They look white but say they're black
July 25, 2019 6:13 AM   Subscribe

 
Something to show people who get confused and upset by the idea of race as a purely social construct.
posted by Naberius at 6:22 AM on July 25, 2019 [22 favorites]


I am surprised by how hard they are working to avoid identifying as mixed-race or something similar. Is that particularly undesirable for some reason?
posted by jacquilynne at 6:41 AM on July 25, 2019 [3 favorites]


After one year at a North-American college campus, I feel so many feels about this.
That's all I can say at the moment.
posted by ipsative at 6:47 AM on July 25, 2019


I am surprised by how hard they are working to avoid identifying as mixed-race or something similar. Is that particularly undesirable for some reason?

Depending on the social context it can be, though I don't think that's what's going on here. This is, instead, a legacy of the bigotry that is the US' original sin. A number of unwanted racial groups were basically shunted off into their own community which developed its own identity based on that - and the residents are seeking to preserve that identity.
posted by NoxAeternum at 6:53 AM on July 25, 2019 [22 favorites]


The need to belong in a group (for some size >1) is a rather strong human instinct. If there are only two groups available and one kicks you out, well.

There are other factors here: ancestry, traditions, one-drop rules. Just now though the group-membership drive is standing out to me. It often polarizes.
posted by TreeRooster at 6:53 AM on July 25, 2019 [6 favorites]


Previously, on Metafilter in 2013: Pike County, OH: As Black As We Wish To Be
posted by fuse theorem at 7:05 AM on July 25, 2019 [6 favorites]


An amazing book about the more-permeable-than-most-people-think boundary between races in America: The Invisible Line, by Dan Sharfstein.
posted by escabeche at 7:29 AM on July 25, 2019 [1 favorite]


I am surprised by how hard they are working to avoid identifying as mixed-race or something similar. Is that particularly undesirable for some reason?

I don't see that they are "working hard" by simply expressing their own views about their own race and not immediately agreeing with the characterizations of others.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 7:47 AM on July 25, 2019 [20 favorites]


I am surprised by how hard they are working to avoid identifying as mixed-race or something similar. Is that particularly undesirable for some reason?

When people make the mistake of asking my wife her ancestry, she says black. When they make they make the further mistake of pushing the issue because she's light-skinned she says that both of her parents are black and that her ancestry is black going back as far as either side of her family has been able to trace, but if they want her to put forward her theories as to what historical events might have taken place to give members of her family some stereotypically white features she will do so and the listener will very much not enjoy it.

That's usually enough to get people to backpedal hard out of the conversation.

My wife's mom's side of the family is from West Virginia. Her great-grandfather was a coal miner who was able to get a job back when the bosses weren't hiring black workers by telling them that he was Italian. When he got injured in the mines and couldn't work the family was going to get kicked out of company housing, so my wife's grandfather (who was thirteen at the time) started doing mine work so that they could keep living there.

He became a union organizer for United Mine Workers, and there was a persistent rumor the bosses started that he was a particularly dark-skinned white communist who was pretending to be black in order to agitate.

His sons were heavily involved in the civil rights movement, and one of them (my wife's uncle Freddy) spoke in front of the US Senate and is now forever on the Senate record calling out Senator Robert Byrd for being in the KKK. His daughter, my wife's mother, had stories about being a little girl and sneaking up to the police wagons to let her older brothers out after they got thrown in for fighting the cops at rallies. She grew up to teach at Howard University.
her blackness, and yeah, it rankles when people want her to identify as mixed-race.
posted by Parasite Unseen at 7:50 AM on July 25, 2019 [90 favorites]


Whoops! I attempted to edit something in my previous comment and ended up cutting off half of the last sentence, which should read "But people still question my wife's blackness, and yeah, it rankles when people want her to identify as mixed-race."
posted by Parasite Unseen at 7:59 AM on July 25, 2019 [6 favorites]


> fuse theorem: Previously, on Metafilter in 2013: Pike County, OH: As Black As We Wish To Be

I thought it sounded familiar. Thanks for that, fuse theorem.
posted by Rock Steady at 8:21 AM on July 25, 2019


Sorry for asking that question in an insensitive manner. I appreciate the people who took the time to educate me and apologize for being an ass.
posted by jacquilynne at 8:53 AM on July 25, 2019 [16 favorites]


Seeing White is a great podcast that looks at the construction of 'white' and the history of whiteness and policies of exclusion and supremacy.
posted by kokaku at 8:59 AM on July 25, 2019 [2 favorites]


My grandmother was a typical midwestern, rural, white, and poor racist. Legal segregation and Jim Crow were unfair and excessively cruel in her eyes, but she made it plain that non-whites were not her equals or mine. That included all of the ugly language associated with miscegenation and the one-drop rule. A part of ethnicity and class for her rural, white, and poor status included knowing who one's grandparents are. "She's a nice girl, but it's a shame about her grandfather."

I think that probably translates into experiences of prejudice and discrimination for many of the people in this article. It would have been more interesting, IMO to explore that, rather than the angle of personal identity choices and supposed conflicts between passing and legal categorization.

Homer Plessy of Plessy v Ferguson was a white-passing "octaroon." The Supreme Court decided he was legally black, and that legal reality would have living memory for many of the people sourced for the article.
posted by GenderNullPointerException at 10:00 AM on July 25, 2019 [4 favorites]


Homer Plessy of Plessy v Ferguson was a white-passing "octaroon." The Supreme Court decided he was legally black, and that legal reality would have living memory for many of the people sourced for the article.

Slight nitpick, but my understanding is that the Supreme Court didn't really rule on whether or not Plessy was black, so much as they ruled that Lousiana was free to define who was and wasn't black in Louisiana and to segregate people on that basis.
posted by 256 at 11:01 AM on July 25, 2019 [1 favorite]


Which, of course, comes back around to the article at hand. If the society you live in has declared you to belong to a category and treats you differently based on that categorization, well, you're in that category. It gets right at the heart of the fact that race is a social construct. You're exactly as black as the people who care about you being black think you are.

What's happened here is that, locally, people used to care a lot about the people of East Jackson being black, so they were. Now, on a much wider political stage, people still care a lot about who's black and who isn't, but they've changed the criteria so that the people of East Jackson aren't black anymore.

Except that the people of East Jackson themselves still care.
posted by 256 at 11:09 AM on July 25, 2019 [17 favorites]


Trevor Noah’s book talks a lot about how this same issue plays out in South Africa. You always have to pick a side.
posted by rikschell at 5:16 PM on July 25, 2019 [3 favorites]


I've talked about this before*, and how it personally is very relevant to both my nuclear family and our tribal roll status, and I hope folks can approach this with the tact and care it deserves. It is hard and it usually sucks and there are few winners but we all come out ahead if people are allowed to respectfully discuss their family history and backgrounds, complex though they may be.

* Specifically how the label of 'Black', albeit applied inappropriately and as a means of avoiding even more extreme racism directed at Native American labeled individuals, at the time is now causing complications and pain for my family due to internal tribal law whack a mole.
posted by RolandOfEld at 12:02 AM on July 26, 2019 [3 favorites]


Another self comment link I meant to include as reference, background, citation, education, whatever to how this sort of racial paperwork song and dance can play out in other venues.
posted by RolandOfEld at 12:13 AM on July 26, 2019 [2 favorites]


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