Gay 'n Gray
|by John D. Siegfried|
|Black and White
"How many men are too many men? Or are we all whores?"
That was the question Carrie Bradshaw wrote about in her mythical newspaper column in an old Sex in the City episode. Her question was prompted by the fact that her lawyer friend, Miranda, had been diagnosed with a sexually transmitted disease and had made a list of men she'd had sex with in order to notify them of their potential risk. Miranda was horrified that her list contained more than thirty names and Carrie's question, without revealing her own number, was whether thirty qualified for whoredom.
We all play the numbers game and it can be extended to all aspects of life.
How many good deeds must I accumulate before salvation is assured?
How many operas must I endure before I'm deemed a queen?
How many properties must I own before I'm among the moguls?
The list is endless. It seems to be a prevalent concept that a finite discernible number separates the saints from the sinners, the black from the white. It's a concept that intrigues me in the current election cycle.
My question is, "Why is Barack Obama constantly referred to as a black candidate?" That's not a trick question or even a political question but it's a question that gnaws at the edge of my social conscience. If his heritage is fifty percent white and fifty percent black, why is he never referred to as a white candidate? Does black always trump white in the fear and the imagination of the public?
I know his skin tone is darker than mine and I know that he self-identifies as African-American. Obama says of his blackness, "...that's how I'm treated and that's how I'm viewed. I'm proud of it." But his candidacy raises the question for me of how much white ancestry, white blood if you will, (as if there were white blood and black blood, not red blood) must one have to be judged a white candidate? Does the Jim Crow standard still hold that one drop of black blood makes you a black man?
Early in my career I was the medical officer in charge of the Red Lake Indian Hospital in Red Lake, Minnesota. The Chippewa tribe that populated the Red Lake reservation ran a cooperative fishing and lumber industry and every December the profits were distributed to members of the tribe. An individual had to prove one-sixteenth tribal blood to qualify for a share of the profits. Amazingly, on pay day, mixed in the line waiting for checks, there were a number of blond blue-eyed Indians with Scandinavian surnamesbut enough Indian blood to qualify for a share of the take. On that day the miscegenation of the past paid off.
So, how can one-sixteenth of Indian blood make a white man an Indian but fifty percent of white blood gets categorized as black? The common denominator is that a black Obama and an Indian Swenson are both multiracial. And the truth is that many of our fellow citizens, recognized or not, acknowledged or not, are multiracial. Perhaps most of us are.
Since the Supreme Court knocked down the Virginia statute that barred whites from marrying nonwhites in 1967, the number of interracial marriages has steadily risen from 67,685 in 1970 to 440,150 in 2005. Attitudes toward interracial dating and marriage have also changed. In 1972, 39% of Americans said marrying someone of a different race should be illegal. By 2002 that number had dwindled to 9.9%.
One indication of the growing acceptance of multi-raciality is the willingness, actually eagerness, of marketers to sign up stars like Tiger Woods, Halle Berry, and Derek Jeter to boost product sales. Jerome Williams, a professor of advertising and African American studies at the University of Texas points out, "The younger you are, the more likely you are to know someone who is multiracialand the more likely you are to accept people of different ethnic and racial backgrounds. Opposition to multi-raciality is aging out."
Perhaps the solution that will address the public's fears and/or curiosity concerning political candidates will be to insist that all future candidates for political office post their DNA profile on the internet along with their recent tax returns and health records. That may give us a hint at racial purity or diversity.
And if presidents now long gone could be retro-actively tested for DNA, it may be that Obama isn't the first black candidate after all.
John Siegfried, a former Rehoboth resident who now lives in Ft. Lauderdale, maintains strong ties to our community and can be reached at email@example.com.
LETTERS From CAMP Rehoboth, Vol. 18, No. 10 July 25, 2008