Updated: Aug 27, 2020
I want to preface this piece by saying I am no expert, but I know a few things. So, some of this will be opinion, some of this will be fact, all of it will be open to discussion, and I will cite my sources. The prompt for this piece was the recently announced Vice-Presidential candidate Kamala Harris and the social media blasts that followed that she could be the first Black female Vice-President of the United States. Additionally, I had given a lot of thought about this topic while former President Barack Obama was in office and consistently referred to as the first Black president.
So, let us begin. Let us talk a bit about race, ethnicity, and identity. I personally like definitions; I find they help me understand the whole picture instead of just a piece and so I will share a few of those with you.
First, race. According to Duster (2009), race is a powerful social category forged historically through oppression, slavery, and conquest. Race is often perceived as something that is inherent in our biology, and therefore inherited across generations (Bryce, 2020). The idea of "race" originated from anthropologists and philosophers in the 18th century, who used geographical location and phenotypic traits like skin color to place people into different racial groupings (Bryce, 2020).
Ethnicity denotes groups that share a common identity-based ancestry, language, or culture. It is often based on religion, beliefs, and customs as well as memories of migration or colonization (Cornell & Hartmann, 2007). It is typically understood as something we acquire, or self-ascribe, based on factors like where we live or the culture we share with others (Bryce, 2020).
Lastly, identity. According to Heshmat (2014), identity is largely concerned with the question: “Who are you?” What does it mean to be who you are? Identity relates to our basic values that dictate the choices we make (e.g., relationships, career). These choices reflect who we are and what we value. However, few people choose their identities. Instead, they simply internalize the values of their parents or the dominant cultures (e.g., the pursuit of materialism, power, and appearance) according to Heshmat (2014).
So, what does all this mean? This means that most often people who have been grouped racially because of their skin color, despite their cultural upbringing will typically choose their identity based on what their parents, peers, social circles or the culture they live in has decided for them. Now you are probably like so what does that have to do with potential Vice-President Kamala Harris and former U.S. President Barack Obama. Well, think about it. Automatically society grouped them into the racial category of Black because of their skin color. Society did not ask them their ethnic background or how they identity themselves before classifying them on various news outlets, social media etc.
The standard has been in society for a long time that if folxs fit into the one drop rule, they are therefore racially categorized as Black and nothing else. And history has taught us that Blacks have been identified as the inferior race for hundreds of years. In fact, for 400 years Black people in America have been oppressed, systemically removed from opportunities to vote, own property etc. and seen as an aggressor or agitator that must be dealt with. And so, while Kamala Harris is of Jamaican and South East Asian descent and former President Obama is of Nairobi Kenyan and White American descent, they have been identified by society as only Black and therefore, targets for oppressive actions.
Now you are you like what the heck is the one drop rule. Let me explain. According to Davis (1991), to be considered Black in the United States not even half of one's ancestry must be African Black…one-fourth, one-eighth, or less would do. Thus, the nation's answer to the question 'Who is Black?" has long been that a Black is any person with any known African Black ancestry (Davis, 1991). In the South it became known as the "one-drop rule,'' meaning that a single drop of "black blood" makes a person a Black. This rule was generally accepted by Black and White people throughout south as Blacks did not have a legal choice in the matter (Davis, 1991). This definition reflects the long experience with slavery and later with Jim Crow segregation allowing the south to limit rights to vote, own property, attend school and work to anyone who might have a single drop of Black blood (Davis, 1991).
So why does all this matter? It matters because individuals of mixed race and ethnicity should not be identified by others as only one race or ethnicity AND individuals of mixed race and ethnicity should EMBRACE ALL of their genetic markers. Too often mixed folxs feel they must choose one or the other to fit in with family, friends, or issues of social justice. That should not be the case. Be proud of who you are as a WHOLE person. Feel empowered to stand up for the injustices of Black folxs, Latino/a folxs, Indigenous folxs etc. regardless of your genetic make up and how society sees you. Make sure they know you are mixed and PROUD to be standing with whatever community you are supporting that day.
We must dismantle this ideology that Black is the dominant genetic marker in your mixed heritage and that Black is bad so if you are of lighter skin tone and can pass for White, that you should because that is the better or safer option. You can be more than one thing and you should be. Individuals can be Black and lactose in tolerant, White and an immigrant, and Latino and a Buddhist. So again, why can you not be Black and (insert another race or ethnicity here)?
We must teach pride and power in honoring both your genetic markers and making sure those who are mixed racially and ethnically know that you are SAFE and SHOULD be joining with us in the Next Steps to dismantle police violence, imbalanced budgets, and justice for the poor Black and Brown communities in the Hudson Valley and beyond. Former President Barack Obama held the highest office in the United States and fought for Black Lives Matter, LGBTQIA+ marriage equality and more. Most recently, Vice-Presidential candidate Kalama Harris in her Democratic Nominee speech proudly stated that she was born to Jamaican and South East Asian immigrants. Harris has the potential to hold the second highest office in the United States as a mixed womxn. So, if Obama and Harris, can stand up for injustice and righteousness, so can you.
Now I ask you, who got next?
Bryce, E. (2020, February 08). What's the difference between race and ethnicity? Retrieved August 26, 2020, from https://www.livescience.com/difference-between-race-ethnicity.html
Cornell, S., & Hartmann, D. (2007). A constructionist approach. Ch. 4. Ethnicity and race: Making identities in a changing world.
Davis, F. J. (2010). Who is black?: One nation's definition. Penn State Press.
Heshmat, S. (2014, December 08). Basics of Identity. Retrieved August 26, 2020, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/science-choice/201412/basics-identity
Written by Dr. Rae