistics to target blacks with “almost surgical precision.” Recent court battles over Native American voting rights also have hinged on racial classification numbers.

This reliance on racial categories to track discrimination is why civil rights groups fought so fiercely to oppose the creation of a “multiracial” category in the 2000 Census. Some saw it as a back-door maneuver to diminish the political power of racial minorities such as blacks, Asians and Native Americans. (The 2010 US Census offered a “some other race” category, which met with less resistance.)

Spencer, the UNLV scholar, echoes Hall’s argument. He is biracial but checks “black” on forms because he says it makes it easier to fight racism.

“If more people say ‘I’m fluid’ and decide not to check the boxes, then we’ve lost our ability to track discrimination,” says Spencer, author of “Reproducing Race: The Paradox of Generation Mix.”

Hall sees an even deeper danger to expanding the menu of racial options: its use as a weapon against others.

If more people can opt out of identifying as black, he says, it would reinforce a racial hierarchy that places whiter-looking people at the top and darker-skinned people at the bottom of the socio-economic ladder.

“The diversification of our population is not going to remove the white supremacy that permeates so many aspects of our life and society,” he says.


Former President Barack Obama as a child, right, with his mother Ann Dunham, stepfather Lolo Soetoro and younger half-sister, Maya Soetoro during their time in Indonesia.

You don’t hear any talk about racial hierarchies when you look at those chipper advertisements for 23andMe or It almost seems rude to raise these issues when people are rhapsodizing about how science will show us that we’re all one human family.

If this hierarchy sounds abstract to you, it’s not to me. It caused pain in my family.

I first heard about it in a song.

How the Chinese stopped being black

If you’re white, it’s all right
If you’re brown, stick around
But if you’re black,

Get back, get back, get back.

That’s the abbreviated version of a song I heard growing up. It’s called “Black, Brown and White,” and it was written by a black blues singer in the 1940s. I heard people tease one another with the lyrics. But the theme of the song wasn’t so amusing to me. I saw it reflected in a painful incident that one of my older brothers still remembers years later.

I have two older half-brothers who aren’t biracial. They share my father’s dark complexion and kinky hair. One day, when I was a child, my father took me on a walk with one of them. When some strangers approached us and regarded me with curiosity, my father beamed. He introduced me as his son. He said nothing about my older brother; he was invisible.

I love my father, but it’s an open secret in my family that he’s color struck — drawn to whiteness. He’s even admitted as much to me. Throughout his 91 years, he’s gravitated to either white or Anglo-looking Latina women. Even the mother of my older brothers could have passed for white. Perhaps some of it is the allure of the forbidden. He was born during the Great Depression and grew up in an era when a black man could get killed for “reckless eyeballing,” or looking the wrong way at a white woman.

Yet he’s not the only one who is color struck. So are some people who romanticize a world of unlimited racial choices. Here’s an ugly historical truth about racial fluidity: It tends to flow in one direction — toward whiteness.

In books like “How The Irish Became White” and “Working Toward Whiteness,” some scholars have argued that whiteness has expanded to include racial groups that weren’t considered fully white at first. A growing number of children of many Asian and Latino immigrants now identify as white. Some scholars even argue the US will remain a majority white country much longer than people think as more children of minorities identity as white.

Some groups pay for their passage toward whiteness by becoming racist themselves, some scholars say. In their book, “Creating a New Racial Order,” Harvard professor Jennifer Hochschild and her co-authors tell the story of a group of Chinese sharecroppers who settled in the Mississippi Delta after the Civil War and became merchants to the black community.

The Chinese successfully changed their legal and social status from “colored” or “like blacks” to “almost whites” by shunning their black neighbors, the authors said.

“They moved to new towns, became small entrepreneurs, broke ties with Chinese who had married ex-slaves, and rejected the children of such marriages,” the authors wrote.

As to why so many racial groups run toward whiteness, they offer a succinct explanation:

“White Americans still hold a disproportionate share of political and economic resources, and they are still the quintessential insiders.”

If anyone claims that expanding America’s menu of racial choices is going to make race relations better, here is my first question:

What if it makes this racial hierarchy worse?

That’s what two California sociologists wondered after discovering something disturbing buried in a banal government study. But they were beaten to the punch 30 years earlier by the heavyweight champion of the world.

What boxing can teach us about racial fluidity

Have you ever heard something you don’t understand, but it lingers because, on some level, it rings true? I had that experience when I heard Larry Holmes deliver a cryptic comment on race and class that took me decades to understand.

He was being interviewed by a white reporter when he said:

“It’s hard being black. You ever been black? I was black once — when I was poor.”


Michael Spinks blocks a punch from Larry Holmes, right, in 1985. Holmes’ comments on race would make a connection.

I thought about Holmes’ words when I heard about the strange statistical quirk the Californians stumbled upon.

Their discovery began with a mystery.

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics launched a decades-long survey in 1979 to gather information on a sample of 12,686 young men and women. In face-to-face interviews, researchers asked them about education, work, and whether they got sidetracked by prison, divorce or unemployment. At the end of each interview, researchers selected the race of the participants.

That’s when the sociologists, Aliya Saperstein and Andrew M. Penner, saw something strange.

As they reviewed the results of the 19-year study, they noticed that the race of about 20% of the participants changed over time. An interviewer would classify a participant white one year, and then several years later classify him as black.

Sometimes the change was temporary — a person would regain her original race after several years — while other racial reassignments lasted into adulthood. This pattern persisted even when the interviews moved from face-to-face to phone conversations in the survey’s final years. This was racial fluidity on warp drive.

What could cause this change in perception?

The sociologists found a pattern. When the social status of an interviewee decreased through an event like losing a job or getting locked up, the researcher was more likely to classify him or her as black. When their status increased by getting a job or a college degree, the interviewer was more likely to classify them as white.

That pattern suggested another troubling side of racial fluidity, one not often talked about: While people may be able to move more freely among different racial categories, the stereotypes stay the same.

This is what Saperstein and Penner suggested in their findings in the American Journal of Sociology.

The pattern in the Labor Department study, they said, showed that having more racial fluidity doesn’t automatically mean race becomes less relevant. It can actually reinforce existing racial stereotypes because race isn’t just an individual’s choice — it’s tied to each person’s social status.

Like Larry Holmes, who said no one doubted his blackness when he was poor, some of the participants in the Labor Department study suddenly became black when they lost a job or got busted for drugs.

There were plenty of people hopscotching across different racial categories in the study, but the meaning of those categories didn’t change: White was still “all right,” and black still meant “get back.”

“Even when people can choose their own race or can move across racial boundaries, that doesn’t mean that race stops mattering,” says Penner, a sociologist at the University of California, Irvine. “The hierarchy can maintain itself by reclassifying people but keep the stereotypes in place.”

If the link between race and status remains, Penner and Saperstein can imagine a future in the US where the pattern in the survey is replicated on a grand scale: More people are allowed to move across the color lines, but “such changes may only further cement racial stereotypes for those left behind.”

“The more fluid race is at the individual level, the more entrenched racial inequality will be at the societal level,” they wrote in their paper, “Racial Fluidity and Inequality in the United States.”

If you think it’s impossible to change someone’s race just because of a change in his social status, Saperstein, a sociologist at Stanford University in California, has one name for you: O.J. Simpson.

Simpson was a Hollywood star and pitchman who was seen by many as someone who had transcended being black. Sometimes this transformation was literal. In the documentary, “O.J. Made in America,” a journalist tells a story about overhearing a white woman at a restaurant say, “Look, there’s O.J. sitting with all those niggers.” A Hertz executive in the documentary said the company decided to use the former NFL running back as a pitchman because “O.J. was colorless.”

Simpson was living proof of the adage: “money whitens.” Then Simpson was arrested for the murder of his ex-wife and another man. He stopped being colorless; crime darkens. The shift was made graphic in one telling moment in 1994, when Time magazine editors placed a mug shot of Simpson on their cover that had been deliberately darkened.

“It was a metaphor,” Saperstein said, “for how far he had fallen.”

The Latin-Americanization of race in the US

If you want to see how more racial fluidity could reinforce racism, you don’t have to look at Simpson or a study, Penner says.

Look at some Latin American countries.

In countries like Brazil and Cuba, mixed-race marriages and people are common. Latin Americans tend to think of themselves not in terms of race but nationality. Racism is often seen as a US problem.

But whiteness is still dominant.


Brazil’s census offers more than 100 color catetories, and more than 40% identify as mixed.

“Racial minorities in Latin American countries tend to be worse off … than racial minorities in Western nations,” leading US sociologist Eduardo Bonilla-Silva wrote in his book, “Racism without Racists.” Discrimination against darker-skinned and indigenous people is not uncommon throughout Latin America, scholars say.

Bonilla-Silva has long warned about the “Latin-Americanization of race” in the United States. He envisions a future of expanded racial identities where people claiming the US has moved beyond race will “drown out” the voices of those darker-skinned people still fighting for racial inequality.

“The apparent blessing of ‘not seeing race’ will become a curse for those struggling for racial justice in years to come,” says Bonilla-Silva, who is president of the American Sociological Association.

That kind of future could look like what’s happening in Brazil, according to a 2017 Foreign Policy article. It details the wide array of racial choices available to Brazilians: The country’s census department offers 136 color categories, and 43% identify as mixed.

“Today, Brazilians see themselves as falling across a spectrum of skin colors with a dizzying assortment of names: burnt white, brown, dark nut, light nut, black, and copper,” the author, Cleuci De Oliveira, writes. “What ultimately binds these definitions together is an awareness that the less ‘black’ a person looks, the better.”

The same habits that long prevented some Latin American countries from confronting their racism could have the same effect in a racially fluid United States, Penner warns.

“You’re changing individuals’ racial identity instead of changing the racial hierarchy,” he says. “The lesson of Latin America is even if we don’t have these categories, there still is this hierarchy.”

Do you still believe the Earth is flat?

If racism is so tenacious and adaptable, what can be done?

I’ve been exploring that question for years. I’ve had more success answering it in my personal life by anchoring my sense of self in another type of identity: faith.

One of my best memories is from college, after I joined an interracial church. A group of youths invited me to a room, ostensibly for a meeting. When I walked in, they surprised me by forming a circle around me and welcoming me with a hearty song. As I looked at the different hues of these smiling people, some of whom would become my closest friends, I overcame some of the suspicion I felt toward white people — and found a new way to define myself.

I also reconciled with my mother’s family through meetings and letters. Reading about my mother’s Irish heritage helped me bridge the difference. When I learned about Irish immigrants’ history of suffering and dealing with racial stereotypes, I realized they had more in common with my father’s family than I’d known. Fortunately, I never had to reconcile with my mother. She never cared what color I was. She just loved me the best she could.

And yet I know, despite my personal history, race is as “real as oxygen.”

I’ve been called a “nigger” and a “biracial ape.” I’ve been racially profiled. I was once pulled off a plane and searched in front of a crowd by muscle-bound security officers. They said I had tripped an alarm. I never heard any alarm. I think I just fit the description.

How will the emergence of a Brown New World handle such encounters?

It can’t unless we change how we talk about race, some say. Forget about being post-racial: working for a future where race no longer matters. Be non-racial: work for a world where race doesn’t exist. We have to abandon categorizing people by their skin color and other physical features altogether. It’s been used far too much to foster hate and exploitation.

“We think people assign race based on skin color, hair type and nose type, and certainly they do,” says Saperstein, the sociologist. “But racial categories were never just physical descriptors. They were always categories that marked claims to superiority or inferiority, who deserved rights and who didn’t. That was why we invented the concept of race.”

To modern ears, it’s hard to believe that “race” is an invention. But the modern framework of race — a hierarchy with white on top and black on the bottom — is a relatively recent fabrication. “Black people,” for example, weren’t invented until around 500 years ago by Europeans to justify slavery and their colonial conquest of much of the world, says Spencer, the UNLV scholar.

“Did slavery or race come first? No one knows, but they certainly go together,” Spencer says.

Of course, people did notice different skin hues in the ancient world. But groups like the ancient Greeks, Egyptians and early Christians didn’t exclude or include anyone based on their skin color. They used other criteria to separate themselves, such as culture or language, says Carlos A. Hoyt Jr., author of “The Arc of a Bad Idea: Understanding and Transcending Race.”

“The ancients did not believe in biological racism,” Hoyt says. “The Greeks and Romans did not establish color as an obstacle to integration in their society. They didn’t make color as the basis for judging a person.”

Hoyt says people should treat the concept of race as a “pollutant” and a “myth” — something that has real consequences but is ultimately the product of misguided thinking.

“It’s a bad idea technically, like the notion that the Earth is flat,” he says. “It’s technically wrong. It’s a mistake.”

Having more racial fluidity isn’t enough, he says. He echoes the sentiment of Audre Lorde, a black poet and activist who said: “The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.”

“We’d do better to push against the whole edifice of race,” Hoyt says. “It’s not about racial fluidity. It’s about leaving the entire racial worldview.”

That sounds futile for many at a time when virtually every day we’re bombarded with news about racial tension. We tiptoe around words, afraid of saying the wrong thing about race in front of others — especially if they look different from us. Abandoning racial categories almost seems as futile as trying to ignore the law of gravity.

Yet Hoyt says there have been plenty of ideas that were once accepted as unassailable that have now been discarded.

“At one time, slavery was promoted and accepted by many as natural. At one point treating children like property was OK. At one point homosexuality was considered a disease,” Hoyt says. “What’s the alternative? Should we roll over? How’s the racial worldview been working for us?”

Spencer, the UNLV scholar, agrees with Hoyt. Racial fluidity, he says, can’t cure America of its original sin of racism. It can easily, though, degenerate into “a form of self-interested celebration that ends up reinforcing those racial hierarchies.”

“So you say I’m racially ambiguous — you look at me and can’t tell if I’m white or black. Maybe that’s interesting,” he says. “But so what? If I don’t attack the idea of race in general, I’m not accomplishing anything.”

Young people may be the ones to lead that attack.

Europeans invented the concept of race to justify slavery and colonization, says one scholar.

That’s the hope I hear from people who say their kids just aren’t hung up on race. They grew up seeing a black man in the White House. The authors of “Creating a New Racial Order” are optimistic. They say young people are less driven by racial stereotypes, consider interracial relationships normal and are “the preeminent transformative force” that could create a more just racial order.

One of those people who gives me hope is Isabelle Yeung. At 20, she is part of a mixed-race studies group on Facebook. Her mother is white, and her father is a Chinese native of Mauritius, a small island in the Indian Ocean. She says she is a “bit brown” and different looking, so when people ask her “what are you,” she tells them “it’s complicated.”

“My personal answer of what race I am is, ‘None of these things,’ ” she says. “If society hasn’t got a box to put me in, I’m not going to go and make one. I’m just a person and don’t identify with any race in particular.

“I’m a human. Shouldn’t that be enough definition for all of us?”

It should be, and maybe one day it will. But then my optimism fades just a bit when I think about some other young people. I see the snarling faces of the young white men who carried torchlights while marching in Charlottesville last year. I see the Nazi and Confederate flags they flew. I’m not so sure they’re ready to be non-racial.

And then I think of something the author Naomi Klein said in her recent book “No Is Not Enough,” which examined the 2016 presidential election.

“Never, ever underestimate the power of hate, of direct appeals to power over the ‘other,’ ” she wrote.

At least Johnny Otis lived long enough to see another side of America. The bandleader was elected to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1994. One writer riffing on the “indomitable blackness” of Otis talked about how he was placed on the cover of a Negro Achievements magazine in the 1950s and became a political activist in the black community.

Otis lived long enough to see another racially fluid pioneer get elected to the White House. He died in 2012 at age 90 after being married to Phyllis, his high school sweetheart, for 70 years and raising four children together.

He never apologized for crafting his own racial identity.

“Yes, I chose,” he once told a reporter, “because despite all the hardships, there’s a wonderful richness in black culture that I prefer.”

Maybe we’ll have more people like Otis in the future, playing their own tune instead of copying someone else’s ideas about race. But if that tune still ends up saying, “if you’re white you’re alright” and “if you’re black get back,” all this talk about racial fluidity will be a smokescreen.

We’ll still be singing the same old song.


Famous Friday!

Famous Friday: Suzanne Malveaux

Suzanne Malveaux main
We watch a lot of CNN in our house and one of our favorite journalists is Suzanne Malveaux. Suzanne is an award-winning TV journalist who has been a national correspondent, covering politics, news and culture for CNN since 2002, the year I was born. She anchored the CNN program Around The World and CNN Newsroom; served as a White House correspondent, and much more.

Malveaux graduated from Harvard with an A.B. in sociology, just like my sister, former Project RACE Teens President Kayci Baldwin. Suzanne went on to earn a master’s degree in broadcasting from the Columbia. She is a member of the National Association of Black Journalists and served as a panelist questioning the candidates in the Democratic presidential primary debate in South Carolina sponsored by CNN and the Congressional Black Caucus Institute in January 2008. She has interviewed presidents George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama. She has also gotten to cover some really fascinating stories around the world. For example, she traveled to South Africa to interview the family of Nelson Mandela. She has also broken some big news, such as the retirement of Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. Pretty awesome opportunities.

She has also been recognized as “One of America’s Most Powerful Players Under 40″ by Black Enterprise, Ebony’s ”Outstanding Women in Marketing & Communications”, The 100’s “Most Influential Young African Americans”, and Essence Magazine’s “2009 Journalist of the Year”. In 2005, Malveaux returned to New Orleans to report on the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Her team earned a Peabody Award for that reporting.

Suzanne was born in Lansing, Michigan but grew up in New Orleans and Maryland. Her father, Dr. Floyd Joseph Malveaux, is Louisiana Creole, and her mother, the former Myrna Maria Ruiz, is a retired schoolteacher of Latin heritage. Suzanne has three siblings, including an identical twin named Suzette who also attended Harvard. All of the siblings have very successful careers. She also has a young adopted three year old daughter. Malveaux is committed to promoting awareness and research for ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease), which is very personal as her mother, Myrna, suffers from the debilitating disease. She enjoys participating in marathons and triathlons and is very active on Twitter. I enjoy following her and recommend you follow too! 

— Karson Baldwin, Co-President Project RACE Teens

photo cred:

Soledad O’Brien Out at CNN?

Soledad O’Brien Out at CNN?

UPDATE: The morning show pairing of Cuomo and Burnett is confirmed, per DHD. No word yet on what that means for O’Brien.

But-but -but if CNN dumps Soledad O’Brien, who will tell me who’s black in America?
The story spreading like wildfire today is that ABC’s Chris Cuomo is moving over to CNN to co-host a morning show with Erin Burnett, who currently anchors a CNN primetime hour. This wouldn’t leave a whole lot of room for CNN’s current morning host, Soledad O’Brien, whose only claim to fame has been delivering record ratings — record LOW ratings — and slow-motion train wrecks like this.
O’Brien did not make an appearance on her own show this morning, and via Twitter, told those who inquired why, that she was off to a Martin Luther King celebration:
Chris Cuomo has only ever hit my radar in a positive way. His willingness to go against The Narrative last month in the heat of the media’s fevered push for gun control, impressed me to no end. The only hope CNN has to distinguish itself is to be a news outlet that thinks independently of The Narrative — to get off the Narrative Plantation and chart its own course in covering the news.
Erin Burnett has hit my radar in ways both good and bad, but not frequently. There’s no question, though, that she’s incredibly smart. That alone will improve “Starting Point.”
If I were given the reins of CNN, my first moves would’ve been to hire Jake Tapper, dump Soledad O’Brien, and give Wolf Blitzer a starring role as Lenny in a CNN Showcase Production of: “Of Mice and Men.”
Tell me again about the talking points, Barack.
So far CNN Chief Jeff Zucker’s two-for-three.
Follow John Nolte on Twitter @NolteNC
Source: Breitbart TV


SHAME ON CNN: A commentary by Susan Graham.

CNN aired a show hosted by Soledad O’Brien Sunday called “Who is Black in America?” I have been disgusted with the public misunderstanding of multiracial people on so called news shows in the past, but this one wins the prize for the absolute worst. 

First, let’s not forget that Soledad O’Brien is an entertainer and not an authority on the news. Her game is simple: ratings. She does not believe that people get to choosetheir own identities. But neither she nor anyone else should ever question someone’s racial self-identification. 

O’Brien’s mother is black and her father is white; her mother told her not to let anyone tell her she’s not black. So she self identifies as only black, denying half of her identity. She has that right and that opportunity. I feel that everyone should clearly have the right and opportunity to choose to be multiracial, too. But she has clearly brought her identity into her job this time.

This CNN special tells the story of several multiracial people who identify only as black, and are coerced into identifying as black to be on the national news. Some “experts” are thrown in who simply are getting free publicity for their books or are holding on to their academic jobs by writing and talking about the advantages of self-identifying as black if you happen to be unfortunate enough to have been born to parents of different races. 

There is a sub-story line to the show about how performing slam poetry can make a multiracial person black, what they “really” should be. They are mentored by a “spoken word poet” who helps them realize if they are multiracial, as he is, they can identify as black, as he does. They proudly succeed with one woman who says being able to be black is “a weight off my shoulders—a milestone.”

This show is, in my opinion, the most misguided show in the CNN “race” series to date. It’s a propaganda piece for every multiracial person to identify only as black; they should not even have a choice. Ms. O’Brien even tries to completely nullify multiracial advocacy by stating that you may only choose one race on the US Census. That statement has been absolutely untrue since the 2000 US Census. 

I was almost physically ill when a teacher was showcased for teaching young children about the brown paper bag test used at the height of racism in this nation to distinguish whether a person was light enough to enjoy all those advantages of white people, whatever they might be. For example a teacher—usually white—could hold a brown paper bag up to a student’s skin and separate the class into those lighter and those darker than the bag—a kind of segregation in itself. Those with lighter skin received something better than those with darker skin. The teacher said, “The more shocking the lesson, the better.” Is this really the way to teach anti-racism to a seven year old? No. It’s a way to make white people the enemy, which is really what this show concluded in its own media kind of way.  

The show fully embraces the one-drop rule—if you have one drop of “black blood,” you are monoracially black—and as evidence, one young woman is urged by Ms. O’Brien to stop identifying as biracial and become black. How in the world is this a balanced documentary?! It should not be titled “Who is Black in America,” but rather “You, too, should be Black in America!”

Only one white father on this very biased show says that his daughters should have the option of being biracial. 

There are plenty of people who will publicly—on the Internet anyway—applaud Ms. O’Brien for whatever reason and it will give them a chance to spout more hate against the multiracial movement, Project RACE, and me. I’m used to it after 23 years of fighting for the rights of multiracial people who wish to embrace their entire heritage. What is more recent is the new hatred against white people who are being blamed for what happened so many years ago and who fostered the civil rights movement. 

A certain radio talk show host is a prime example. This was her recent statement during one of her shows: “Historically white people have had the resources to help and opinions of people of color were NEVER taken into account…yes ideas were stolen but opinions were not counted.” NEVER is a pretty powerful word, especially when capitalized. It’s also a racist comment. I believe that “people of color” can be just as racist as anyone else. One of her devoted fans answered, “White people should go teach white people [about racism] cuz they don’t seem to be listening to me.” Why would anyone of any color(s) listen to this guy?

I wonder how people would feel if Project RACE stated it is imperative that only multiracial people teach about racism, or that the black population has sole responsibility to erase racism.  Every one of every race, ethnicity, culture, nationality, and religion has a responsibility to fight racism—not just whites. 

It reminds me of when I was a teenager and met and befriended a foreign exchange student from Germany. Being Jewish, my parents were openly hostile toward him. Huh? He did not do horrible things that Germans did to Jews and that occurred before he was even born. He was not responsible for wrongs any more than I, as a white woman, was responsible in any way for slavery or racism.  

There seems to be some kind of backlash going on to hold all white people accountable for racism and to believe that they should be held responsible for what ALL white people have done forever. I believe that ALL people choose their own identity and we should all be concerned about passing down racist ideas to our future generations. 

In fact, I have been taking the heat lately from some anti-multiracial bloggers. They single me out as a white woman who has actually gotten things done in communities, states, federally, and in the educational and healthcare systems for multiracial people and then attack me just for being white. One of their main issues is that since race is a “social and not biological construct,” we should stop trying to get more medical research done to find out if multiracial people really do have certain health risks that other groups do not; in essence, we are put down for trying to help save lives. 

It has finally occurred to me that if race really is not a biological construct in the eyes of those anti-multiracial racists, I should be willing to meet them halfway. I was born in Detroit—yes, Detroit, the city, not the suburbs—to a white man and white woman, was raised by a black woman, was married to a black man for 24 years and had two multiracial children, so I am more socially multiracial than white. I “get it” enough to finally declare my identity as multiracial: biologically white and socially black. That should make them happy. As for CNN and Soledad O’Brien, they can bask in the fact that they probably did turn some viewers against multiracial people and white people in a one hour program designed to elevate ratings.

Susan Graham is the executive director and co-founder of Project RACE (Reclassify All Children Equally). The views in this commentary are her own and not those of ALL of the membership of the organization.

CNN: Get real, not superficial

Can there ever again be an ‘all-American’ beauty?

By Sarah Springer, CNN
(CNN) – As 18-year-old Giovana Frediani and her friends stood in front of the mirror to prep for a night out, one girl turned around and complained that her backside was getting big.
It was that moment when Giovana – popular, fashionable Giovana – felt the knock of self-doubt.
As usual, she dressed to accentuate her curves, a typical style among her Latina family and friends. But these friends were from a predominantly white area in Oakland. In her eyes, there was nothing oversized about them.
“If she was saying that about her own body, then she must have been thinking the same way about mine,” said Giovana, an American high school senior who grew up in a mostly Latino and black area of Oakland.
“I almost feel out of place because they define beauty in different ways than I do.”
The U.S. population is growing, changing, mixing in new ways – more people are in interracial relationships and more identify as multiracial than ever. Those realities change the way women, especially, look at others, ourselves and the idea of the “all-American beauty,” if there is such a thing.
Some trend-watchers and researchers say the increased diversity and mixing among races is shifting the population away from a standard of beauty for women that’s dominated by white faces. Others agree that it’s happening, but say it’s driven by mass media’s desire to reach a more diverse audience – or sell products to it.
Out of 2,000 people who responded to an Allure magazine poll in 2011, 73% of women said they find curvier bodies more attractive now than they did over the last 10 years. People polled said they wanted larger lips, butts and hips, an Allure editor said, and 70% of those who want to change their skin color said they want it to be darker. The same survey said 64% believe women of mixed race represented the “epitome of beauty.”
And 71% of women and 67% of men said there’s no such thing as an “all-American” look.
The results were wildly different from a similar poll the magazine conducted when it launched in 1991, Allure Executive Editor Kristin Perrotta said.
“There was a dramatic shift in what people considered the beauty ideal in America now,” she said.  “We went from the blond hair, blue-eye, typical all-American girl like Christie Brinkley in 1991, to this dark, sultry Angelina Jolie ideal in 2011.
“It just was not what you would have imagined the Hollywood ideal being, which is also this tall, thin, blond ideal that we are sort of used to.”
But even before girls and women tackle universal beauty ideals, they’re often struggling to understand standards closer to home.
Looking in the same mirror as everyone else’
Marium Soomro parents’ are from Pakistan, and even before she hit the teen years, her mom brought home the skin lightening cream Fair and Lovely. Women in her family used it in Pakistan, and carried on the practice in the United States, she said – even her fairer-skinned mothers and sisters.
“‘Hey, put this on, you’ll get whiter,’” she remembers her mom saying. “Or, ‘Put yogurt on your face at night and your skin will get lighter.’”
Soomro is 23 now, and a student at Rutgers University. She still uses the cream sometimes, she said.
Then there’s Leslie Rosales, 27, a Filipino who was born and raised in a predominantly black neighborhood in South Los Angeles. She’s Asian, but connected more with her black friends’ sense of beauty and style.
“Going to the Philippines, everyone there was petite,” she said of trips to her family’s home country. “They’re small and for some reason I’m not. I’m 5’4″ and I weigh 155, I’m considered an overweight giant in the Philippines.
“I felt the pressure from family and tried to change, so that was difficult, dealing with what my family thought I should look like opposed to what I thought I should look like.”
Giovana, the Oakland high school student, said she feels pretty among her classmates and community, and it makes her feel in control. But in a different part of town, among a different set of friends, feeling not-so-pretty made her want to act differently, too.
When she stopped playing volleyball at school and gained some weight, she said, a few extra pounds didn’t seem pretty anymore. She started binge eating and over-exercising, and it took a long time to recover from those behaviors, she said.
“Honestly, I wonder if I’m looking in the same mirror as everyone else,” Giovana said. “I’ve noticed just how important a perfect body is to every girl. It’s like we are blindly trying to find a way to be who we want to be and the most immediate way we can think of to manipulate who we are is physically.”
When a person is confronted with a dominating culture that differs from their own, the culture outside the home tends to win, said Maya Poran, an associate professor of psychology at the Ramapo College of New Jersey.
“If what you’re sharing in the home is contrasting from that immediately around you and the power of that communication is so much more constant and intensive, we do find that dominant cultural norms win,” she said. “If every single day we’re getting feedback that is telling us negative, it is likely that we are going to feel that thing is negative.”
Although perceptions of beauty can differ depending on culture, race, ethnicity and experience, no one is exempt from the pressures of universal beauty ideals within America.
“The issues about body and beauty are shifting – they’re not disappearing,” Poran said. “Everyone is affected by it, influenced by it, and related to it in some way.”
Even as body and beauty standards shift and include more people of color, Poran said there will still be a dominant body type – thin and white – which can be a struggle for women outside that body type.
“There is a white norm and there’s a black norm and a Latina norm and there is an Asian norm, and they are all equally different, but there is a dominant standard of beauty, which is white or white-like,” Poran said. “The more people who are included in very a narrow version of beauty, the more likely they will compare themselves against it and feel negative about themselves.”
“No one is untouched by it. No one.”
 ‘A a narrow version of beauty’
Poran, who is writing a book about race and beauty, said she began to research body ideals after she noticed most studies used white women as a standard of beauty, even as they studied women of different racial and ethnic backgrounds.
“For the majority of this research vein, whiteness was the unquestioned image of beauty,” she said. “Meaning when we’re talking about beauty or body, they were covertly talking about whiteness, but not realizing it.”
Poran organized different focus groups geared toward allowing white, black and Latina women to define their own feelings about beauty.
Young black and Latina women Poran interviewed said they felt judged by multiple standards of beauty – one within their own racial or ethnic community, and another set by a larger white, Anglo community.
“There was no way to get it right,” Poran said. “If you can walk through many different worlds at once, you can be judged by many different standards at once.”
And the pressure to be thin and light-skinned can weigh even on those who seem to match it most closely.
As a child and teen, Rachel Blais always felt ugly. She was pale and tall with curly hair.
“I was very skinny, I had no boobs, I guess that body type when you’re about 13, 14,” said Blais, who was recently featured in the documentary, “Girl Model.”
At age 14, she was recruited to work as a model. By 17, she was traveling internationally for her career. Now 27, she still works in the industry, but she’s among the older models, she said. Many of her colleagues now are prepubescent girls or teens, all of them posed to look like older women.
“Using 15-year-old girls to represent the ideal woman makes me think that a woman of 25, 30, 40 years old looks at those billboards and at a magazine and is looking at girls … disguised as women promoting clothing for women,” she said. “You can’t ever go back to being 15.”
Rachel Blais is featured in the documentary “Girl Model.”
Joan Jacobs Brumberg, a historian who wrote “The Body Project: An Intimate History of American Girls,” said it’s easy to blame images in the media, but women’s body obsessions were long in the making – and modern conveniences have made it easy to keep those obsessions going.
“I always say you can’t blame it on Twiggy or Calvin Klein. I think they’re implicated,” but it really started in the 1920s, she said. “When you have calories, when you have mirrors, when you have bathroom scales, when you begin to have standard sizing, you don’t have a dressmaker, or a mother who makes your clothes and you have to get into a particular size – those things are critical in how women think about their bodies.”
Taylor Cook, an agent at Fusion Models in New York, said lithe bodies and symmetrical faces are still in demand, but the modeling industry is starting to seek more diverse skin tones and features prominent only among certain ethnic groups. Asian models like Tian Yi and Lina Zhang are representing products in national and international media.
“(They are) two of our top-selling girls, getting all of the major beauty campaigns and high-fashion editorials, and looking at other agencies, their Asian girls are doing really well,” Cook said. “If you would have gone back a few seasons, you didn’t see a lot of Asian girls.”
Perrotta, the Allure editor, expects America’s celebrated beauties will keep changing, too.
“In terms of the models and celebrities who are idolized, they’ll be ethnically vague. You can’t tell if they’re black or white or Hispanic, it’s going to be this mixture,” Perrotta said. “Everyone can see a little bit of themselves in these people rather than the classically Anglican features, or classically black features.”
Linda Blum, associate professor of sociology and interim director of women’s, gender and sexuality studies at Northeastern University, said changing standards of beauty are driven more by business than by cultural curiosity, diversity or acceptance.
“If we have more multiracial children, or more biracial children will (this) lead to more uniform and diverse standards of beauty? I don’t really think so,” Blum said. “I don’t mean to be completely conspiratorial, but (people will) have to find some other way to sustain growing markets.”
Maybe, with the next generation of consumers.
Giovana, the student in Oakland, will graduate high school this year. She thinks life outside the classroom walls will make it easier to understand who she is and what she thinks is beautiful – or how much it even matters.
“I do have a mind, I do have a direction that I want to go in, and aspirations,” she said.
Her goal? Show business.
“I want to do something in that industry,” she said.
Then she added, laughing – “which is all based on looks.”

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