Wednesday, June 24, 2015

“I’m black and I’m not black”

The media has recently focused upon Rachel Dolezal, a white woman and activist with the NAACP, who has chosen to describe herself as black. She is, according to her own story, trans-racial, in a similar way as a male or female may be trans-gender. She identifies herself as being black. This isn’t such a new phenomenon. There was the case of Grey Owl aka Archibald Belaney from Hastings who took on the persona of a Native American and engaged in popularising nature conservation in Canada. Many light-skinned black people have historically passed themselves off for white to escape discrimination and prejudice in their lives. Nor can we forget Michael Jackson’s attempt to de-racialise his appearance.

However, in the racially charged atmosphere of contemporary United States where police are repeatedly exonerated of killing unarmed African-American men; when the prisons are disproportionately filled with African-Americans; and how a white supremacist can carry out a murderous terror attack on an African-American church in the hope of igniting a race war, Dolezal’s choice of being who she wants to be has led to her either being described as a traitor to her own kind, the white race, or a fraud masquerading as black for personal advancement. Little is said of her troubled family background where she was brought up by strict disciplinarian Christian fundamentalist parents who believed in beating their children and who she accused of child abuse, going on to successfully acquire legal guardianship from the courts of one of her adopted black brothers, who, she refers to as her "son". When her biological brother was accused of sexually abusing a black child, she further distanced herself from her family by supporting the victim. Dolezal also posted pictures of a black man, claiming that it was her actual father rather than a father-figure to her. It's easy to understand from this why she may well possess an issue with her own identity from such a dysfunctional upbringing.  Socialists, however, wonder why people are we getting so het up about Dolezal when we recognise no such genetic thing as race and argue that race like nationality is an artificial construct.

If we need evidence of such, we can highlight the Dominican Republic where tens, perhaps hundreds, of thousands of people of Haitian descent have had their nationality taken away. Antihaitianismo is a racist bias against Haitians and descendants of Haitians by Dominicans. Apparently, you can tell a Haitian because they are blacker than the lighter-skinned (mulatto) Dominicans. That’s how authorities identify Haitians, by skin colour and physical features as well as accent (a difficulty in rolling one’s r and j).  So if you look “Haitian” or are “Dominican with Haitian features,” then you are in the count for deportation. Race in the Dominican Republic not mean the same thing as it does in other parts of the world. Dominicans use a variety of words to represent a range of skin tones, such as moreno / canelo / indio / indiesito / blanquito/ trigueno/ blanco-oscuro and rubio, all indicating different colours or different types of mixed racial origins. Not many Dominicans will voluntarily choose the term "black."

 According to a study conducted by the Dominican Studies Institute CUNY, about 90% of the contemporary Dominican population has ancestry from West and Central Africa in different degrees yet Dominicans will insist that their heritage is European. Because of this imposed euro-centrism and past institutionalised racism by Spanish colonisers, Dominicans have been forced to believe that since the Haitian population is "blacker," it's meant to be regarded as inferior. There is an obsession by the Dominicans to define themselves as something not Haitian and African. A Dominican whose skin colour is midway between a mulatto and a Black is identified as being of Indian origin. The anthropologist Juan Rodríguez pointed out mitochondrial-DNA evidence reveals "85 percent of the residents ... have African ancestry, 9.4 percent Indian and less than 0.08 percent European while on the father's side, through Y-DNA, we now know that only 1 percent are descended from an Indian male and 36 percent from an African male.* Yet the average person describes their race as indio. The term indio is entirely made up. Descendants of Africans slaves adopted the term Indio in an effort to purge themselves of their slave background. They could never attain the status attributed to white, but wanted to get rid of their African past, which was associated to slavery.

Race is not rooted in biological fact. It is an idea which human beings impose on themselves and racism is an issue for the working class which they must deal with and over-come in their progress to a sane, free, humane social system.


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