From Wed Mar 21 00:21:34 2001
From: Art McGee <>
Subject: [BRC-NEWS] Black, Just Black
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Date: Tue, 20 Mar 2001 23:10:25 -0500 (EST)

Black, Just Black

By Betty Baye, Louisville Courier-Journal, 15 March 2001

When I filled out my 2000 Census form, no one was looking over my shoulder. So I could have checked the multi-racial box safely.

You see, legend has it that there is Native-American ancestry on both sides of my family.

Of course, I’ve never been given specifics, such as precisely what tribes my alleged ancestors might have belonged to.

But when I was little, my Dad did sometimes call me his papoose, which the dictionary describes as a North American Indian word for infant or young child. I also have read that runaway slaves and Indians often got together.

Or for the purposes of the 2000 Census, I probably could have asserted European ancestry. My mother’s mother’s blue-gray eyes obviously came from somewhere up higher on the family tree.

Who knows, I may be distant kin to Francis Scott Key, the man who penned The Star-Spangled Banner. He and my grandmother Roxie Key both were born in the same area of Maryland.

But alas, I didn’t spend very long considering the 63-item menu of races and ethnicities the 2000 Census form offered. I chose, as I always have, to identify myself as black, just black.

I didn’t go in for any of the fancy stuff the new Census offers; such things as non-white, African American with possible strains of Native American and even white ancestry from some distant European who owned a plantation or oversaw one.

Not I. I checked black, just black, and my reasons shouldn’t be difficult to understand.

First, black is what I see when I look in the mirror.

Black also is what security personnel see when they shadow me around department stores, and black apparently is what some cashiers see when they deem me invisible and proceed to serve some white person who clearly arrived at the cash register after me.

Also, I identified myself as black, just black, in the 2000 Census because black is much more than the hue of the skin. Black is a state of mind, a way of living, for which no apology should be needed.

Scientists pretty much agree now that race, as we practice it, is a social fiction. In fact, the DNA says that the human genome for 99.9 percent of the members of the world family, no matter what we look like on the outside, is exactly the same.

Finally, I identified myself as black, just black, in the Census because I’m aware that the count is at its essence a blunt political instrument.

Were that not true, the U.S. Constitution never would have stipulated that it took five slaves to equal just three freemen.

And without doubt, Republicans wouldn’t fight so hard to keep millions of minorities in the uncounted and under-counted columns.

The Census is also about vested self-interest.

For example, just 2 percent of Hispanics, who the Census says may be of any race, call themselves black. Indeed, 48 percent of Hispanics give their identities as white, which seems odd to me since the populations back home in their native South and Central American and Caribbean countries are as likely to be of mixed Indian and African heritage as of European descent by way of Spain.

But then, perhaps the millions of Hispanics who have checked themselves off as white are only being practical. Blackness isn’t exactly the gold standard for access to power, privilege and wealth.

And while many Hispanics, Native Americans and Asians of mixed ancestry have found the 2000 Census menu an occasion to see themselves as white, I wonder how many whites took the opportunity to regard themselves as mixed-race, even though science tells us that modern homo sapiens originated in Africa.

Not many, I suspect.

The Census is a very important political and social tool that tells us many things about how we live. But an inescapable message of Census 2000 is that we do not live in the Land of Colorblind.

Although race may scientifically be a myth, it matters very much socially and politically. It matters so much that when given the choice, millions of people of mixed-raced ancestry have chosen to identify with the group they clearly perceive as being the one that holds the greatest promise for acceptance and advancement in a color-conscious world.