Sunday, December 9, 2012

Will the Netherlands' "Black Pete" be a Guest on CNN's Newest Black in America Special About "Colorism" and "Mixed Race" Identity?


I would like to thank those of you who donated to the We Are Respectable Negroes holiday donation drive. "Black Pete" still has some of you. When you escape from him, do try to thrown in some silver or paper if you can. It will be very much appreciated.
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America's history of blackface race minstrelsy has a far more "benign" cousin in the Netherlands. Black Pete, or his proper name, "Zwarte Piet," is Santa Clause's "servant". I do not think that Black Pete is a direct ancestor of Mantan Moreland or Thomas Rice; but they may be first or second cousins.

[A question, in the Color Matching Game which We Are Respectable Negroes came up with several years ago, what would Black Pete be? "Blurple?"

CNN and Soleded O'Brien have made a cottage industry out of the Black in America series. Tonight, they will air their newest installment on the issue of "colorism" in the black community:
“I don’t really feel Black,” says 17-year-old Nayo Jones. Her mother is Black; she was raised apart from her by her White father, and she identifies herself as biracial. “I was raised up with White people, White music, White food so it’s not something I know,” she says in a new documentary that explores the sensitive concepts of race, cultural identity, and skin tone. 
For the fifth installment of her groundbreaking Black in America series, CNN anchor and special correspondent Soledad O’Brien reports for Who is Black in America? The documentary debuts Sunday, Dec. 09 at 8:00p.m. and 11:00p.m. ET & PT and replays on Saturday, Dec. 15 at 8:00p.m. and 11:00p.m. ET & PT. 
Is Jones Black? Is Blackness based upon skin color or other factors? The 2010 U.S. Census found 15 percent of new marriages are interracial, a figure that is twice what was reported in 1980. One in seven American newborns were of mixed race in 2010, representing an increase of two percent from the 2000 U.S. Census. Within this context, O’Brien examines how much regarding race and identity are personal choices vs. reflections of an external social construct.

Although Black Americans' presence in the New World predates the founding of the United States, it would seem that we are apparently quite fascinating to white folks and others.

Our ways are so strange that the anthropomorphic gaze continues even into the year 2012:  black and brown folks (the latter with the Latino in America series) are the topic of in depth reporting about our mysterious habits on a national news network.

The mass media is in a double bind here. If series such as Black in America did not exist, there are some who would complain that African-Americans are not featured "positively" in the news media. This is not to suggest that black Americans are not prominent on the news: see the disproportionately skewed and negative coverage of black criminals on the evening news, for example.

Likewise, Black in America and other such shows can be criticized for depicting African-Americans as a perpetual Other, to be pathologized, studied, explored, and made the topic of a documentary/(white) anthropomorphic gaze. While post civil right America may be past the "look, I see a negro!" phase of its development, there is still something amiss with specials such as CNN's Black in America.


Part of my discomfort with such shows is that they break down the important and necessary wall between the private and public in the black community. As I have mentioned many times, Richard Iton's powerfully insightful concept "the black superpublic" is spot on here.

It explains the ways that technology, changing generational norms about the boundaries of the African-American community, the end of the black counter-public, and popular culture have facilitated how the private talk of African-American spaces such as barbershops, churches, and hair salons have been made into commerce, what is then circulated by the mass media for profit.

My main concern about the Black in America series is one that I addressed several years ago in a piece called "White in America: CNN's Never to Be Made Documentary Special." This essay won WARN a Black Weblog Award, and got us some of our earliest national attention.

There I demonstrated how the Black in America, as well as CNN's other "insert non-white people in America title shows," normalize whiteness. On the surface, Soledad O'brien, a person who I respect a great deal as a TV personality, is reinforcing a belief that white people and white culture are "normal." Consequently, they are not going to be the topic of one of those specials. Once more, in an era dominated by colorblind racism, even "progressive" efforts often do the work of white privilege and (benign) white supremacy.

Part of my discomfort is also personal. I believe that matters which remain unresolved in the black community, are rooted in traumas centuries-old from rape and forced miscegenation, and that come from living in a society which systematically devalues people of color, are not yet ready to be processed before a national audience.

For example, when hearing about some of the show's segments on colorism in the black community, I grimace when reading passages such as this one:
“I look at Nayo who is tortured and squirming in her chair about her identity. The question is: Is it you who decides you are black or society? 
I have a similar background but my parents were clear and articulate. My experience was almost the opposite of hers. Growing up: we were black! 
I’m grateful that my parents helped us form an identity – they gave it to us. They helped us to navigate society. 
I never thought bi-racial was an identity. My identity is black. I thought (the fact that one parent was white and another was black) that it was a math equation of how I came to be.
Both girls (profiled in the documentary) would say I get to decide (what I am). But the fact is that the decision has been made for them. 
Our documentary isn’t there to give you the answers. We want to raise the questions about how we value and judge each other on skin color. We’re not post-racial and there is a real penalty – the data shows – for skin color. Yet some people still don’t believe that.”

I have loved across the colorline. My rule regarding "multiracial" or "mixed race" identity has been a consistent one. Black people come in many hues. If I were to have a child with a white woman our progeny is black. For me, this is a litmus test that inexorably governs our relationship. It is not a fictive scenario: I have had this conversation on one occasion with someone I loved very much and almost married.

A child's "blackness" is not made any less suspect, "diluted," or "less than" because of their mother's "racial" background. There is only one race, the human race. As such, claims to "mixed race" identity are fictions that more often than not are rooted in one parent trying to access some type of white privilege for their offspring. Their mother could be white, Hispanic, Asian, or Native American. They are no less black.

My responsibility as a parent is to prepare my children for life in the world as it is, and to make sure they have the skills to be successful in it. I am not interested in entertaining silly fantasies of post-racial dreaming which could leave my son or daughter damaged or broken.

Some of the saddest and tragic students I have encountered in my several years of teaching have been "mixed" race black students who want to be anything but black. Like many ethnic "black" immigrants, who are very conscious about distancing themselves from African Americans, even while they benefit from our freedom struggle, many self-identified "multi-racial" or "mixed race" black students desperately want to believe that they are more "special" or "unique" than black Americans.

However, these young people are really trying to carve out a type of radical autonomy for themselves where they are a special class of blacks who are immune from white racism. This is a practical survival skill; it is also a failing one.

I have to admit, I do enjoy the moment of realization when many of these 21st century archetypal tragic mulattoes (and some ethnic blacks from the Caribbean and Africa) are forced to accept that they too are "black." The Racial State and the White gaze make little distinction for what in the history of black people in America is a quite common circumstance: most black Americans have a less than "pure" blood lineage. There are no "pure" races. This is especially true of African-Americans.

Will CNN's Black in America special on colorism in America take on this fact? Will Soledad O'Brien expose the fallacies and false pretexts driving the "multiracial" identity movement?

25 comments:

Anonymous said...

Vic78

I was never a fan of Soledad's series. She's good at her job, I'm tired of the way the media talks about black folks. I have a hard time trusting people that give airtime to Newt Gingrinch and Charles Murray.

Those are some good questions. My questions would be about their idea of privilege. Why did they knowingly support people that sabotaged the country? In a "sophisticated" place like Mass, why didn't Elizabeth Warren beat Scot Brown by the same margin that Obama won with? What is the appeal of that Sarah Palin anti intellectual? Why are whites afraid of being on the back of the bus?

chaunceydevega said...

@Vic. Great mysterious questions. When will good white folks answer them?

nomad said...

And yet what we are seeing in 21st century America is something quite worthy of examination for many reasons. It is a reflection of what we are as black Americans. Colorism is a reality we all live with. So ubiquitous we often fail to notice. For example, there are a lot more light skinned models and actresses than dark. There's a lot more lightskinned professors and politicians than dark. True, more and more dark skinned blacks are becoming part of high society. But remember, the two classes of Negroes, the primarily slave-originating blacks and the free-black originating mulattoes, have only been integrated for about a hundred years. As I say, those two classes of Negroes were officially united in the New Negro movement. The mulattoes were now fully assimilated under the one drop rule, as was the desire of US government. The one drop rule finally became the law of the land; causing the demise of the competing system of racial classification in the US: the three tier system, where mixed raced black/white individuals were allowed intermediate racial status. They had some of the Negro's non-freedom, but also some of the white's privilege. While the one drop rule became the official way of defining race in 20th century America, vestiges of three tier system remained, in the form of better opportunities for light-skinned blacks and color prejudice. It is no accident that the first black pres of the US is half white. In an earlier time he would have been called a mulatto and, by that token, be thought of as a respectable Negro; with privileges those of darker hue don't have.

nomad said...

The mulattoes were now fully assimilated under the one drop rule-

Fully assimilated by being defined as black, drawing an emphatic line between the black and white races, to stop them dam mulattoes from infiltrating (passing). The drive for the two tier system which we now take for granted and which is unique to the US (though it prolly did spill over into Canada) was actually fueled by the ideology of white supremacy.

fred c said...

What could CNN's agenda be? Maybe the good old propaganda line: sure, it was terrible, but look how far we've come! Look how cool we are now!

You know how I feel about people like Ms. Nayo Jones, if America looks at you and sees a Black person, you're Black. If America looks at her and sees a White person, the whole Black/White question gets a lot harder, doesn't it?

If she looks White, well, her mom is still a Black woman. And Ms. Jones better deal with it before she marries some White guy and has a baby that looks like Wesley Snipes. Genetically, anything can happen, and usually does. Blood will out, and lots of people look like their grandparents, or great-grandparents.

(Poor Wesley still sleeps up at the jail, by the way. He gets out next July. That's a Black story right there. Do they still routinely put White people in jail for that, or do they just want the money from White people? Wesley's got as much ability to pay as Willie Nelson does.)

So Ms. Jones better take off those rose colored glasses and deal with it. Living with Asians, and eating Asian food, and listening to mostly Black American music for that matter, doesn't make me anything but White.

Olivia Emisar said...

I appreciate the article, but I have to make a couple of points that the author may want to ponder.

When you talk about Blacks coming from another country and wanting to be different from black Americans, is not due to carving a privilege section for themselves, it is due to the fact that they are culturally different.

They have not been raised in this country with the same values and experiences. Their backgrounds tend to be vastly different and they may call themselves West Indians, because they are. That is how they were raised and told they were.

Just like your parents raised you to identify yourself as being black regardless of who is white or anything else in your family. That is your cultural background and your parents choice. They decided what your identity should be and there is nothing wrong with that. That, which you call black is what you are comfortable identifying with.

A young woman of mixed background being raised by pigmies in Australia would identify herself in very different terms of black, or white as well.

As a woman of mixed background, I would not offend or insult those who came before me by choosing to be one, or the other. Those men and women were adamant on loving whom they chose to love, married them against the, not so thin, veil of disapproval of society, and raised children who were multi-cultural.

This has been going on for generations. I am not black in America, or white in America, or Hispanic or French... or... I am an American that has been blessed to be born in a multi-cultural family in which skin color is just another accent to a diverse and rich ethnic tapestry.

What we look like and how others perceive our ethnic background, is not a problem we have to explain. If others (black or white or whatever) have an issue with it. It is their issue. Not ours.

There are many whites in our historical tapestry. They are loved and respected the same as everyone else. It took guts to get us all here.

We are not going anywhere and we don't have to chose sides. Some were raised in affluent neighborhoods, while others had more humble abodes, but they all recognize each other as family. Not divided by colors.

Mulattos? Mestizos? half-breeds? Mongrols? - We have heard it all and we are offended by anyone in either side of the equation deciding we are not Pure this, or pure that.

We are here to stay. We are part of the fabric of this country. And if a young woman identifies herself by her cultural upbringing as white or black, or Hispanic, or West Indian, or anything else that is her level of comfort or familiarity, that is exactly what she is and we have no business second-guessing and making those decisions for her. They were already made by her parents and her circle of family.

Just like yours was made by yours.

Keep an open mind. Cultural upbringing matters more than the simplification of quantifying skin tone.

We don't all fit into the square box they want to put us in.

chaunceydevega said...

@olivia. thank you for the kind and thorough response. so much to comment on there; i will leave some for others.

1. Radical autonomy is a nice fiction. In this society, you are, for better or for worse, and your life chances are, unfairly or not, a function of what you are perceived by dominant society. Thems be the facts.

I have seen many tragic mulattoes and other mixed race students who are simply not fully integrated psychologically: they break when confronted by the fact that the fictions taught them in the home have no currency in the real world.

2. Many afro-caribbeans are taught explicitly and socialized that they are "better" than black Americans. Over generations, the kids often are socialized into blackness and realize that their parents and grandparents' ideas on these matters are out of context and misplaced.

The ethnicization of black identity--as though blackness is homogeneous--is one of the ways that white racist institutions try to undermine black Americans. My solution for ethnically identified blacks who want nothing to do with african americans is simple: do not free ride; do not take advantage of our freedom struggle; do your own thing and be proud.

But, when reality comes knocking on your door, and you have to realize that your cultural norms--language, food, etc.--are not of help when faced by whiteness and white power, we will not help you.

The distancing of some ethnics blacks from black Americans is sad given how Brother Malcolm, Marcus Garvey and others knew better. Amadou Diallo and Abner Louima (sp?) learned those lessons too.

In all, I have said above and elsewhere: there are no "pure" races. Multiracial identity is based upon a false premise where many want to be racial middlemen or part of a coloured class or buffer race. Being black is not exclusive of any other identity. You can be black with a white mother or father. You can be black with an Asian dad. etc.

The fixation on a desire to come up with nonsense racial identities is fascinating to me. I get the practical part of it in carving out a political space to get goodies and the like. Help me understand if you would the personal investment in such stories and fictions.

Steven Augustine said...

Yes, sadly, my Spidey Senses (Spadey Census?) start tingling when a person goes to the trouble of making the case that having Blacks in the family tree doesn't make one Black. Rule of thumb: if you have to go to the trouble of saying you aren't Black, you're Black.

For the Nth time. Race isn't a biological (scientific) taxonomy, it's social, and the rules of the game are quite clear. Because of American Colorism, pale-skinned Blacks are usually raised (overtly or subliminally) to feel superior to Darkies... it's nearly unavoidable. What fascinates me is the fact that 90% of the time I've run across this postmodern kind of "Other Other" color militancy, a woman was advocating it. Anti-Black propaganda has reached a saturation point in Media and Black Women bear the brunt... maybe that explains it.

My father was olive-skinned, with straight hair and Euro-evocative features, and he not only self-identified as Black, he was a Black Militant in the '60s and '70s (his authenticity kit included a Dashiki, a mojo around his neck, you name it! laugh). He baked himself in the sun to get blacker; at best he bronzed, but he usually burned. I've known more than one Brother who could have "passed" yet opted not to (my maternal uncle was another, wearing a beret and espousing his love for Richard Pryor and John Lee Hooker). Maybe it has to do with the incentive (for males) of the automatic apparent super-masculinity one acquires as Black?

Sidebar... Q: name the only long-term (4-century) breeding scheme, for producing super-men, the modern world has ever known. (Which explains the extraordinarily oppressive counter-measures we were subjected to after "Emancipation", no?). But that's another discussion! laugh. Anyway...

I can understand the "passing" that went on before the age of legal (overt) discrimination ended, but, these days, there's something decidedly creepy about the urge and the practice. Count on the Kapos to out-Nazi the Nazis when push comes to shove (I'm reminded of the late, un-great, deeply-conflicted, funk-loving, Negro-disdaining David Mills).

In any case: the general "I'm not Black" argument is dullest sophistry. No one is claiming that your family tree isn't amply stocked with "whites"; the legacy folk-Eugenics of America calls you Black because you aren't "pure" "white". And you aren't.

It's a trivial matter if you allow it to be.

Steven Augustine said...

@OE:

"Mulattos? Mestizos? half-breeds? Mongrols? [sic] - We have heard it all and we are offended by anyone in either side of the equation deciding we are not Pure this, or pure that."

Plenty of Darkies reading this (who would fail the paper-bag test with flying colors) are mongrels, too. Being paler doesn't make you special. That's the glaring flaw in your reasoning. Most "multi-racial" people in America are the color of a good fudge brownie.

@Nomad

"Colorism is a reality we all live with. So ubiquitous we often fail to notice. For example, there are a lot more light skinned models and actresses than dark."

QED! laugh

Even worse: the Instant Quadroons who use nose jobs, hair-jobs and skin-lighteners to get that way. Erm, Beyonce, may we have a word with you...?

Even Prince (who rather bizarrely gave himself a White mom in Purple Rain) qualifies as such. Prince was smarter than MJ (or maybe MJ was just his beta-tester) and only went half-way. However, now that Prince is losing his hair, he's using a reverse-white-celebrity-70s-perm-maneuver and wearing an Afro (known by us, way back when, as a "Natural") to hide it. The psycho-social calculus involved is too complicated to tell if that's ironic.

Steven Augustine said...

speaking of dodgy metamorphoses

nomad said...


"Sidebar... Q: name the only long-term (4-century) breeding scheme, for producing super-men, the modern world has ever known."

Errr....chattel slavery? The physically weak died by the millions but we got some damn good athletes outa that.

Steven Augustine said...

And it wasn't just negative Darwinian pressure (the weak falling out of the gene pool); slaves were often bred for strength, endurance, good teeth and so on. Adolph Hitler dreamed of something similar for Aryans but the program got canceled.

I noticed, long ago, in college, that I could put on muscle mass much quicker (with less effort; and the muscles seemed to work more efficiently than much-bigger white chums who always lost arm-wrestling contests to me) ... that I caught colds/flu far less frequently... suffered fewer cavities (in teeth that never needed braces to keep straight: one cavity my first 35 years)... not to mention the old standby of a dirty joke that is not, I'm "sorry to say", a stereotype (or maybe it's just a coincidence in my case). White buddies my age look 10-15 years older and I'm nowhere *near* to needing Viagra (knock on wood). Sheer luck... or am I the inheritor of the collateral benefits of an historical evil?

Any other Brothers/ Sisters out there feeling like unusually healthy specimens? (Of course, one has to avoid Big Macs, Cokes, trans-fats, et al, to enjoy the benefits... which brings me back to my original joke about Super(Wo)Men needing Super Sabotage to hold them back).

I have to thank the ancestors of mine who were chattel (and their breeding program) for these unintended gifts. Controversial? Prolly.

nomad said...

"I have to thank the ancestors of mine who were chattel (and their breeding program) for these unintended gifts."

You're lucky, I guess. We did not all inherit them genes, letmetellyou. My dad was a muscular man of bronze. Skips a generation I guess.

Steven Augustine said...

Look to Thy diet, Bro! laugh

(I just got the idea for a lucrative afro-centric diet book/ workout DVD: THE MANDINGO HEALTH REGIME)

nomad said...

"Look to Thy diet, Bro! laugh"

Ain't that the truth. No, I tried. The muscle gene did not get passed on to me. Nor do I have any rhythm. I guess the great purged missed a few weak genes. Although, I must admit to possessing stamina. Then again, I might have developed athletic abilities had I been able to see. Ironically, a person with my degree of near sightedness would have been effectively blind during slavery. I would have never survived. "Doc. you know that genetic plot we had to create supermen?" "Yes, Igor?" "It backfired."

Razor said...

Don't despair Nomad, you will probably outlast us all.

Steven Augustine said...

"...you will probably outlast us all."

The Inverse-Batty Effect!

nomad said...

itsa wiidwild west.
im doin my best.

CNu said...

(I'm reminded of the late, un-great, deeply-conflicted, funk-loving, Negro-disdaining David Mills).

Mills was conflicted about the IQ "controversy" and sharply uncompromising about ignant "culture" - yet - he was a consistent and concerted insurgent thorn in the side of the pseudo-scientific human bio-diversity and racial realist element.

Sum'n to be said for that.

As you are aware, I got into protracted, nasty, and deeply ad hominem arguments with him about the IQ "controversy", but I was almost always under the impression that he was looking for someone to give him a clip of magic bullets with which he could dispatch the HBD crowd, whom I think he genuinely despised.

My own disdain for that crowd is rooted in careful mentoring by Stephen Chorover who fought those battles his entire professional career. I don't want to see any of that pathological ideology leave its imprint on the nascent domains of genomic or cognitive science/AI.

Steven Augustine said...

Dude, try to imagine my sense of... disappointment?... when, as a geeky, physics-obsessed teen, I learned of Mister "Transistor" Shockley's take on all that! By the time J. Watson's consonantly nasty views were leaked, I was able to shrug at it... but people who consider Darwin a secular saint won't like the notion that there's a very thin line between Eugenics and its acceptable face in mainstream science. The fact is, there is ALWAYS an agenda. The 19th century (with King Leopold as its team mascot) has a lot to answer for.

Sidebar: speaking of the *Subjective, the Ethnocentric and the Hidden Agenda*, I would love to have a discussion, one day (though this ain't the venue) about how even some of the fundamentals (no pun intended) of Western Science are hopelessly tainted with Christian beliefs! The strictly Objective ain't a human specialty...

Steven Augustine said...

Let "IQ" = "Integratability Quotient" and we get closer to the Truth

CNu said...

Sho's you right!!!

About your boy Shockley, if I'm not mistaken, that old nasty bastich managed to exert influence all the way across the country in denying tenure to my first physics instructor.

I would love to have a discussion, one day (though this ain't the venue) about how even some of the fundamentals (no pun intended) of Western Science are hopelessly tainted with Christian beliefs! The strictly Objective ain't a human specialty...

Human psychological development has been tragically arrested by the Frankish/Catholic system of human livestock management.

Steven Augustine said...

"Human psychological development has been tragically arrested by the Frankish/Catholic system of human livestock management."

Science will get itself clean after the Singularity, I guess...!

Steven Augustine said...

[non sequitur @CnU: A) were you aware of the CERN vs Otto Roessler controversy and B) if so, what was your take on it? Did you consider Roessler an alarmist?]

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