I received my census form, dutifully filled it out and mailed it off. In the blank reserved for racial classification I wrote in capital letters, “HUMAN.” It was widely reported that for racial classification President Obama checked the box marked “African-American” as opposed to writing in “mixed race,” which would have been more factually correct, but wouldn’t have played well with black voters (or so he supposed). It is my considered opinion that if the President can make a political statement when filling out his census form I can as well. Obama chose to shore up his street cred; I chose to give voice to the conviction that this country will never move beyond race so long as the federal government continues to be in the business of race.
Yet we remain consumed even if we can no longer actually define what race is. What we lose in our attempts is any sense of ourselves as individuals created with unique gifts to offer an expectant world.
Is race in America a matter of pigmentation? DNA? Given the fact that most of us are “mutts,” how dark or light must one be and which ethnic distinction predominates? Our President is bi-racial and was raised by his white mother and grandmother, yet he describes his race as African-American. His choice seems to suggest that race is a matter of opinion; a man is whatever he believes himself to be. How then does one determine the authentic from the merely delusional? My friend Amy is married to a black man; she has black children and lives in a black neighborhood. She earnestly asks why she is precluded from becoming a member of the sisterhood. And what of all the blond, blue eyed “Native Americans” and their cousins in the black community that “have a little Cherokee on their grandmothers side of the family.” Are their opinions not as valid as our President’s? Are we prepared to give moral credence to the “one drop” rule of days gone by? Have we now determined that absent the idea of racial supremacy the one drop rule is in fact not racist and is civilly acceptable?
Perhaps race in America is now defined by ones political attitudes(I was recently referred to as a “Republicoon.” Members of the tolerant and non-racist left tend toward a particularly odious form of invective. But I digress.) This was overheard at a dinner following the 2008 presidential election: “You know I’m black. And I can prove it!” Thus she opened her sweater revealing her Barack Obama t-shirt.
In 1790 the only reason for counting race was the continued presence of the evil institution, slavery.