When is an individual to be considered ‘legitimately’ black? Or, when does an individual feel ‘black enough’ to identify themselves as such? Or, can an individual adopt a race?
As late as the mid 1990’s, longstanding official governmental classification systems of race defined anyone with any “negro blood” as a Negro (a.k.a. colored, Black, or African-American). The existence of mixed parentage did not exist for American whites. However, since the mid 1990’s, there have been more and more interracial marriages. So, how will we define ‘race’ in the not so far off future? Generations ago, it didn’t matter what your parental percentage might have been, mixed race individuals were easily accepted by the Black community (since the other side simply wouldn’t claim them). But DNA testing has become common with the ability to choose from a number of websites that for $100 will provide information on your bloodline, ethnicity, and ethnic group origins of your DNA.
Race is a man-made construct. An individual cannot easily “select” to become something they are not. Race and racial identity becomes a large, extended, social family through music, language, and diet that culturally connects people. It defines who we think we are. But modern genetics tells us our ancestral differences reflect only a 0.1 percent difference in DNA. However, while many can trace their roots to Ellis Island, others only know their grandparents were sharecroppers in the South who came to the North for better opportunities. Centuries of oppressive governmental policies created a Black experience that developed into a rich tapestry of ideas, behaviors, activities, manners, and values that made being “Black” something to be proud of.
So, if an individual shares these cultural experiences but is not genetically connected to the continent of Africa, can they adopt a race? Or, if an individual with the appearance of being Black, be raised Black, identify as Black, but is less than 50 percent of African ancestry, be Black?
Rules can change. However, we still carry the burdens of racism and white superiority in a world created by others where even though “all men are created equal” the pursuit of “life, liberty, and happiness” was reserved for only a few.
What do you think?
(Source: Star-Ledger, June 2017, Marshall Jones III, guest columnist)