Commentary: Race, Halle and Nahla
This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, May 30, 2011 - Halle Berry considers herself a Black woman. That's one thing. Berry has gone a step further, however, and has taken an unwavering position in Ebony magazine to proclaim that she as well as her daughter Nahla are Black, citing the "one drop rule" as the reason. Berry is of mixed-race parentage; and her toddler has a White father.
Why is her declaration of profound interest? Because there is a movement afoot to declare multiple racial classifications for those of mixed heritage, beyond the standard "black" and "white."
Here are some categories that could define the wholeness of one's ethnicity better: Black, White, Hispanic, Latino, Mexican-American, African-American, Biracial, Multiracial, Asian, Asian and Black, Native American, Indian from India, Multiethnic, Multi Multi, No Race.
What is the underlying purpose for expanding racial classifications? Could it be that being White comes with all of the privileges that are connected to white privilege and white superiority, or you are a person of color. Unfortunately, new categorizations will not eliminate racism and there are no boxes to check to avoid it.
Ever heard of a White person needing to explain that while they look white, they're really mixed with African, African-American or another ethnic group?
I am dismayed by this movement. I am concerned that people searching for these new boxes are missing the fundamental truth for people of color (or maybe they get it and are running from their potential plight). The truth is that people of color are routinely targeted, oppressed, neglected, forgotten, annihilated, interned, beaten, harassed, lynched, killed and subjected to racial micro aggressions. In his book "The Price of the Ticket," James Baldwin wrote: "The will of the people or the State is revealed by the State's institutions. There was not, then, nor is there, now, a single American institution which is not a racist institution."
Maybe we should shift the conversation from what box to check to self identify to an honest look at the impact of racism on the lives of ALL people. Our quest should be to work toward the elimination of racism instead of stratifying who should get treated a little better based on their closeness, perceived closeness, their descendants or their desire to be identified closely to whiteness.
I have spoken to mothers of mixed raced children who do not want their children treated with the degradation, hatred and penalties their brown skinned children may experience. They do not want their half Black children to be treated like whole Black children; after all, they are half White. Right? The problem here is not the box the child and or parent will check for racial identification; the problem is that no mother wants their child treated poorly. Unfortunately, there are no boxes to protect a child from stereotypes and prejudice.
Ideally, children of mixed races should experience "transference of whiteness" that scholar Derrick Bell writes so brilliantly about in his "Critical Race Theory" text. However, in a racist society, it is impossible to gift white privilege to brown people, even our children.
Our messages in schools and in other institutions could be one of solidarity that fosters equal access, equal opportunities and dignify. We could work for a better society for those individuals that are unjustly deemed as lesser or subordinate. To advocate for racial equity, we will have to better understand racism and strategies to eradicate it. Adding boxes and categories will not make racial oppression go away. We need more advocates to eliminate racism. Won't you take a stand against racism?
Amy Hunter is director of Racial Justice for the YWCA Metro St. Louis.