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.


Citizenship Question on Census?

The DOJ Wants A Citizenship Question On The Census. That Could Blow Up The Whole Survey

Experts already concerned about census response rates say the query would cause even fewer people to respond.

The Department of Justice’s recent request to add a question about citizenship to the 2020 census has sparked concerns that such a move would lower response rates within immigrant communities.

An inaccurate Census would have severe consequences. The survey helps determine the allocation of nearly $700 billion each year in federal money, the number of representatives each state has in the U.S. House and how other electoral districts are drawn.

Even before ProPublica reported the Department of Justice request to the Census Bureau for the citizenship question, officials already faced significant challenges in getting people to respond. Among those is convincing people that the Census Bureau, which is overseen by the Commerce Department, won’t share data on individuals with other government agencies, said Arturo Vargas, the executive director of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials Educational Fund.

“What has happened in the past year or so, given the political environment, is that immigrants have become much more fearful” of contact with the federal government,” Vargas told HuffPost. “These are not just undocumented immigrants. They’re legal permanent residents, they’re U.S. citizens who have family members who are immigrants.”

Vargas, who also is a member of the Census Bureau’s National Advisory Committee on Racial, Ethnic, and Other Populations, said part of this fear arises from the policies and “new tone” of the Trump administration toward immigrants.

“So adding the citizenship question to [the census] is going to exponentially increase that hurdle to convince everybody that nothing’s going to happen to you if you answer this survey,” he said.

The Justice Department, in its Dec. 12 letter to the Census Bureau, said it needs data on non-citizens to better enforce Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. That provision prohibits the drawing of electoral maps in such a way to dilute the influence of minority votes. DOJ said the data on non-citizens would ensure districts are drawn in a way that fairly represents minority citizens.

Voting rights lawyers question that rationale, noting that the Census Bureau already asks people if they are citizens through the American Community Survey (ACS), which every year goes out to about 3 million households and extrapolates information about the U.S. population. The Justice Department said in its letter the ACS data was insufficient for voting rights enforcement and that the citizenship question should be included on the formal census, something that has not been done since 1950.

John Yang, the president and executive director of Asians Americans Advancing Justice, told HuffPost that asking about citizenship on the census would hinder the government from collecting accurate data.

“Putting it in the minds of the immigrant, they will have a certain paranoia,” he said. “Even if they are a citizen themselves, they will say, ‘Well, does this mean that they are asking me about my relatives that are here? How will this information be used against me.’ Just by its nature, because this is something that goes to the core of someone’s presence in the United States, they are going to be fearful.”

He added that among immigrants who are not English proficient, the citizenship question would “raise in them a whole host of questions of ‘I don’t want to lie, I don’t want to misstate anything, so it’s easiest just not to answer.’”

John Thompson, the former Census Bureau director who resigned in May, said he would not advise adding a question about citizenship because census officials hadn’t had a chance to measure how it would affect the response rate.

“From a census point of view … you don’t do things until you understand the effect,” he told HuffPost. Census officials don’t understand the effect (of adding the citizenship question. Without being able to measure it and trying to understand how this would affect the census and the census environment, for me, it would be hard to make that recommendation.”

Some lawmakers have previously tried to pass legislation requiring a citizenship question on the census. Rep. Clay Higgins (R-La.) last year unsuccessfully sought to withhold funding for the Census Bureau unless it added such a question.

Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) said in December he wants the census to count citizens separately from non-citizens and then use only the count of citizens to determine the apportionment of congressional seats. The U.S. Constitution requires congressional seats to be apportioned based on a count of all “persons,” not just citizens.

Terri Ann Lowenthal, who worked as staff director of the House census oversight subcommittee from 1987-1994, said that adding a question about citizenship would produce inaccuracies that would have far-ranging consequences.

Asking about citizenship “will depress response rates and just lead to a completely inaccurate census in many areas,” she said. “Those same data must be used for redistricting, as well as the allocation of hundreds of billions of dollars a year for federal funds for vital services, as well as state funds for community purposes.”

Census researchers conducting tests in preparation for 2020 already have been raising concerns about the impact of harsh immigration rhetoric on response rates. In a September memo, the researchers said field representatives and supervisors were seeing an unprecedented amount of concern about the confidentiality of census data, particularly among immigrants. The officials observed test respondents “falsifying names, dates of birth, and other information on household rosters.” In focus groups conducted in several languages to test messages for the census, respondents expressed concern about opening their door for a census-taker out of fear they could be deported.

“Spanish-speakers brought up immigration raids, fear of government, and fear of deportation. Respondents talked about having received advice not to open the door if they fear a visit from Immigration and Customs Enforcement” agents, the memo said.

The researchers called the responses “eye-opening” because many of the respondents had participated in previous census-related testing and not expressed similar nervousness or hesitation about sharing information.

Famous Friday!

Famous Friday: Marcus Scribner


You could say Marcus Scribner plays himself. The 17 year old actor who stars as Andre Johnson Jr. (Dre), the teenage son ABC’s comedy, Black-ish, has an awful lot in common with the character he plays.

“They tell the exact stories that go down in our household,” Marcus told Teen Vogue magazine. “Every single week it feels like they have cameras in our house because we have the same conversations.”

On the show and in real life, Marcus’s mom is multiracial and his dad, Troy, is black. Marcus says that being on the show has helped him embrace his multiracial identity.

“Being on Black-ish really taught me that that’s something special and to be proud of being multiracial. It’s something that’s cool and definitely, I hold dear to my heart.”

Marcus has won an NAACP Image Award for the popular show. Black-ish has been honored with the prestigious “Peabody Award,” multiple “NAACP” Awards, and “Emmy” nominations.

Marcus seems to be an exceptional teen and a great young man. When he’s not acting, he can be found traveling the world doing all kinds of good! He is passionate about environmentalism, children and animals. The Beaches Resorts and Sandals Foundation named him their first Youth Ambassador. He has visited several islands in the Caribbean helping to bring a higher education to children. He is also the Chief Youth Innovator for Reserve Protection Agency in South Africa, helping to protect Africa’s animals.

Marcus was born in Los Angeles and has a younger sister named Athena. Greek names are prevalent in their family – even for their pets. As busy as his acting and humanitarian work keeps him, Marcus still manages to be an honor student working hard towards his next dream of attending a great college like Stanford or UCLA.

Karson Baldwin, Project RACE Teens President

photo credit: Teen Vogue

Real American: A Memoir BOOK REVIEW

Book Review by Susan Graham

Real American: A Memoir

Real American

I read a review of Real American: A Memoir by Julie Lythcott-Haims in The New York Times yesterday. It said Julie Lythcott-Haims’ new memoir is about growing up biracial. It’s not. It’s about growing up black.

If you want to get really angry, read this book. In fact, it should be required reading for anyone even thinking about being in an interracial relationship and especially parents of multiracial children. In so many ways, it’s a primer on what not to do. To me, as the mother of multiracial children—now adults—it is reassuring that I raised them to embrace their entire heritage.

Lythcott-Haims claims early in the book that her parents had entered into some type of “interracial child experiment that was failing.” Experiment? Would people actually do that? Throughout the book, the author lashes out at her parents—mostly her mother—for any number of ways they let her down and made her identify as black, but in other places, she is proud of her black identity. It’s confusing.

What is very clear is that this biracial woman felt she had to make a choice. She is crazy angry at everyone and everything, yet she doesn’t get that she could have embraced all of her incredibly stunning heritage and, perhaps, celebrated that. No, being biracial is not just a way to acknowledge her white mother, as she says; it is a way of acknowledging herself. She just couldn’t get there.

It angers me that this author didn’t do her homework. She glosses over the entire multiracial movement with an offhand comment about the Census Bureau making “new terms” in the 1990s, as if it was their idea and not that of the many parents who led the action to get the government to even consider counting people as more than one race. We were everywhere and I find it amazing that an interracial family would have been hiding under a rock big enough to miss it entirely.

The author is completely preoccupied with the color of her children, who she refers to as “quadroon children,” “Black,” and “mulatto.” To her, they are more colors than people, which I just don’t understand. That she is angry at the plight of black people in America and all over the world, is obvious—I’m just as angry about it! She would say that wasn’t possible because I’m not black. Not true. Black lives matter to me, too. Multiracial lives matter to me, as well.

Much of what Lythcott-Haims is trying to say is that what matters is how other people see you. If they see you as black, you are black. As my son told congress, it is how he sees himself that matters. Does he know other people see him as black? Absolutely. Interracial families are not blind and stupid. We teach our children about all of their cultures and how people might look at them and classify them on their personal color scale. We get it; we live it, too.

The one thing the author and I agree on is that racism will never go away and that is why everyone needs to read about those of us who have been through it. You’ll have to read about both sides, search your heart, make your own decisions, and neither the author nor I can make it for you. I respect that you may choose for your children to identify as only one race. I just wish more people would respect that they may choose to be multiracial.



Famous Friday!

Kane Brown

Kane Brown

Kane is an up and coming biracial country singer. His father is black and part Cherokee and his mother is white. Kane was raised by his mother and they had significant financial difficulties causing them to move often and resulted in them being homeless on occasions living in their car. Kane has reported other difficulties such as; being abused by his stepdad, and racism. He has described his childhood as difficult and painful, but hopes to be a role model. Kane stated that growing up in Northwest Georgia he was at times subjected to racial slurs from his peers. He grew up listening to country music and after attending his first country concert he knew he wanted to become a country singer. Kane was first noticed by posting videos of him singing classic country songs on Facebook. At 17 he was living in Nashville trying to make his country music dreams reality. In a BET interview he stated “I was working at Lowes and Target then Fed Ex, and still did not have enough money to pay rent on my own”. Kane is now advocating with Make Room and has made and appearance at a congressional briefing in Washington, D.C. with hopes of encouraging congress to make sure affordable housing is available for all those in need. He is also moving up the ranks in country music. He was nominated for and AMA award for “Top New Male Artist” and a CMT music award for his “Breakthrough Video” for his song “Used to Love You Sober.”

Makensie Shay McDaniel

Project RACE Teens President

Photo Credit: The Tennessean

Famous Friday! Bruno Mars

Bruno Mars

Bruno Mars


Bruno Mars’s birth name is Peter Gene Hernandez. He was born into a family of musicians in Honolulu, Hawaii. He is a multiracial American singer, songwriter, choreographer, actor, record producer, and multi-instrumentalist. He has received five Grammy awards and in 2011 was named one of Time’s most influential people in the world. His mother emigrated from the Philippines to Hawaii as a child and was of Filipino and Spanish ancestry. His father is of half Puerto Rican and half Ashkenazi Jewish decent. His mother passed away from a brain aneurysm in 2013. Mars spoke about the loss of his mother in an interview with Latina magazine, He stated “My life has changed. She’s more than my music. If I could trade music to have her back, I would. I always hear her say. Keep going and keep doing it.” Mars was also asked about being multiracial “There are a lot of people who have mixed background that are in ‘this gray zone, so you can pass for whatever the hell you want.’ But it’s not like that at all. It’s actually the exact opposite. What we are trying to do is educate people to know what that feels like so they’ll never make someone feel like that ever again. Which is a hard thing to do. Because no one can see what we see and no one can grow up with what we grew up with.”

Makensie Shay McDaniel

Project RACE Teens Co-President

Photo Credit:


Babies show racial bias at nine months, U of T study suggests

Two new U of T studies suggest racial bias can develop in babies before they’ve even started walking.

According to a U of T study, nine-month-old babies looked at their own-race faces paired with happy music for a longer period of time, as well as other-race faces paired with sad music.  (SHUTTERSTOCK)  

Two new University of Toronto studies suggest racial bias can develop in babies at an early age — before they’ve even started walking.

Led by the school’s Ontario Institute of Child Study professor Kang Lee, in partnership with researchers from the U.S., U.K., France, and China, the studies examined how infants react to individuals of their own race, compared to individuals of another race.

“The goal of the study was to find out at which age infants begin to show racial bias,” Lee said. “With existing studies, the evidence shows that kids show bias around 3 or 4 years of age. We wanted to look younger.”

The first study looked at 193 Chinese infants from three to ninth months, recruited from a hospital in China, who hadn’t had direct contact with people of other races. The babies were then shown videos of six Asian women and six African women, paired with either happy or sad music.

The study found that infants from three to six months old didn’t associate sad or happy music with people of the same race or of other races, which indicates they “are not biologically predisposed to associate own- and other-race faces with music of different emotional valence.”

However, at around nine months old, the reactions were different.

According to the study, nine-month-old babies looked at their own-race faces paired with happy music for a longer period of time, as well as other-race faces paired with sad music. Lee says this supports the hypothesis that infants associate people of the same race with happy music, and other races with sad music.

That’s not to say parents are teaching their children how to discriminate against other raced individuals, Lee says.

“We are very confident that the cause of this early racial bias is actually the lack of exposure to other raced individuals,” he said. “It tells us that in Canada, if we introduce our kids to other-raced individuals, then we are likely to have less racial bias in our kids against other-raced people.”

Andrew Baron, an associate professor of psychology the University of British Columbia, said while the goal of the study is “terrific,” there are many reasons infants would look for longer amounts of time at faces of different races. For example, he says an infant could spend more time looking at an own-race face because it is familiar, or at an other-race face because it is different and unexpected.

“It’s impossible to draw that conclusion about association from a single experiment when you could have half a dozen reasons why you would look longer that don’t support the conclusion that was made in that paper,” said Baron, who was not involved in the studies, but specializes in a similar field — the development of implicit associations among infants.

“There’s multiple reasons — and contradictory reasons — why we look longer at things. We look longer at things we fear, we look longer at things we like. That’s an inherent tension in how you choose to interpret the data.”

The second study took a closer look at that bias and how it affects children’s learning skills.

Researchers showed babies videos of own-race and other-race adults looking in the same direction that photos of animals appeared (indicating they are reliable) and looking in the wrong direction of the animals (indicating they are unreliable).

The study found that when adults were reliable and looking in the direction of the animals, the infants followed both own- and other-raced individuals equally. The same results occurred when the adults were unreliable and looking in the wrong direction.

However, when the adults gaze was only sometimes correct, the children were more likely to take cues provided by adults of their own race.

“In this situation, very interestingly, kids treated their own-raced individuals — who are only 50 per cent correct — as if they were 100 per cent correct,” Lee said.

“There is discrimination, but only when there is uncertainty.”

The first study was published in Developmental Science and the second was in Child Development.

The study was conducted in China, Lee says, because the researchers were able to control the exposure to other-raced individuals.

Lee said he has been trying for nearly 10 years to organize a study looking at babies born into mixed-race families. He suspects infants born into mixed-race families would show less racial bias.

When it comes to parents who want to try to eliminate racial bias from a young age, Lee says exposure is key.

“If parents want to prevent racial biases from emerging, the best thing to do is expose their kids to TV programs, books, and friends from different races,” he said.

“And the important message is they have to know them by name . . . it’s extremely important to know them as individuals.”

Pay up, Alvin

‘Pay up,’ multi-racial families tell Dem who bet $100K that whites won’t adopt blacks



Alabama Rep. Alvin Holmes is suffering from foot-in-mouth disease, after publicly placing a $100,000 bet he couldn’t win.

After proclaiming on the Alabama House floor last month that pro-life GOP lawmakers would support abortion if their daughters were impregnated by black men, the Democrat offered $100,000 cash to anyone who could prove to him that “a whole bunch of whites” in Alabama had adopted black children, according to the Birmingham TV station, ABC 33/40.

Mixed-race families showed up at the state capital in droves on Wednesday, demanding, “Pay up, Alvin!” But Holmes was nowhere to be found.

“I would like for him to man up,” said Beverly Owings, an adoptive mother of a 13-year-old bi-racial daughter. “He’s made the statement. He needs to put his money where his mouth is.”

The local TV station reported:

Owings, a supporter of trans racial adoptions in Alabama, is part of a movement called Faces of Families in Alabama.

Supporters of trans racial adoptions rallied this afternoon to show that families shouldn’t be defined by race.

“After we work on it and work on it to have an elected official that can come in and make those comments and tear down everything that we’ve worked hard for,” said Owing’s husband, Jeromy. “It puts a question in their minds of ‘Do I belong?’ ‘Where do I belong?’”

This isn’t Holmes’ first foray into race-baiting. When U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas said two months ago that America was becoming too color-conscious, the lawmaker criticized Thomas’ interracial marriage and called him an “Uncle Tom.”

Holmes eventually back-pedaled on knocking Thomas’ marriage, but he doubled-down on the “Uncle Tom” remark.

Holmes did not respond to requests for comment from the local ABC station as to whether he would honor his bet. Now he refuses to talk. That’s what he should have done last month.

TV Families


Where Is My Family on TV?

ONE of my earliest memories is of sitting in an idling car with my mom and sister outside a convenience store in Virginia. Dad’s inside, buying cigarettes and scratch-off lottery tickets. Suddenly, a wild-eyed man appears at the driver-side window, yelling about white women and black men and how they don’t belong together. My mother goes feral, blocking his access to us. My father runs out, furious and swearing, before driving us away. I don’t remember what happened next, just a confusing and searing shame about the ugliness that the sight of my family could provoke.

I hadn’t thought about that in years. But it bubbled up last spring in response to the vitriolic reactions to a Cheerios commercial showing a family that echoed my own: black dad, white mom, mocha-skinned little girl with soft curly hair. The commercial was uploaded to YouTube, where it provoked such foul, overtly racist reactions that General Mills, the maker of Cheerios, decided to delete all of the comments. The memory bubbled up once again last weekend when the same family appeared in a second Cheerios commercial, just as mild and sweet-tempered, shown during the Super Bowl. That one, too, drew online criticism, if not as intense.

Sticks and stones, the saying goes, especially on the Internet. But the outpouring of disgust about an innocuous 30-second marketing spot may signal something deeper at work, a denial of the reality that the face of our nation is changing, and fast.

According to a 2012 Census Bureau report, mixed-race Americans, while still a small minority, are one of the fastest-growing demographic groups in the country, driven by immigration and an uptick in intermarriage. Yet while there are some very public examples of seemingly stable mixed-race families — the de Blasios of New York or even Kim, Kanye and sweet baby Nori come to mind — they are remarkably absent from our screens. (Our biracial president does get his share of screen time, of course.)

It’s true that multiracial characters have become more abundant on television and in the movies, even if their relationships are typically played for melodrama or broad humor, like in “Anchorman 2” or “The Best Man Holiday.” (Television shows like “Sleepy Hollow” and “Almost Human” are helping right that imbalance some.)

But it is far rarer to see them portrayed as part of a dynamic family structure raising children and going about their daily lives. Olivia Pope and President Fitzgerald Grant, for example, the hot interracial couple on the popular ABC drama “Scandal,” are caught up with figuring out the intricacies of their affair, not wrangling with uncomfortable mix-ups at the grocery store or talking their child through the alienation that can come with figuring out where and how to fit in.

There are a few exceptions, like “The Fosters” on ABC Family and the Showtime series “The L Word,” but not many.

Television is still both a barometer of social change and an evolutionary force that can help change cultural attitudes. So it’s hard not to wonder whether the simple lack of depictions of normal, mixed-race families and well-adjusted biracial offspring in popular culture is in part responsible for the reaction to the Cheerios commercials.

Social media, which erects a two-way mirror into regular lives, also has the power to transform what was once alien and uncomfortable into normal and routine. There are enough online outposts, from photographs on Facebook to Instagram, that can show a variety of diverse families and offer some measure of hope. But still.

Growing up in the early 1990s, when I fell into my mother’s lap, crying over being called names like “oreo,” “zebra baby” or worse, my mother would hug me and say that someday, everyone will be a little bit of everything, and no one will be able to tease anyone ever again. I’m still hoping she’s right about that.

Last weekend, I settled down to watch the Super Bowl with a group of friends, some of whom were also mixed race. The room fell quiet as the Cheerios ad came on the screen.

I held my breath, checked Twitter — the initial responses were largely positive — and my heart soared. Despite the obvious marketing advantage General Mills hoped to leverage by running a second Cheerios spot, it was still a stirring experience to see my reality presented so positively and naturally on screen.

Later we cheered for the halftime performer Bruno Mars, born in Hawaii, the product of a Filipino mother and a Puerto Rican and Jewish father, and finished our beers, spicy wings and cheese dip.


Jenna Wortham is a technology reporter for The New York Times.


Medical Monday



Using DNA To Trace Michelle Obama’s Past


First Lady Michelle Obama always suspected that she had white ancestors. But she had no idea who they were. With DNA testing and research, I was able to solve that mystery and finally identify the white forbears who had remained hidden in her family tree for more than a century.

All across the country, growing numbers of people are turning to DNA testing as a tool to help unlock the secrets of their roots, using companies such as, among others. When I started researching my new book, “American Tapestry: The Story of the Black, White and Multiracial Ancestors of Michelle Obama,’’ I pored over historical documents that I found in local archives, courthouses and libraries as well as records that I found online on and other state and local databases. But I knew that DNA testing would be the only way to unearth the truth.

I suspected that Mrs. Obama’s white ancestors belonged to the white Shields family that had owned her great-great-great grandmother, Melvinia Shields. So I persuaded several descendants of the black and white Shields to do DNA testing.

The results showed that the two families were related. The DNA testing indicated that Melvinia’s owner’s son was the likely father of Melvinia’s biracial child, Dolphus Shields. (Dolphus Shields is the first lady’s great-great grandfather.)

This was painful news for many of the Shields descendants. They knew that that Melvinia might have been raped and that their kinship originated during slavery, one of the darkest chapters of our history.

But last month, members of both sides of the family – black and white — put aside the pain of the past. They got together for the very first time in Rex, Georgia at a ceremony to commemorate Melvinia’s life. They swapped family stories, posed for photographs, exchanged phone numbers and had a meal together.

It was something to see.

David Applin, who is Melvinia’s great-grandson, said the reunion was “wonderful.” And Jarrod Shields, who is the great-great-great grandson of Melvinia’s owner, described it as a day “my family will never forget.”


This story was contributed by guest blog author Rachel L. Swarns

Rachel L. Swarns has been a reporter for the New York Times since 1995. She has written about domestic policy and national politics, reporting on immigration, the presidential campaigns of 2004 and 2008, and First Lady Michelle Obama and her role in the Obama White House. She has also worked overseas for the New York Times, reporting from Russia, Cuba, and southern Africa, where she served as the Johannesburg bureau chief. She lives in Washington, D.C., with her husband and two children.

Meet our Presidents

Makensie McDaniel