3 days ago
16 March 2010
The Nannie Diaries: All Boxed In
Perhaps this anxiety stems from the one of two times in my life I can recall Nannie being visibly upset with me. One ordinary afternoon, I was sitting on her lap and decided that there was no more perfect time to ask why her skin was white. (Yes, that's the term I used.) Nannie got upset, and I knew then that what I said had hit a nerve so deep that I'd never get an answer from her. I shut up about it, and never mentioned Nannie's complexion to her again. It was much later when I discovered what it meant to be "mixed" or "biracial" and the integral role blackness played in those designations, or one's inability to be described as such. I'm almost sure the issue was clarified in a school lunchroom when a classmate, technically mixed, offered the quick and dirty version of the one-drop rule.
Of course, if Nannie had been born, say, 70 years later, perhaps she would have wished to check a box that would have identified her as "more" than colored--the term she'd often use to inquire as to if the person I was talking to her about was black. On the first U.S. census that Nannie would've been included on, 1920, she could have been identified as mulatto, or having at least some white "blood." Yet since Nannie had been adopted as a baby by two black parents, my guess is they counted her as black, and kept it moving. Not that mulatto would have been an appellation Nannie could have held on to for long. After the 1920 census, all the mulattoes became Negroes: equally disenfranchised. It would be eighty years before the government would formally hear the voices of mulattoes 2.0, now known as the mixed-race, wanting a separate category--again.
What many members of this movement might do--and actually did--in pleading their case for the "right" to check more than one box is retroactively, anachronistically identify Nannie as biracial. The presumption, of course, being that hypodescent, or having a child's identity rest solely upon that of the most racially subordinate parent, is an insufficient descriptor. Although "multiracial" is not an official, separate category on the census--that effort failed in 2000--the government now allows folks identifying as mixed-race to check more than one box, thereby permitting people like Nannie to have (governmental) access to and legally claim whiteness (or something else vehemently not black) in ways they haven't had since 1920, and further legitimate that effort by taking black historical figures and recasting them as biracial.
And that's fine, I guess. Who am I to tell another person which box(es) to be "confined" by, even if it is just for a governmental project that presumably employs the results to disperse federal funds and whatnot to American communities? I suppose what rubs me wrong in this move towards post- and multiraciality and this latest round of obsession with the American mixed-race, is how narrowly we have to construct blackness in order to justify the desire to check more than one box. I emphasize blackness because the relationship between black and white has been--and continues to be--central to the way race in this part of the New World was established, and must remain the conduit through which we continue to understand it in an American context. But I digress. Black identity, if anything, is inherently mixed-race. Nannie can attest to that. Furthermore, black identity is the exact opposite of racial identity based upon biological constructions, which is what mixed-race relies upon at its core, i.e. My parents are of two different (biological) racial backgrounds, therefore I'm mixed-race. Blackness is not about science, if you will. It just strikes me as odd that a govermental form employed to enact social policy marks an occasion for many to express what they presume is their unique biological diversity.
Maybe all this is extra box checking is the reason why I'm not all that offended by the revivification of the term Negro for this year's census. I think endeavoring to check as many boxes as one can may be more of a sign for us to pretend that we've somehow moved beyond this tricky, complicated thing we like to call race. Mixed-race is ostensibly mulatto sans tragedy, because some of us no longer have to be stuck in the tar. The tar, that's part of what Negro is about. Many folks have expressed outrage because the term Negro reminds one, for example, of Portugal's heavy involvement in the slave trade (hence the term), colored only signs, and other forms of Jim Crow. And maybe that's why I don't mind Negro so much, because in this political climate, in this culture of racial amnesia, I want to remember the historical context the name carries with it. So much so that I will request that the NAACP not bury it during their annual conference this year. I don't want to romanticize Jim Crow here. What I do want to do, however, is point out that perhaps it's important for us to remember that as we relish in our recent "successes," we're not that far from the back of the bus, from maintaining our humanity under the seemingly never-ending process of dehumanization by powerful forces outside of us, especially when such traditional family values are being espoused on cable news everyday.
But that's not all blackness is. I may be be biased, but black folks, in my estimation, have always been so much more than a perpetually denied, downtrodden people. There's a pretty rich life down here in the land of hypodescent; some of my favorite black people were Negroes. I think Nannie got upset with me not because I reminded her of not being able to access her biraciality, but because I hadn't yet learned to associate her with that rich fabric of blackness. I was strictly relying on my reading of her body. And it's hard to read a chapter book when you haven't quite finished the primer. Now that I've perused a book or two and learned that it's not blood or the perpetual state of denial that defines blackness, if I have to pick a box, the black one, or even the Negro one--in certain cases--is cool with me. No need to check out. Not for me, at least.
$40 million slaves (3) 2010 (1) 4-letter words (1) 80s (1) 8th grade (1) 90s (4) a different world (1) africa (1) aladdin (1) american values (4) amy winehouse (1) anderson cooper (1) anniversary (3) antoine dodson (1) apple (1) arizona (1) athletes (1) awkward black girl (1) barack obama (13) barbara walters (1) basketball (6) beer (1) bet (1) BET Awards (2) beyonce (4) bill clinton (1) bill duke (1) bill withers (1) birthdays (1) black beauty (1) black girls (4) black kids (4) black like me (1) black love is dead (2) black masculinity (1) black people (13) black respectability (1) black thought (1) black women (7) blacks (1) blame it on the alcohol (1) blaphemy (1) blind side (1) blizzard (1) blogging (1) bob marley (1) Bobby Brown (1) books (4) brandy (1) bryan safi (1) bryant gumbel (1) burger kind (1) cam'ron (1) capitalism (2) census 2010 (1) cereal (1) chappelle's show (1) charles barkley (1) chaz bono (1) chicago (3) chick-fil-a (2) chris broussard (1) chris brown (1) christmas (3) cinema (2) class (1) college (1) college basketball (1) coming out (1) commencement (2) commercials (2) common (3) current tv (1) d'angelo (2) dad (1) daddy (1) dark girls (1) dave chappelle (1) david stern (1) dead prez (1) death penalty (2) dee rees (1) democracy (1) dibs (1) diddy (1) dilla (1) dirty laundry (1) disaster (1) disney (1) dissertation (4) diva (1) don't ask don't tell (1) donell jones (1) drew brees (1) dwele (2) ebony (1) eddie long (1) education (1) election (1) enwhitlement (1) erica jong (1) erykah badu (3) esperanza spaulding (1) espn (2) et. al. (1) etc. (1) facebook (1) faggot (1) family (1) family stand (1) fantasy football (1) federal holidays (1) feminism (1) film (2) football (7) for colored girls (1) forgiveness (2) fox news (1) free agency 2010 (1) freedom (2) gabby sidibe (3) game (1) gang starr (1) gay hip hop (1) gender (1) geraldo rivera (1) ghetto heaven (1) gifts (1) god (1) going green (2) golf (1) grace jones (1) graduate school (1) graduation (2) grandma (1) grant hill (2) grocery shopping (1) guns (1) guru (1) haiti (4) hall of fame (1) halloween (1) harlem (1) harper lee (1) harry reid (1) hateration (1) henry louis gates (1) high school (1) hip hop (3) holding history (1) hood pass (1) hoodies (1) huck finn (2) hurricane katrina (1) immigration (3) instant vintage (2) internet (1) introductions (1) ipad (1) ipod (1) isiah thomas (1) jail (2) jalen rose (2) janelle monae (1) janet jackson (1) jazmine sullivan (1) jennifer hudson (1) john howard griffin (1) john mayer (1) jokes (2) just jokes (1) kanye west (2) kelly dodson (1) kfc (1) kia (1) kim wayans (1) kinky reggae (1) kitty kelley (1) kobe (1) kobe bryant (1) kreayshawn (1) krs-one (1) kwanzaa (1) lamya (1) language (1) late night with jimmy fallon (1) latin america (1) laurence fishburne (1) lauryn hill (6) lebron james (6) lena horne (1) lenny kravitz (1) lesbians of color (1) levar burton (1) lgbt (1) life after death (2) lists (1) little dragon (1) live blogging (1) logan square (1) long live the message (1) lupe fiasco (1) macon d. (1) magic johnson (1) maia campbell (1) making the band (1) man men (1) march madness (1) mariah carey (1) mark twain (1) marriage (1) martin lawrence (1) martin luther the king (3) mary j. blige (1) masculinity (1) mayor (1) me (1) mexicans (1) michael jackson (9) michael jordan (1) michael vick (1) michelle obama (1) Mike Tyson (1) military (1) MLK Day (1) mo'nique (1) mom (1) monday (1) money (3) montana fishburne (1) morality (1) movies (7) muhsinah (1) multiracial (1) muppets (1) music (19) my block (1) my former life (4) my personal issues (14) mystic brew (1) n (1) nannie (5) national coming out day (1) nba (2) negroes (7) new orleans (1) nfl (1) nigger (1) nihilism (2) nike (1) nina simone (1) nobel peace prize (1) not voting (1) occupy wall street (2) octavia spencer (1) oprah winfrey (4) osama bin laden (2) oscar (2) oscar grant (1) painting (1) pariah (1) pat robertson (2) paul beatty (1) paul laurence dunbar (1) paula patton (1) peyton manning (1) phaedra parks (2) phd (1) pictures (1) playboy (1) plays (1) poetry (2) police (2) politics (10) polkadotted stripes (5) pop life (56) porn (1) post cereal (1) post-race (18) post-soul (1) postmodernism (1) precious (5) prop 8 (1) push (1) qpoc (1) queen latifah (4) queer as folk (6) quoteable (1) racialicious (1) racism (14) randomness (1) reading is fundamental (2) repeal (1) resolutions (1) retirement (1) rhoa (1) richard daley (1) Rick James (1) rick perry (1) rihanna (1) robots (1) robyn crawford (1) rolling in the whip (1) rumors (6) run on (1) running (1) sade (1) sammy sosa (1) samples (1) sandra bullock (3) sapphire (1) school (1) sesame street (1) sexuality (9) Shingai Shoniwa (1) shows (1) slang (1) slavery (2) slum village (1) slurs (1) snoop dogg (1) sotomayor (1) soulja boy (1) sports (8) starbucks (1) stuff white people do (1) super bowl (2) survival (1) Teena Marie (1) tell him (1) terence trent d'arby (1) the 70s (1) the 80s (2) the banal. (1) the blind side (1) the civil rights movement (1) the clipse (1) the color purple (1) the cosby show (1) the dougie (1) the everyday (1) the fab five (3) the foreign exchange (1) the golden girls (1) the gregory brothers (1) the help (2) the hunger games (2) the lion king (1) the lovers and friends show (1) the new year (1) the NOISEttes (1) the nutcracker (1) the princess and the frog (1) the puppets (1) the roots (1) the smurfs (1) the view (1) the white boy shuffle (1) this is it (1) tiger woods (4) to kill a mockingbird (1) toure (1) toussaint l'ouverture (1) trader joe's (2) trayvon martin (2) trouble the water (1) troy davis (1) tv (1) twelve (1) twitter (1) tyler perry (5) usc (1) valentine's day (1) viola davis (1) voodoo (1) voting (1) Wayne Brady (1) web series (1) white house correspondents dinner (1) white house press corps (1) white men (1) white people (1) white saviors (1) white women (1) white women rappers (1) whitney houston (4) whoopi goldberg (1) will.i.am (1) william rhoden (1) william wordsworth (1) willow smith (2) wishing well (1) women (1) world cup (1) writing (1) wyclef (1) zo (1)