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Black Like I Thought I Was (Article)

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  • multiracialbookclub
    Black Like I Thought I Was ... The surprising outcome of a DNA test proves a man s race ----- while throwing his blackness
    Message 1 of 2 , Mar 10, 2007

      Black Like I 'Thought' I Was

      --- By Erin Aubry Kaplan, LA Weekly

      The surprising outcome of a DNA test  
      proves a man's "race" ----- while    
      throwing his "
      blackness" into question

      Wayne Joseph is a 51-year-old High
      School Principal in Chino (CA) -- whose
      family emigrated from the segregated
      parishes of Louisiana to central
      in the 1950s, as did mine.

      Like me, he is of
      Creole stock and is therefore
      on the lighter end of the "
      black " [categorized] 
      color spectrum, a common enough circumstance
      in the South that predates the [entire]
      Multi-Cultural Movement by centuries.

      And like most other "
      black" folk, Joseph grew up
      with an unequivocal sense of his heritage and of
      himself; he tends toward "
      black" advocacy and
      has published thoughtful opinion pieces on
      racial issues in magazines like Newsweek.

      When Joseph decided on a whim to take a new
      Ethnic DNA test he saw described on a 60 Minutes
      segment last year, it was only to indulge a casual
      curiosity about the exact percentage of `Black' blood;
      virtually all "
      black" Americans are mixed with something,
      he knew -- but -- he figured it would be interesting to
      make himself a guinea pig for this new testing process,
      which is offered by a Florida-based
      company called DNA Print Genomics Inc.

      The experience would at least be
      fodder for another essay for Newsweek.

      He got his kit in the mail, swabbed his
      mouth per the instructions and sent
      off the DNA samples for analysis …

      But when the results of his DNA test came back, he
      found himself staggered by the idea that though he
      [is] still …. a-person-of-color, it was not the color
      he was raised to think he was, one with a distinct
      culture and definitive place in the American struggle
      for social equality that he'd taken for granted.

      Here was the unexpected ---
      and rather unwelome--- truth:

      Joseph was --- fifty-seven percent (57%) 
      Indo-European, Thirty-nine percent (39%)
      Native American, four percent (4%) East
      Asian -- and -- zero percent (0%) African.

      After a lifetime of assuming "
      blackness ",
      he was now being told that he lacked
      even a single drop of `Black' blood ….

           "My son was flabbergasted by the results,"
      says Joseph.
           "He said,
           'Dad, you mean for 50 years
           you've been 'passing for black'

      Joseph admits that,
      strictly speaking, he has.

      But he's not sure if he can or wants
      to do anything about that at this point.

      For all the lingering effects of institutional
      racism … being a "
      black" man … has
      shaped his worldview and the course of
      his life in ways that cannot … be altered.

      Yet Joseph struggles to balance the
       intellectual dishonesty of saying he's
      black" with the unimpeachable honesty
      of a lifelong experience of being "

           "What do I do with this information?"
      he says,  sounding more than a little exasperated.
           "It was like finding out you're adopted.
           I don't want to be disingenuous with myself.
           But I can't conceive of living any other way.
           It's a question of what's logical and what's visceral."

      Race, of course, has always been a far
      more visceral matter than a logical one.

      We now know that there is no such thing as "race",
      that humans are biologically one species; we
      know that an African is likely to have more in
      common genetically with a European thousands
      of miles away than with a neighboring African ...

      And despite all the loud assertions to the contrary,
      race is still America's bane, and its fascination;
      Philip Roth's widely acclaimed last novel set in the
      The Human Stain, features a Faustian
      protagonist whose great moral failing is that
      he's a "
      black" [categorized] [Mixed-Race] man
      who's been "passing" most of his life for `White'.

      Joseph recognizes this, and while he argues
      for a more rational and less emotional view of
      "race" for the sake of equity, he also recognizes
      that `rationality' is not the same thing as `fact'.

      As much as he might want to, he can't
      simply refute his "
      black" past and declare
      himself `White' or Native American.

      He can acknowledge the truth but can't quite
      apply it, which makes it pretty much useless
      to other, older members of his family.

      An aunt whom he told about the test results
      only said that she wasn't surprised.

           "When I told my mother about the test,
      she said to me,
           'I'm too old and too tired to be anything else,'"
      recalls Joseph.
           "It makes no difference to her.
           It's an easy issue."

      After recovering from the initial shock, Joseph
      began questioning his mother about their lineage.

      He discovered that, unbeknownst to him,
      his grandparents had made a conscious decision
      back in Louisiana to not be `White', claiming they didn't
      want to side with a people who were known oppressors.

      Joseph says there was another,
      more practical consideration:

      Some men in the family routinely courted
      [Mixed-Race] "
      black"  women, and
      they didn't want the very public hassle
      ---  such a pairing entailed in the South,
      which included everything from dirty
      looks to the ignominy of a couple having
      to separate on buses and streetcars and
      in restaurants per the Jim Crow laws.

      I know that the laws also pointedly
      separated mothers from sons,
      uncles from nephews --- simply
      because one happened to be lighter
      than the other or have straighter hair.

      Determinations of "race" were 'entirely
      subjective and imposed from without', and
      the 'One-Drop Rule' was enforced to such
      divisive and schizophrenic effects that
      Joseph's family -- and mine -- fled Louisiana for
      the presumably less 'boundary'-obsessed West.

           "But we didn't flee ourselves,
           and didn't expect to; we simply
           set up a new home in Los Angeles .
           The South was wrong about its policies
           but it was right about our color.
           It had to be."
      Joseph remains tortured by the
      possibility that maybe nobody is right.

      The essay he thought the DNA test
      experience would prompt became a book …
      He doesn't seem to know how it'll end.

      He's in a kind of limbo that he doesn't want
      "and that I frankly wouldn't wish on anyone";
      when I wonder aloud about
      taking the $600 DNA test myself,
      Joseph flatly advises against it.

           "You don't want to know,"
      he says.
           "It's like a genie coming out of a bottle.
           You can't put it back in."

      He ... isn't inclined to believe that the
      Ward Connerly's and other professed
      racial conservatives of the world have the
      best interests of `
      Colored' people at heart.

           "... race does matter, especially with things
           like medical research and other social trends,"

      he says of Connerly's Proposition 54, the
      much-derided state measure that seeks to
      'outlaw' the collection of Ethnic data ….

           "Problems like that can't just go away."

      For the moment, Joseph is compelled
      to try to judge-individually what he
      knows has always been judged-broadly,
      to reconcile two famously opposed
      viewpoints of "race" -- not for the
      sake of political argument -- he has made
      those -- but for his own peace of mind.

      He's wrestling with a riddle that will likely
      outlive him, though he doesn't worry that it
      will be passed on to the next generation
      -- his ex-wife is "
      black", enough to give
      his children the firm Ethnic identity he had
      and that he embraced for most of his life.

           "The question -- ultimately--
           is, are you who you say you are,
           or are you who you are genetically?"
      he muses.

      The logical and visceral answer is
      ---- that it's not black and white.






    • Heather Stimmel
      I ve heard stories like Joseph s, and... I happen to agree with him. He s right- when you ve been raised, all your life, to believe you re one race, and
      Message 2 of 2 , Mar 11, 2007
        I've heard stories like Joseph's,
        and... I happen to agree with him.
        He's right- when you've been raised, all your
        life, to believe you're one "race," and later
        find out you're anything BUT... what DO you do?
        Sure, you could drop everything you've been taught,
        everything / everyone you've always known; but,
        would that be logical, or HUMANE? I don't think so.
        I agree with Joseph, as well, when he says he's not hiding the
        fact that he's not "black," colorstill sharing the DNA test outcome
        with his family (why lie, either?), but... for him to just up
        and change his life all around in that dramatic of a manner...???
        That doesn't even make sense, really. I don't know.
        It's kind of how I feel about living my whole life
        thinking I'm just "white," but later hearing that
        I could have Native American ancestors, as well.
        I've researched and read and dug,
        and dug, for information. Nothing.
        What DO YOU DO? Do you continue living as ONLY
        "white" (I can't) or do you claim a piece of
        heritage that you're not really even sure exists?
        I don't know. I know, if I was as old as Mr. Joseph
        and had always been led to believe that I was
        "black" color, I would "stick with hat."
        I don't think I'd be able to do that
        with the "white" part, though.
        If I later found out I wasn't JUST "white," I'd
        have to change my ways. I'd be ignorant, otherwise.
        That's just my 2 cents! Heather

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