••can ye pass the acid test?••

ye who enter here be afraid, but do what ye must -- to defeat your fear ye must defy it.

& defeat it ye must, for only then can we begin to realize liberty & justice for all.

time bomb tick tock? nervous tic talk? war on war?

or just a blog crying in the wilderness, trying to make sense of it all, terror-fried by hate radio and FOX, the number of whose name is 666??? (coincidence?)

Sunday, November 30, 2008

whatever! dept

He's Not Black
By Marie Arana

He is also half white.

Unless the one-drop rule still applies, our president-elect is not black.

We call him that -- he calls himself that -- because we use dated language and logic. After more than 300 years and much difficult history, we hew to the old racist rule: Part-black is all black. Fifty percent equals a hundred. There's no in-between.

That was my reaction when I read these words on the front page of this newspaper the day after the election: "Obama Makes History: U.S. Decisively Elects First Black President."

The phrase was repeated in much the same form by one media organization after another. It's as if we have one foot in the future and another still mired in the Old South. We are racially sophisticated enough to elect a non-white president, and we are so racially backward that we insist on calling him black. Progress has outpaced vocabulary.

To me, as to increasing numbers of mixed-race people, Barack Obama is not our first black president. He is our first biracial, bicultural president. He is more than the personification of African American achievement. He is a bridge between races, a living symbol of tolerance, a signal that strict racial categories must go.

Of course there is much to celebrate in seeing Obama's victory as a victory for African Americans. The long, arduous battles that were fought and won in the name of civil rights redeemed our Constitution and brought a new sense of possibility to all minorities in this country. We Hispanic Americans, very likely the most mixed-race people in the world, credit our gains to the great African American pioneers of yesterday: Rosa Parks, W.E.B. Du Bois, Martin Luther King Jr.

But Obama's ascent to the presidency is more than a triumph for blacks. It is the signal of a broad change with broad ramifications. The world has become too fused, too interdependent to ignore this emerging reality: Just as banks, earthly resources and human disease form an intricate global web, so do racial ties. No one appreciates this more, perhaps, than the American Hispanic.

Our multiracial identity was brought home to me a few months ago when I got my results from a DNA ancestry lab. I thought I was a simple hemispheric split -- half South American, half North. But as it turns out, I am a descendant of all the world's major races: Indo-European, black African, East Asian, Native American. The news came as something of a surprise. But it shouldn't have.

Mutts are seldom divisible by two.

Like Obama, I am the child of a white Kansan mother and a foreign father who, like Obama's, came to Cambridge, Mass., as a graduate student. My parents met during World War II, fell in love and married. Then they moved back to my father's country, Peru, where I was born.

I always knew I was biracial -- part indigenous American, part white. My mother's ancestry was easy to trace and largely Anglo-American. But on my Peruvian side, I suspected from old family albums that some forebears might actually have been African or Asian: A great-great aunt had distinctly Negroid features. Another looked markedly Chinese. Of course, no one acknowledged it. It wasn't until the DNA test percentages were before me that I had a clear and overwhelming sense of my own history. I wasn't the product of only one bicultural marriage. My ancestral past was a tangle of races. When I sent back for an analysis of the Indo-European quotient, I was told that my "white side" came from the Indian subcontinent, the Middle East, the Mediterranean and Northern Europe. There had to have been hundreds of intercultural marriages in my bloodline. I am just about everything a human can be.

Still, the same can be said for many Hispanic Americans. Perhaps because we've been in this hemisphere two centuries longer than our northern brethren, we've had more time to mix it up. We are the product of el gran mestizaje, a wholesale cross-pollination that has been blending brown, white, black and yellow for 500 years -- since Columbus set foot in the New World.

The Spanish and Portuguese actually encouraged interracial marriage. It wasn't that they were any more enlightened than Northern Europeans, it was that their history of exploration, colonization and exploitation had been carried out by men -- soldiers and sailors -- who were left to find local brides and settle the wilds of America. The Catholic Church, eager to multiply its ranks and expand its influence, was prepared to bless any union between two of its faithful, regardless of race. So over the years, the indigenous people of Latin America were handily converted, mixed marriages propagated abundantly, a new fusion of races was born and the Church prospered.

At first, those unions were largely between the native population and Iberians -- El Inca Garcilaso de la Vega, for instance, the great 16th-century chronicler of the Spanish Conquista, was the son of a Spanish captain and an Andean princess. Later, the Atlantic slave trade sparked widespread mixing among blacks, whites and Indians -- particularly in Venezuela and Brazil. And then, in the late 19th century, a fourth ethnic group was imported to the continent in the form of Chinese coolies who came to work the guano islands and sugar fields. They, too, intermarried.

Latinos in the United States have always been difficult to fix racially. Before the late 1960s, when civil rights forced Americans to think about race, we routinely identified ourselves as white on census forms. After 1970, when a Hispanic box was offered, we checked it, although we knew that the concept of Hispanic as a single race was patently silly. But since 2000, when it became possible for a citizen to register in more than one racial category, many of us began checking them all: indigenous, white, Asian, African. It would be false to do otherwise. "Todo plátano tiene su manchita negra," as we say. Every banana has its little bit of black.

With so much history in our veins, Hispanics tend to think differently about race. The Latino population of this country continues to be, as the New America Foundation's Gregory Rodriguez puts it, a vanguard of interracial mixing.

"By creating a racial climate in which intermarriage is more acceptable," Rodriguez writes in his new book, "Mongrels, Bastards, Orphans, and Vagabonds," Latins are "breaking down the barriers that have traditionally served to separate whites and nonwhites in the United States." Mexican Americans, he claims, "are forcing the United States to reinterpret the concept of the melting pot . . . [to] blur the lines between 'us' and 'them.' Just as the emergence of the mestizos undermined the Spanish racial system in colonial Mexico, Mexican Americans, who have always confounded the Anglo-American racial system, will ultimately destroy it, too."

In other words, intermarriage -- the kind Hispanics have known for half a millennium, the kind from which Barack Obama was born, the kind that is becoming more visible in every urban neighborhood in America -- represents a body blow to American racism. Why don't we recognize this as the revolutionary wave that it is? Why can't we find words to describe it? Why do we continue to resort to the tired paradigm that calls a biracial man black?

Even Obama himself seems to have bought into the nomenclature. In his memoir "Dreams from My Father," he writes, "I was trying to raise myself to be a black man in America, and beyond the given of my appearance, no one around me seemed to know exactly what that meant." You can almost feel the youth struggling with his identity, reaching for the right words to describe it and finally accepting the label that others impose.

It doesn't have to be that way. As the great American poet Langston Hughes once wrote, "I am not black. There are lots of different kinds of blood in our family. But here in the United States, the word 'Negro' is used to mean anyone who has any Negro blood at all in his veins. . . . I am brown."

Hughes was right. North America has been slow to acknowledge its racial mixing. Anti-miscegenation laws, which were prevalent in Germany under the Nazis and in South Africa during apartheid, were still the rule in a number of states here until 1967, a mere generation ago, when the case of Loving v. Virginia finally struck them down. The goal of those laws, unspoken but undeniable, was to maintain racial "purity," ensure white supremacy. It was not only undesirable, it was punishable for a white to procreate with a black. Or an Asian. Or an Indian. And yet a quiet cross-cultural mixing continued all the while. Even under Thomas Jefferson's own roof.

The explosion of "minorities" in the United States in the past half-century has guaranteed that ever more interracial mingling is inevitable. According to the 2000 Census, there were 1.5 million Hispanic-white marriages in the United States, half a million Asian-white marriages, and more than a quarter-million black-white marriages. The reality is probably closer to double or triple that number. And growing.

The evidence is everywhere. If not in our neighborhoods, in our culture. We see it in Tiger Woods, Halle Berry, Ben Kingsley, Nancy Kwan, Ne-Yo, Mariah Carey. Yet we insist on calling these hybrids by a reductive name: Berry is black. Kingsley is white. Kwan is yellow. Even they label themselves by the apparent color of their skin. With language like that, how can we claim to live in a post-racial society?

A few years ago, after I gave a talk about biculturalism at a Pittsburgh college, a student approached me and said, "I understand everything you say. I too am a child of two cultures. My mother is German, my father African American. I was born in Germany, speak German and call myself a German-American. But look at me. What would you say I am?" She was referring to her skin, which was light black; her hair, lush and curly; and her eyes, a shining onyx. "I am fifty percent German. But no one who sees me believes it."

Few who see Barack Obama, it seems, understand that he's 50 percent white Kansan. Even fewer understand what it means to be second-generation Kenyan. It reminds me of something sociologist Troy Duster and bioethicist Pilar Ossorio once observed: Skin color is seldom what it seems. People who look white can have a significant majority of African ancestors. People who look black can have a majority of ancestors who are European.

In other words, the color of a president-elect's skin doesn't tell you much. It's an unreliable marker, a deceptive form of packaging. Isn't it time we stopped using labels that validate the separation of races? Isn't it time for the language to move on?


Marie Arana, the editor of Book World, is the author of "American Chica," a memoir, and the novel "Cellophane." Her second novel, "Lima Nights," will be published in January.

I'm Not Post-Racial
By Krissah Williams Thompson

For 18 months, I traveled the country interviewing voters. Not one of them uttered the word. It's not a word my friends or I ever use, so I probably heard it first on cable news or read it in a newspaper. And now everybody's throwing it around more than ever.


It's offered as a congratulatory term or more often posed as a question: Is America post-racial? What does that mean? That we've left race behind, or that race is a problem that has been overcome or can now be ignored?

The first time I recall seriously mulling the concept of "post-racialism" was last December. I was sitting in the auditorium of a high school in Spencer, Iowa, a small town where a videographer and I were talking to locals before the caucus. Apart from the candidate's body man and a couple of Secret Service guys, Barack Obama and I were the only black people in the room. And the room was going wild for Obama.

As a 29-year old rookie campaign reporter, I was too much of a political novice to predict how far the Illinois senator would go, but after my experience that day, I was sure that the country had been moving steadily away from our historical racial paradigm. It shook me to think that I hadn't noticed it in my own life. That auditorium full of rural Iowans felt post-racial. It gave me a chill. I liked it.

Still, as exciting as it was to see that all-white Obama-maniac crowd, and the multi-racial crowds that later rallied for him and celebrated his victory, the term post-racial itself has become disconcerting. It means moving beyond something -- and I don't want to move beyond everything it suggests. Post-racialism is relatively easy to understand in a standing-room-only sports arena or at a campaign rally, and it will probably be evident at Obama's inauguration celebrations, where people of all different backgrounds will stand together and cheer. But post-racialism outside that political pageantry gets more complicated. It means the loss of so much that I cherish about who I am and where I come from. Is a colorblind America really what we are striving for? Isn't the point to live lives that are open to differences but still celebrate our unique cultural heritages, family traditions and religions?

I asked those questions in the dozens of cities and towns I traveled to after I visited Iowa and back in the predominantly black Maryland community where I live. And I discovered that the wonder of that Iowa auditorium -- like the diverse mass rallies Obama held in Austin, Portland, Denver, Chicago and other cities -- was short-lived. In everyday life, the people I interviewed in beauty salons, office parks, churches, American Legion halls, suburbs and small-town squares had hardly moved beyond the boundaries of race. And I had to acknowledge that neither have I.

During the long Democratic primary campaign, some voters I talked to worried that racism would curb Obama's hopes. In South Carolina in October 2007, I met hairdresser Margaret Bell, a 63-year-old African American and ardent Hillary Clinton supporter. She was sure that Obama would lose because of his race.

I went back to see Bell after Obama won in Iowa, and she was perplexed. The lifelong Democrat still did not believe that a black man could become president. Bell's shop is in a mostly black Charleston neighborhood that had undergone white flight a decade ago and been left to deteriorate. Her clients are all black women, most of them in their 60s. She can spend an entire day between home and work interacting with only black people. She had no idea -- and no way to know -- whether white voters would support a black candidate. And everything in her immediate experience seemed to indicate that they wouldn't.

But of course, they did, both in the South Carolina primary, where Obama won by nearly 30 percentage points with support from 24 percent of the state's white voters, and in the general election. Bell was forced to embrace a new idea of race in America because she'd been wrong about those white voters. She shouted and cried on election night and called Obama's win "mind-boggling," but now she and many others I interviewed are back to their mostly racially isolated lives.

Between the South Carolina primary and the rush of states that voted Feb. 5, I planned my wedding in Houston. For me, the event was an opportunity to bring together the key people in my life, those who have had the greatest impact on me from childhood to adulthood.

All but a handful of people on my list -- which included childhood friends, preschool teachers, friends of the family, sisters and brothers from church, former bosses and colleagues -- were black. My husband, whose mother is Thai and whose father is African American, had a similar list. In that sunny chapel this summer, 90 of the 100 guests who witnessed our ceremony were black. I flipped through the picture books at the chapel and saw similar racial divisions for most of the couples, whether they were white, black, Asian or Latino.

After my wedding, I was back out on the campaign trail, meeting voters in rooms where the crowds were once again all black or all white. I used to have one type of reaction to those kinds of racial divisions: a negative one. They seemed unnecessarily narrow or part of a larger problem. But my own wedding experience, and the way it showed me how clearly divided my own life is, made me more sensitive to the divisions I saw among voters.

In Harrisburg, Pa., I hung out at American Legion Post 733 -- which is predominantly black -- and, less than 10 miles away, the mostly white American Legion Post 420. Many of the men at both posts had worked together at the nearly shuttered Bethlehem Steel mill, standing side by side on the line but living separate lives. It was strange to see how similarly they dressed, most in black Army caps and sports tees. Most of them were Democrats, at the time divided between Obama and Clinton. Other than the color of their skin, they seemed to have everything in common. Yet their posts had never come together.

From the outside, I didn't have much in common with either group. But somehow I wound up with a lifestyle that closely resembled theirs in a certain respect: It is rooted in my own community, more than I ever thought it would be.

I grew up in Alief, a neighborhood on the outskirts of Houston that attracted first a large concentration of African Americans, then Asian Americans and immigrants from the Middle East, Latin America and Africa. At my 12th birthday party in the spring of 1991, my sister and I ended up being the only black children present because my friends in homeroom were white or of Mexican, Indian or Egyptian heritage.

Later, in the high school lunchroom, I found myself, like most in my generation, largely sucked into the old divisions of race at the "black table." During that time, I wore a popular T-shirt that said, "It's a black thing, you wouldn't understand it." My sense of racial awareness began to solidify.

My high school was big and diverse, and I questioned the racial make-up of our classrooms. There were 4,000 students and 787 in my graduating class, but I was one of only two black kids in the AP honors courses. I thought the racial disparity had to be more of a systemic problem than some issue endemic to blacks.

Looking back, I realize that during high school I unconsciously developed a feeling of racial vulnerability, defensiveness and sometimes anger. It was those feelings that caused me to seek out people who I felt would understand. I didn't shut myself off from others, but I did draw closer to African Americans, who could empathize.

During my four years at the University of Texas, I was more open and developed friendships with folks from lots of backgrounds at the student newspaper, in women's groups and on campus leadership panels. But at the end of the day, my social life was rarely integrated. I joined a historically black sorority and chose to spend most of my social time with other African Americans.

In his speeches, Obama has never defined the kind of unity he seeks. It was commentators who dubbed his campaign a post-racial one and who have now declared that we live in a post-racial America. As Obama puts together his Cabinet, blogs and message boards are going crazy with discussions of whether he should be expected to appoint a team that's more racially diverse than were those of his recent predecessors. Others argue that his "post-racial" campaign should not succumb to such quotas.

What the president-elect said about race eight months ago in a speech in Philadelphia, which he called "A More Perfect Union," was much more complex than any cliched notion of unity. He described the country as being at a racial stalemate. "Contrary to the claims of some of my critics, black and white, I have never been so naive as to believe that we can get beyond our racial divisions in a single election cycle," Obama said.

Cassandra Butts, a senior Obama adviser who is African American, told the Wall Street Journal in the closing days of the campaign that she doesn't consider Obama "a post-racial" politician. "When people say that, they seem to suggest that we are beyond the issue of race, that issues of race don't matter," she said. "I don't think that is necessarily the case. I don't think Barack considers himself post-racial in that way. He will tell you he thinks race does matter."

I agree. For me, the goal has never been negating race through colorblindness -- to do so would take a healthy discussion of existing racial disparities off the table. My aim is not for us to be post-racial but to embrace our cultural heritages while refusing to be confined by them.

I've barely recovered from the epic campaign that led to President-elect Obama, so it's a bit early to be thinking about how cold it will be in Iowa come December 2011 or what the crowds might look like. It's safe to assume that Obama's coalition will somehow be altered by the power of the presidency. Perhaps by the time 2011 arrives, the country will have become less racially stratified.

I hope that by then, we will find that an auditorium of white Iowans cheering on a black, Asian or Latino presidential candidate is commonplace. I also hope that in that auditorium, race and ethnicity will remain valued aspects of our identities, not forgotten or homogenized for the sake of some vague notion of post-racialism.


Krissah Williams Thompson is a Washington Post staff writer.

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