Another Open Letter


I wish I could thank Kwame Anthony Appiah for setting the multiracial movement back over fifty years, but I can’t. He is “the ethicist” for the NY Times and wrote a column this week titled “How Should I think about Race when Considering a Sperm Donor?” Basically, it is about a White, Jewish woman who is considering sperm donation and cannot decide if it matters that the father could be a donor of color.

First, Appiah manages to turn the donor of color into a black father. The baby’s father could be Hispanic, Hawaiian, Native American, or a thousand other combinations. But no, Appiah turns this baby black. I wonder if he has some type of race-meter that lets him know who is what racially.

Then he gives this woman two choices: raise the child as African American or let it pass as white. What?! What happened to letting the child be raised as biracial or multiracial? It is, after all, the largest growing population in the United States, according to the Census Bureau. In fact, it took us about fifty years to get the Census Bureau to accommodate people of more than one race on their forms and just as long for the Office of Management and Budget to accept us.

Of course the child will need to be taught about their entire heritage and we don’t need Appiah to remind us of that. The multiracial community has plenty of families that celebrate their wholeness, and are not torn apart by the old one-drop rule that says a person with any Black ancestry makes you Black. Are we trying to forget about black slavery but not about the mulatto people of slavery? Shame on you.

Appiah decrees that if you “look black” you must self-identify racially as Black, which just is not how it always turns out. I doubt if he has many friends who identify as biracial or multiracial. In the only example he could find, he reminds us that Barack Obama had a White mother and was raised by his White grandparents and he “turned out OK.” Sigh.

I think this mother would probably do best with a child her own race and Kwame Appiah should stop giving advice to interracial families.

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

When No One Gets It

When No One Gets It

I read Nicholas Kristof’s column every week in my Sunday New York Times. I would say that it’s a very fair assumption that Kristof never reads my writing. That’s OK, but it doesn’t mean he gets an editorial pass.

Kristof has been writing a series titled “When Whites Just Don’t Get It.” I’ve agreed with some of the things he has written and disagreed with others. I think he basically is trying, like other writers to find some kind of solution, make some sense out of what happened in Ferguson, Missouri, when Michael Brown, who was black, was shot and killed by a white cop. You know the story.

The series ended with Part 5. Kristof has summoned everyone who has ever had anything historically quoted about race for his column. He ends with this: “There are no easy solutions. But let’s talk.” Fine.

We should talk, although I’m not sure that anyone has any easy or hard solutions. Races have been polarized for so long in this country that getting to an “even” point seems impossible, no matter if we are talking about African-Americans, white people, the multiracial population, or any other groups or individuals. I just don’t know.

What I do know is that I disagree with Nicholas Kristof on his idea of a “Truth and Reconciliation Commission to examine race in America.” What I really am opposed to is his recommendation that it could be led by the likes of President Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush, and Oprah Winfrey. Huh? These are people who would not be stopped for any traffic ticket because they have drivers. I seriously doubt that George W. Bush ever worried about financial problems, job application discrimination, or police brutality. Bill Clinton may have talked about the problems more, but I bet he feels pretty safe in his office in Harlem.

Oprah Winfrey. Sigh. Everyone loves Oprah—except me. It’s because I’ve seen the other side of Oprah and it wasn’t pretty. I received a phone call many years ago from one of her television show producers. They were going to do a show on the lives of multiracial children and wanted to see if we could provide some kids. I told the producer that we offer the positive side of being multiracial, and would only consider talking to our member parents of multiracial children if the show was going to give the positive, or at least 50 percent positive evidence of the good reasons to celebrate multi-anything. We went back and forth for weeks and the bottom line was that Oprah Winfrey was planning a “tragic mulatto” show, and wanted only children and families with identity problems. We declined. Of course they got kids to appear on the show and answer Oprah’s well thought out and negative questions. I still shudder when I see O Magazine.

Do I have the answers? Of course not, but I think I could choose a better roundtable for the discussion than Nicholas Kristof.

Susan Graham


Disrespect, Race and Obama

In an interview with the BBC this week,Oprah Winfrey said of President Obama: “There is a level of disrespect for the office that occurs. And that occurs, in some cases, and maybe even many cases, because he’s African-American.”


With that remark, Winfrey touched on an issue that many Americans have wrestled with: To what extent does this president’s race animate those loyal to him and those opposed? Is race a primary motivator or a subordinate, more elusive one, tainting motivations but not driving them?

To some degree, the answers lie with the questioners. There are different perceptions of racial realities. What some see as slights, others see as innocent opposition. But there are some objective truths here. Racism is a virus that is growing clever at avoiding detection. Race consciousness is real. Racial assumptions and prejudices are real. And racism is real. But these realities can operate without articulation and beneath awareness. For those reasons, some can see racism where it is absent, and others can willfully ignore any possibility that it could ever be present.

To wit, Rush Limbaugh responded to Winfrey’s comments in his usual acerbic way, lacking all nuance:

“If black people in this country are so mistreated and so disrespected, how in the name of Sam Hill did you happen? Would somebody explain that to me? If there’s a level of disrespect simply because he’s black, then how, Oprah, have you managed to become the — at one time — most popular and certainly wealthiest television personality? How does that happen?”

No one has ever accused Limbaugh of being a complex thinker, but the intellectual deficiency required to achieve that level of arrogance and ignorance is staggering.

Anyone with even a child’s grasp of race understands that for many minorities success isn’t synonymous with the absence of obstacles, but often requires the overcoming of obstacles. Furthermore, being willing to be entertained by someone isn’t the same as being willing to be led by them.

And finally, affinity and racial animosity can dwell together in the same soul. You can like and even admire a person of another race while simultaneously disparaging the race as a whole. One can even be attracted to persons of different races and still harbor racial animus toward their group. Generations of sexual predation and miscegenation during and after slavery in this country have taught us that.

Alas, simpletons have simple understandings of complex concepts.

But it is reactions like Limbaugh’s that lead many of the president’s supporters to believe that racial sensitivity is in retreat and racial hostility is on the rise.

To be sure, the Internet is rife with examples of derogatory, overtly racial comments and imagery referring to the president and his family. But the question remains: Are we seeing an increase in racial hostility or simply an elevation — or uncovering — of it? And are those racist attitudes isolated or do they represent a serious problem?

Much of the discussion about the president, his opposition and his race has centered on the Tea Party, fairly or not.

In one take on race and the Tea Party that went horribly wrong this week, Washington Post opinion writer Richard Cohen wrote:

“Today’s G.O.P. is not racist, as Harry Belafonte allegedabout the Tea Party, but it is deeply troubled — about the expansion of government, about immigration, about secularism, about the mainstreaming of what used to be the avant-garde. People with conventional views must repress a gag reflex when considering the mayor-elect of New York — a white man married to a black woman and with two biracial children. (Should I mention that Bill de Blasio’s wife, Chirlane McCray, used to be a lesbian?) This family represents the cultural changes that have enveloped parts — but not all — of America. To cultural conservatives, this doesn’t look like their country at all.”

What exactly are “conventional views” in this context? They appear to refer specifically to opinions about the color of people’s skin.

Cohen seemed to want to recast racial intolerance — and sexual identity discomfort — in a more humane light: as an extension of traditional values rather than as an artifact of traditional bigotry. In addition, Cohen’s attempt to absolve the entirety of the Tea Party without proof fails in the same way that blanket condemnations do. Overreach is always the enemy.

I don’t know what role, if any, race plays in the feelings of Tea Party supporters. It is impossible to know the heart of another person (unless they unambiguously reveal themselves), let alone the hearts of millions.

But nerves are raw, antennas are up and race has become a lightning rod in the Obama era. This is not Obama’s doing, but the simple result of his being.

 Source: The New York Times

Our Black (not multiracial) President – Says NY Times

Our Black (not multiracial) President Says NY Times

For President, a Complex Calculus of Race and Politics


When President Obama greets African-Americans who broke barriers, he almost invariably uses the same line.“I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for you,” he said to Ruby Bridges Hall, who was the first black child to integrate an elementary school in the South. The president repeated the message to a group of Tuskegee airmen, the first black aviators in the United States military; the Memphis sanitation workers the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. addressed in his final speech; and others who came to pay tribute to Mr. Obama and found him saluting them instead. 

The line is gracious, but brief and guarded. Mr. Obama rarely dwells on race with his visitors or nearly anyone else. In interviews with dozens of black advisers, friends, donors and allies, few said they had ever heard Mr. Obama muse on the experience of being the first black president of the United States, a role in which every day he renders what was once extraordinary almost ordinary. 
But his seeming ease belies the anxiety and emotion that advisers say he brings to his historic position: pride in what he has accomplished, determination to acquit himself well and intense frustration. Mr. Obama is balancing two deeply held impulses: a belief in universal politics not based on race and an embrace of black life and its challenges. 
Vigilant about not creating racial flash points, the president is private and wary on the subject, and his aides carefully orchestrate White House appearances by black luminaries and displays of black culture. Those close to Mr. Obama say he grows irritated at being misunderstood — not just by opponents who insinuate that he caters to African-Americans, but also by black lawmakers and intellectuals who fault him for not making his presidency an all-out assault on racial disparity. 
“Tragically, it seems the president feels boxed in by his blackness,” the radio and television host Tavis Smiley wrote in an e-mail. “It has, at times, been painful to watch this particular president’s calibrated, cautious and sometimes callous treatment of his most loyal constituency,” he continued, adding that “African-Americans will have lost ground in the Obama era.” 
Such criticism leaves the president feeling resentful and betrayed, aides said, by those he believes should be his allies. The accusations are “an assault on his being,” said David Axelrod, his chief strategist — not to mention a discomfiting twist in a re-election fight in which the turnout of black voters, who express overwhelming loyalty to the president but also some disappointment, could sway the result. 
But like an actor originating a role on Broadway, Mr. Obama has been performing a part that no one else has ever played, and close observers say they can see him becoming as assured on race in public as he is in private conversation. In 2009, the new president’s statement on the arrest of a black Harvard professor by a white police officer set off days of negative headlines; in 2012, he gave a commanding but tender lament over the killing of a black teenager, Trayvon Martin, by a white man. 
“As he’s gotten more comfortable being president, he’s gotten more comfortable being him,” said Brian Mathis, an Obama fund-raiser. 
Asked when they could sense that shift, several advisers and friends mentioned the waning hours of Mr. Obama’s birthday party in the summer of 2011. As the hour grew late, many of the white guests left, and the music grew “blacker and blacker,” as the comedian Chris Rock later told an audience. Watching African-American entertainers and sports stars do the Dougie to celebrate a black president in a house built by slaves, Mr. Rock said, “I felt like I died and went to black heaven.” 
The president, guests recalled, seemed free of calibration or inhibition. He danced with relative abandon, other guests ribbing him about his moves, everyone swaying to Stevie Wonder under a portrait of George Washington. 
Trying to Avoid a Wedge
In the White House, Mr. Obama has relied on a long-term strategy on race and politics that he has been refining throughout his career.As far back as 1995, former colleagues at the University of Chicago remember him talking about moving away from the old politics of grievance and using common economic interests to bind diverse coalitions. “He argued that if political action and political speeches are tailored solely to white audiences, minorities will withdraw, just as whites often recoil when political action and speeches are targeted to racial minority audiences,” recalled William Julius Wilson, now a sociologist at Harvard. 
Mr. Wilson had turned the world of social policy on its head by arguing that class was becoming more determinative than race in America and pointing out that race-specific remedies were less politically feasible than economic policies that benefited a broad range of people. The young politician absorbed Mr. Wilson’s ideas, which matched his own experience as a community organizer and a person whose own life did not fit neat racial categories. 
Mr. Obama now presides over a White House that constantly projects cross-racial unity. When discussing in interviews what image the Obamas want to project, aides use one word more than any other: “inclusive.” Concerts of Motown and civil-rights-era songs have been stocked with musicians of many races, and in introducing them, the president emphasizes how the melodies brought disparate Americans together. Though the Memphis sanitation workers were involved in a shattering moment of the civil rights struggle — Dr. King was assassinated after going to support their strike — they were invited to the White House for a labor event, not a race-oriented one. 
Many of the president’s most critical domestic policy decisions have disproportionately benefited African-Americans: stimulus money that kept public sector workers employed, education grants to help underperforming schools and a health care overhaul that will cover tens of millions of uninsured Americans. But he invariably frames those as policies intended to help Americans of all backgrounds. 
“If you really want to get something done, you can’t put it in a way that will kill it before it gets going,” Mr. Obama said in one meeting, according to the Rev. Al Sharpton. “We have to deal with the specific problems of different groups — blacks, women, gays and lesbians, immigrants — in a way that doesn’t allow people to put these wedges in,” Mr. Sharpton recalled the president saying in another. 
That approach, along with the memories of the toxic campaign battles over Mr. Obama’s former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., has resulted in a White House that often appears to tiptoe around race. 
Debra Lee, the chairman and chief executive of Black Entertainment Television, requested interviews with the Obamas in 2009, but press aides told her that they did not want the first couple on BET in the first six months of the administration, she said in an interview. (They appeared later.) 
“There was all this caution and concern because we were in the midst of a great American experiment,” one former aide said. Another aide remembered palpable nervousness about the artwork the Obamas chose for their private quarters in the White House, including some with race-specific messages. 
In private, White House aides frequently dissect the racial dynamics of the presidency, asking whether Representative Joe Wilson, Republican of South Carolina, would have yelled “You lie!” at a white president during an address to Congress or what Tea Party posters saying “Take Back Our Country” really mean. Michelle Obama, often called the glue in her husband’s relationship with black voters, sometimes remarks publicly or privately about the pressures of being the first black first lady. 
Her husband is more circumspect, particularly on the question of whether some of his opposition is fueled by race. Aides say the president is well aware that some voters say they will never be comfortable with him, as well as the occasional flashes of racism on the campaign trail, such as the “Put the White Back in the White House” T-shirt spotted at a recent Mitt Romney rally. But they also say he is disciplined about not reacting because doing so could easily backfire. 
“The president knows that some people may choose to be divided by differences — race, gender, religion — but his focus is on bringing people together,” Valerie Jarrett, a senior adviser, wrote in an e-mail. 
Even when Newt Gingrich called him a “food stamp president” during the Republican primaries, the most the president did was shoot confidants a meaningful look — “the way he will cock his head, an exaggerated smile, like ‘I’m not saying but I’m saying,’ ” one campaign adviser said.
To blacks who accuse him of not being aggressive on race, Mr. Obama has a reply: “I’m not the president of black America,” he has said. “I’m the president of the United States of America.” 
That statement “makes me want to vomit,” Cornel West, an activist and Union Theological Seminary professor, said in an interview. “Did you say that to the business round table?” he asked rhetorically. “Do you say that to Aipac?” he said, referring to a pro-Israel lobbying group.
Members of the Congressional Black Caucus, with whom the president has a contentious relationship, have echoed the charges that Mr. Obama is insufficiently attentive to African-Americans, even threatening at times to sandbag his agenda. 
Even some of Mr. Obama’s black supporters privately express the same anxiety, in more muted form. At the first meeting of his top campaign donors last year, some black donors were dismayed when officials handed out cards with talking points on the administration’s achievements for various groups — women, Jews, gays and lesbians — and there was no card for African-Americans. 
The accusation that Mr. Obama does not care about black suffering appears to carry little weight with the African-American public, and yet it tears at the president, say aides, friends and supporters. 
After a 2010 speech at the National Urban League, he approached Mr. West. “He just came at me tooth and nail,” Mr. West said. “Are you saying I’m not a progressive?” Mr. West recalled the president asking. 
Mellody Hobson, an Obama fund-raiser, explained why the accusation was painful.
“You expect your family to give you the benefit of the doubt,” she said. 
Out to Change Stereotypes
Shortly before his 2009 inauguration, Barack Obama took his family to see the Lincoln Memorial. “First African-American president, better be good,” a 10-year-old Malia Obama told her father, who repeated the story later, a rare acknowledgment of the symbolic shadow he casts. 
For all of Mr. Obama’s caution, he is on a mission: to change stereotypes of African-Americans, aides and friends say. Six years ago, he told his wife and a roomful of aides that he wanted to run for the White House to change children’s perceptions of what was possible. He had other ambitions for the presidency, of course, but he was also embarking on an experiment in which the Obamas would put themselves and their children on the line to help erase centuries of negative views. 
While Mr. Obama resists being the president of black America, he does want to change black America, aides say — to break apart long-held beliefs about what African-Americans can and cannot do. The president, who appointed Lisa P. Jackson and Charles F. Bolden Jr. as the heads of the Environmental Protection Agency and NASA, wants to encourage black achievement in science and engineering, even urging black ministers to preach about the need to study those subjects. 
Mr. Obama knows that the next presidential candidate of color may be judged by his own performance, added Charles J. Ogletree, a Harvard law professor. And Mr. Obama’s desire to win re-election in part because he is the first black president is “so implicit it’s just like breathing,” one White House adviser said. 
On rare occasions, Mr. Obama allows others a glimpse of the history, expectations and hope he carries with him. At the funeral of the civil rights leader Dorothy Height in 2010, he wept openly. Again and again, those close to him say, Mr. Obama is moved by the grace with which other blacks who broke the color barrier behaved under pressure. 
When Ruby Bridges Hall went to see the famous Norman Rockwell portrait of her marching into school, which Mr. Obama had hung just outside the Oval Office, the president opened up a bit. The painting shows a 6-year-old Ms. Hall in an immaculate white dress walking calmly into school, a hurled tomato and a racial slur on the wall behind her. 
The president asked Ms. Hall, now 58, how she summoned up such courage at that age and said he sometimes found his daughters staring at the portrait. “I really think they see themselves in this little girl,” he said, according to an interview with Ms. Hall. 
“Doing the work we do, it gets really lonely,” Ms. Hall said. “I felt like we understood each other because we belong to the same club.”
Source: A version of this article appeared in print on October 21, 2012, on page A1 of the New York edition with the headline: For President, a Complex Calculus of Race and Politics.

As MULTIRACIAL as We Wish to Be

If you read the two blog posts prior to this one, you will see one article and one opinion piece from The New York Times on the same day–today, March 16, 2012.

The staff report on the FACT that interracial marriage is seen gaining in acceptance, is based on a survey. It’s a ho hum article written by a reporter for the newspaper. It makes your eyes glaze over with data and you probably yawn at least once.

But wait! Some guy named Williams, who himself has a black father and white mother, has much, much more space than normally given to an opinion piece by the NYT. Prime newsprint real estate. His opinion is that “mixed-race blacks” have an ethical obligation to identify as black–and interracial couples have a “moral imperative” to teach multiracial children to do just that. He self-identifies as black and he recently married a white woman.

Project RACE is all about choice. If Mr. Williams wants to self-identify as black or green or purple, that is his choice and that’s fine with us. But to advise the parents of multiracial children how they should identify is to take away their own free choice. What kind of moral imperative is that?

His article goes on to give inaccurate information,states that personal decisions end up having one destructive cumulative effect, but only if it’s a decision that he does not agree with. He says, “and so I will teach my children that they, too, are black…” In our society multiracial children get the question “What are you?!” all the time. Mr. Willams’ children can always say, “I’m black because my father decided I am.” We advocate to always give children the freedom to choose and explain that multiracial is respectful terminology for a person of more than one race and an honest and valid response.
Susan Graham for Project RACE

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