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.

More on the de Blasio Family!


Biracial Cool: Bill de Blasio’s Fresh Electoral Asset

The New York mayor-elect’s family—both fascinatingly ordinary and shockingly modern—proved to be one his greatest strengths.

Kathy Willens/Associated Press

“I’m Bill de Blasio, and I’m not a boring white guy.”

How’s that for a political opener? This is how the New York mayor-elect describes himself. At an August fundraiser for the Young Progressives for de Blasio, his daughter Chiara introduced him to the crowd, making an appeal for a new kind of inclusive city politics. Flanked by her entire family, she remarked, “If we’re gonna bring new ideas to the table and create a world, a society … where everyone has a chance, we need to start listening to everybody’s ideas.”

What are these bold and inventive ideas of the new mayor? Some of them follow a traditional Democratic nesting doll scheme: good government followed by more jobs succeeded by affordable housing topped off by better schools. Add in reason, compassion, equality, and whoomp! There it is—a consummate progressive platform. But the de Blasio campaign offered another idea that most campaigns can’t: the racially integrated family.

Like it or not, it works.

De Blasio is white. His wife, Chirlane McCray, is black. Their two children, Dante and Chiara, are biracial. Their campaign literature relentlessly spotlighted the effortless interracial cool of Brooklyn bohemia—that wonderful, eucalyptus-scented world of woody brownstones, aromatic teas, and gloriously integrated Cheerios breakfasts. His website features his family and marriage first, ahead of “Issues.” At his rallies, his wife and children are the feature rather than the curtain call. His mailings ask recipients to “Meet the BROOKLYN FAMILY who’s fighting to change New York.” They picture the smiling family, drinking orange juice and playing Trivial Pursuit.

The de Blasios: fascinatingly ordinary. But this is no ordinary picture; the visual is bursting with meaning. At the center is McCray, resplendent, turquoised, dreadlocked. She’s no Laura Bush or Cindy McCain. On the left is Chiara, perfectly angled to let the viewer take notice of her two strand twists, gauged earlobes, and eyebrow piercing. She’s “alternative.” In the center sits Bill, tautologically white, and largely upstaged by these pictorial assertions of diversity. And then there’s a blurred, active, Afroed teenage son to the right.

Behold this electoral spectacle of natural hair: six inches of political black gold, triumphantly flirting with your vote. Bill squeezed it. Obama praised it. Twitter hashtagged it #fromentum. The Daily News coined it: “Way to Fro!” Despite the hairstyle’s long history as a natural affirmation of black pride and fortitude, Dante delivered the Afro to the masses, which have awoken to the charms of black hair. Even the genteel New York Times joined the frenzy, not only featuring “The Afro” in the Style section, but also allowing middle-aged white men to come clean about their secret Afro pasts. Everyone, it seems, wants to touch it.

It’s undeniable that Dante’s hair boosted the campaign. An ad starring the framed, back-lit orb helped to win votes in the primary, where de Blasio leapfrogged over frontrunner Christine Quinn and African-American contender Bill Thompson. If voters didn’t already know, the ad seemed to say, the white de Blasio was seriously down with the black community and his commitment to black issues was genuine.

It’s like the old Harlem Globetrotters cartoon where Gizmo had an enormous, problem-solving Afro. When facing a conflict, Gizmo just dug his hand in his hair until he found the answer—and no object was too big. Drowning? Here’s a life vest. Falling? Take this parachute. Flight delay? He’ll yank an airplane from his magical hair. Stop-and-frisk? Voila! Black wife and biracial kids.

To some, Dante’s hair, Chiara’s piercings, and Chirlane’s support should be non-issues. Simple traits like marriage and physical appearance should be unremarkable characteristics when measured against actual campaign promises. Shouldn’t policies on housing and education influence electoral outcomes, rather than hair texture and skin tone? Obviously, the answer is yes—and anything less is racist and exploitative, according to Michael Bloomberg. And the days of putting all of one’s voting eggs in one racial basket are over, as Bill Thompson loss in the Democratic primary showed.

Isn’t de Blasio just doing what other public officials do, humanizing himself via a stable family? Mitt Romney loved having his Justice League of sons on the campaign trail, and Chelsea Clinton’s braces and hair constantly floated in the Billary background. Color-coordinated family portraits are de rigueur for gubernatorial candidates, and congressional hopefuls are practically expected to avoid singledom and divorce.

Ever since Richard Nixon’s cringeworthy 1968 cameo on Laugh In, politicians have sought some talisman to make them “hip”: a saxophone, some hoop skills, a Macarena dance. But perhaps those concerted efforts of cool are just too overt in our modern age of irony. It’s trying too hard, and it seems desperate. Worse, it’s not a reliable vote winner.

Enter the domestic hipsterdom of racially mixed family, a multivalent Rorschach for political campaigns. It appeals to multiple demographic groups. It demonstrates that race doesn’t matter. It demonstrates that race does matter. Its mere existence is politically suggestive, even when the family members aren’t doing anything. It’s race baiting and race trading, with little effort on the family. Biracial cool: the newest electoral asset.

Using marriage and partnership to cement political allegiances is one of the oldest and most organic appeals to public relations and diplomacy. Dynastic marriages took place in the ancient world to forge alliances between nation-states. It was a favorite strategy of both Alexander the Great and Queen Victoria to meld political relationships. The blended children born into these marriages represented a united and hopeful future.

Even in our present age, political candidates are capitalizing on the wide appeal of mixed families. In certain jurisdictions, multiple alliances may work as an electoral asset. Jeb Bush’s marriage to Mexican-born Columba Gallo improved his image among Latino voters in Florida. Barack Obama’s famous incantations of Kenya, Kansas, Indonesia, and Hawaii made him an international everyman of mystery.

In no way, however, does de Blasio’s victory signal a universal acceptance of interracial marriage. It’s only been legal nationwide since 1967, and substantial vestiges of prejudice remain. In some parts of the country—and even parts of New York City—it remains taboo. His campaign might not work outside of New York and San Francisco, and it most likely would fall flat in a statewide or federal election.

Interracial marriage is still seen as a stain on political careers, as it has been for most of American history. The relationship of Thomas Jefferson and his slave Sally Hemings continues to vex, as it did in 1802. Harold Ford, Jr. lost his 2006 Senate bid in Tennessee because a commercial suggested that he dated white women. Bob Bennett, a former Republican senator from Utah, claimed in 1999 that the only way that George W. Bush could lose the 2000 presidential nomination would be if he stepped “in front of a bus or some woman [came] forward, let’s say some black woman, with an illegitimate child that he fathered.”

Even today, in the age of Obama, interracial marriage and partnership in public office is extraordinarily rare—even rarer than the mixed institution itself. Freedom of intimacy is far from a settled issue in American politics and society, and it encompasses more than race. Discrimination continues against single people and unmarried and same-sex couples, and these tensions about the proper way to live out our home lives translate into domestic referenda at the ballot box. The overwhelming norm is for politicians to be married, with children, to someone of their own race and of a different gender.

But witnessing a politician with a nontraditional family succeed at the polls wonderfully legitimizes the de Blasios’ rightful place in the collective identity of “normal family.” There’s nothing wrong with celebrating these families as First Families—they’ve been in second class for too long.


Source: The Atlantic 


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