• August 28, 2015

Jean Toomer's Conflicted Racial Identity

Jean Toomer's Conflicted Racial Identity 2

The Granger Collection, New York

Jean Toomer, who wrote Cane, a modernist masterpiece, in 1923, identified himself racially as "American."

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The Granger Collection, New York

Jean Toomer, who wrote Cane, a modernist masterpiece, in 1923, identified himself racially as "American."

On August 4, 1922, about a year before he published his first book, Cane, Jean Toomer, age 27, wrote to his first love, a black teenager named Mae Wright, confessing his ambivalence about the dogged pursuit by African-Americans of Anglo-American cultural ideals: "We who have Negro blood in our veins, who are culturally and emotionally the most removed from Puritan tradition, are its most tenacious supporters." That would be one of the last times he admitted his own Negro ancestry, either publicly or privately. Six years later, Georgia O'Keeffe—Toomer's friend and later lover—wrote to her husband, Alfred Stieglitz, describing the way Toomer, then living in Chicago, was identifying himself: "It seems that in Chicago they do not know that he has Negro blood—he seems to claim French extraction."

When we were working on a new Norton critical edition of Cane, a masterpiece of modernism composed of fiction, poetry, and drama, we confronted the question of Toomer's race. Literary critics and biographers have long speculated about how he identified himself, but too often they have chosen not to conduct research into public documents about the topic. Was Toomer—a central figure in two faces of American modernism, the New Negro (or Harlem Renaissance) Movement and the Lost Generation—a Negro who, following the publication of Cane, passed for white?

Toomer is known for proclaiming a new, mixed racial identity, which he called "American." In an era of de jure segregation, such a claim was defiantly transgressive. But he may have been far more conflicted about his identity than his noble attempt to question American received categories of "race" might suggest.

Given the importance of the subject, we commissioned some original biographical research by the genealogist Megan Smolenyak. We can now understand more fully than ever conflicts within Toomer's thinking about his race, as he expressed them in public documents, including the federal census, two draft registrations, his marriage license to the white writer Margery Latimer, and in statements to the news media.

In June 1917, Nathan Eugene Pinchback Toomer registered for the draft in Washington. He is recorded as an unemployed student, single, having an unspecified disability (two of his biographers have suggested "bad eyes and a hernia gotten in a basketball game"). He is listed as a "Negro." The 1920 census shows Toomer boarding with other lodgers in the home of an Italian couple on East Ninth Street in Manhattan. The census enumerator inaccurately listed his birthplace as New York, suggesting that Toomer may not have provided the information himself. His race is listed as "white."

In the 1930 census, Toomer is listed as a resident, with many others, at 11 Fifth Avenue. Because of the accuracy of the other data contained in the document—including his birthplace, his parents' states of birth, and his occupation as a freelance writer—it is likely that he furnished the details himself. The enumerator listed him as "white." At the very least, if we are right, Toomer did not correct the designation.

A year later, on October 30, 1931, Toomer married Latimer in Portage, Wis. Both the bride and groom are identified as "white" on the marriage license. According to Cynthia Earl Kerman and Richard Elridge, Toomer biographers, Latimer was aware of what she termed "the racial thing": that is, that Toomer was a Negro. Though she shared Toomer's vision of a new race in America, probably neither she nor he was prepared for headlines like the one published regarding the marriage: "Negro Who Wed White Writer Sees New Race." While Toomer proclaimed that his union was evidence of a "new race in America, ... neither white nor black nor in-between," and that it was simply one between "two Americans," the news media chose to focus upon only the most sensational aspects of the nuptials.

In 1942, Toomer registered once again for the draft. He identified himself as Nathan Jean Toomer, married to Marjorie C. Toomer. She was his second wife, the white daughter of a wealthy stockbroker whom he had married in Taos, N.M., after his first wife died in childbirth. He is described as 5-foot-10, 178 pounds, with black hair and eyes, and a "dark brown complexion." He is identified as a "Negro."

It is clear from these documents that Toomer self-identified as Negro in 1917, when he first registered for the draft. Then either he or a roommate decided to give his identity as "white" on the census of 1920. Similarly, Toomer either self-identified as "white" to the enumerator of the 1930 census or failed to say that he was, in fact, born a Negro (at that time, enumerators had the sole authority to determine the race of a resident). A year later, on his marriage license, he self-identified as "white." He is identified as a "Negro" again, however, on his World War II draft registration—perhaps because the registrar, Edith Rider, who was black, according to the 1930 census, would have known from news-media accounts of his two interracial marriages.

In the course of the 25 years between his 1917 and 1942 draft registrations, it seems that Toomer was endlessly deconstructing his Negro ancestry. During his childhood and adolescence in Washington, as a member of the mulatto elite, he lived in both the white and the black worlds. At times he resided in white neighborhoods, but he was educated in all-black schools. Toomer would write that it was his experience in that special world, "midway between the white and Negro worlds," that led him to develop his novel "racial position" as early as 1914, at the age of 20, when he defined himself as an "American, neither white nor black."

Toomer may, indeed, have arrived at that definition as a young man, but as a young artist, he wrestled with the question of racial identity through various protagonists bearing uncanny resemblances to himself. The first short story he wrote, the autobiographical "Bona and Paul," composed in 1918, takes passing for white as its central theme. Equally important, his assertion that "Kabnis is me"—in his December 1922 letter to the novelist and social critic Waldo Frank, concerning his relationship to a character of mixed-race ancestry deeply conflicted about his Negro past—is another salient example of how Toomer's ambivalence about race manifested itself in Cane. Further, in a comment to a reporter in 1934 and in the manuscript of his unpublished autobiography, Toomer made the highly unlikely suggestion (given all extant documentation) that his grandfather P.B.S. Pinchback, the most famous black politician in the Reconstruction era, opportunistically passed for black to gain political advantage from the freedmen in New Orleans.

Toomer's deeply conflicted position on his black ancestry is also reflected in the publication of Cane. Indeed, his angry reaction to Frank's introduction, with its matter-of-fact identification of the author as a Negro, and later his refusal to cooperate with Horace Liveright, the publisher, in "featuring Negro" in the marketing of Cane in fall 1923, reflect that conflict. He all but said to Liveright: "I was not a Negro." However, according to the pioneering literary critic Darwin Turner, Toomer, in his correspondence with the writer Sherwood Anderson just a year before the publication of Cane, "never opposed Anderson's obvious assumption that he was 'Negro.' In fact, Anderson began the correspondence because Toomer had been identified to him as a 'Negro.'" Toomer's contradictory stances vis-à-vis Liveright and Anderson reveal the depth of his ambivalence in the weeks before the publication of the work that would link him to a literary tradition from which he would spend the rest of his life attempting to flee.

Toomer became angry with Alain Locke, one of the architects of the Harlem Renaissance, for reprinting excerpts of Cane in the The New Negro in 1925 (he was silent regarding Locke's decision to reprint the poem "Song of the Son" in the 1925 issue of the white magazine Survey Graphic). Toomer's attitude smacks of denial and ingratitude, given Locke's early and consistent support.

And then in 1934, almost 10 years after the publication of The New Negro, Toomer refused to contribute to Nancy Cunard's 1934 anthology The Negro, stating that "though I am interested in and deeply value the Negro, I am not a Negro." In that same year, following the announcement of his marriage to Marjorie Content, Toomer, most improbably, observed to the newspaper the Baltimore Afro-American that "I would not consider it libelous for anyone to refer to me as a colored man, but I have not lived as one, nor do I really know whether there is colored blood in me or not." Toomer then went on to make his claim that his grandfather was a white man who passed for black, saying that "my maternal grandfather ... referred to himself as having Negro blood in order to get Negro votes." But note, the death certificate of Toomer's grandfather, including details provided by his son, Toomer's "beloved uncle Bismarck," lists Pinchback's race as "colored."

By that time, Walter Pinchback, Toomer's uncle, was the only living relative who could challenge Toomer's public denials of his Negro ancestry. In a conciliatory gesture toward his nephew (who was the only member of his family to pass), Walter (whom the Baltimore Afro-American carefully says identified himself his entire life as "colored," adding that his mother, father, and grandfather did as well) said that "Toomer had a right to belong to either race he desired." In a series of three articles about Toomer and his race, the newspaper, after repeatedly underscoring Toomer's Negro identity and pointing out that he graduated from all-black Dunbar High School and "has always been referred to as a colored writer and was known in colored circles here and in New York some years ago," said it supported Toomer's decision, but as a blow against segregation and anti-miscegenenation laws: "Every time the races are scrambled, by legal marriage, we set an example for thousands of white residents in Dixie who believe in social equality only after dark."

Toomer's claims stand out as particularly disingenuous in light of facts like his weeklong sojourn with Frank in 1922 in Spartanburg, S.C., where they masqueraded as (in Toomer's words) "blood brothers," that is, as Negroes. After serving as Frank's "host in a black world," Toomer returned to Washington, and for two weeks worked as an assistant to the manager of the Howard Theatre, which served the capital's African-American community, and where he gathered material for such stories as "Box Seat" and "Theater," published in Cane.

Why is it so important, as we read Cane, to understand Toomer's conflicts over his racial identity? What light does it shine on scholarship about his work, about African-American literature, and the way our society has dealt with race? The first reason is the simple, or rather complicated, fact that Toomer himself thought it was important. Important? Toomer obsessed over it, endlessly circling back upon it in the comfortable isolation of his upper-middle-class home in Bucks County, Pa.

In our effort to map the genealogy of both academic and popular conceptions of race, Toomer's conflicts also help us distinguish between what we might think of as one's biological or genetic identity and one's cultural or ethnic identity. Biological identity is registered in one's genes and measured today through alleles and haplogroups, but cultural identity is, to a large degree, what scholars call socially constructed—arbitrary, fluid, contingent, and socially specific. Genetically, Jean Toomer was a light-complexioned Negro, descended from a long line of mulattoes. He was raised as a Negro American, in a family that identified as black. Like many African-Americans (one of us, for example, happens to be 50 percent European and 50 percent African, genetically), he had a significant amount of European ancestry. But not culturally. None of Toomer's direct ancestors chose to live or self-identify as white.

That is a matter about which there is a tremendous amount of confusion. Does it mean much to discover, as a mature adult, that one is as white as she or he is black, genetically? That would be to presuppose that genetic ancestry, or biology, has some inherently determining characteristics of personality formation. It does not.

The fact that Toomer's family tree consisted of a lot of light-skinned mulattoes who, for whatever reasons, married one another, is not exceptional. Many African-Americans' family trees are shaded in the very same way. Toomer was very much like the novelist Charles W. Chesnutt or the civil-rights leader Walter White or the many people who most certainly had to self-identify to a census enumerator to set the social or cultural rec­ord straight. (How else would a hapless census taker even begin to comprehend the nuances of Negritude that have so markedly defined the complex "black" identity in the United States?)

Toomer was right to declare that he was of mixed ancestry, and that the opposition between "white" and "black" was too simplistic. But he was wrong to say that he had never lived as a Negro. He lived as a Negro while growing up. And then he decided to live as an ex-Negro almost as soon as the print was dry on Cane.

In part—to his credit—Toomer did so as a rebellion against a racist form of racial classification. But clearly Toomer the artist had other reasons in choosing to reinvent himself precisely when he published his first book: as a tactic to enable his upward social and artistic mobility. It was important to flee his cultural identity when he became a published writer, we believe, because of all of the circumscriptions placed upon Negroes and Negro writers in America in the early 1920s, when he began his career.

Like the protagonist in James Weldon Johnson's novel The Autobiography of an Ex-Coloured Man, Toomer probably wanted to live as he pleased outside the strictures of segregation and Jim Crow laws; to be judged as a writer for his talents alone, on their terms; to be free to chase the dreams about which he fantasized; to love the women he loved, without concern about the law—to live freely. And who can blame him? The philosopher Kwame Anthony Appiah once wrote that "Race disables us." The more that we, as scholars, understand the full weight of race's burdens, the more understandable Toomer's admittedly imaginative denials become. Still ...

We hope that the documents that we share in our new edition will provoke discussion and debate among students and colleagues about those twin pillars of postmodern studies, the social construction of race and our society's essentialization of race, born in the pseudoscience of the Enlightenment.

As to interpretations of Cane, the new contextual information takes nothing away from the splendid complexity of this marvelously compelling text, our most sublime rendering of the moment of transition of the first great migration, the migration of the ex-slave from the plantation to the city, from feudalism to modernity, from the South to the North, and of all that was lost and all that was gained in that marvelously complex process.

Toomer, more than any other New Negro writer (from whom he so desperately wished to stand apart), saw and felt that moment, and found lyrical registers of language to record it. Rather than confine his imagination to that of a "Negro writer," he seized upon the critical success of Cane to attempt to escape the confines of race in America.

Jean Toomer—to draw upon a famous metaphor of W.E.B. Du Bois—did not want to ride in the Jim Crow car of American literary culture or of American social life. But Du Bois's point in coining the metaphor was that the Negro should be allowed to ride in the proverbial "white" section of the American social train as a Negro, and not as a Negro in whiteface, or as a Negro who had left his sisters and brothers back in the smelly, cinder-covered Jim Crow car at the rear of the train.

Confronting the long history of speculation about Toomer's race, we confronted again the role of race not just in the construction of identity, but also in the creation of a literary tradition. We felt that it was vital to add clarity to an often ambiguous, contradictory portrait of Toomer. In the process, we grew to appreciate more deeply the tragic pattern of ambivalence and denial that is part of his legacy as one of the most gifted imaginative artists of the 20th century.

Certainly, Toomer's choices make it clear that we are long past the point of accepting uncritically what a writer says about himself or herself. We should subject all claims to the same critical analysis that we bring to the text itself. They, too, make clear the many issues about race to be confronted in our teaching.

So we come back to our carefully considered judgment, based upon an analysis of genealogical evidence previously overlooked, that Jean Toomer—for all of his pioneering theorizing about what today we might call multicultural or mixed-raced ancestry—was a Negro who decided to pass for white.

The poet Elizabeth Alexander's "Toomer" evokes her subject's shifting, complex, contradictory stance on race: "I made up a language in which to exist." That line captures not only Toomer's pioneering position on race as a social construction, but also his effort to liberate himself through language from his life-long ambivalence about his black ancestry.

Rudolph P. Byrd is a professor of African-American studies and founding director of the James Weldon Johnson Institute at Emory University. Henry Louis Gates Jr. is a professor of African and African American studies and director of the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute at Harvard University. This essay is adapted from their introduction to a new edition of Jean Toomer's Cane, published in January by W.W. Norton.


1. polosail51 - February 06, 2011 at 11:20 pm

Anatole Broyard comes to mind.

2. elaineray - February 07, 2011 at 10:59 am

Putting this on my book list. Http://ebenezerray.com.

3. 11299243 - February 07, 2011 at 11:57 am

Interesting reading????

John Taylor

4. rawhideacademics - February 07, 2011 at 12:00 pm

Using this in my senior seminar in African American and Diaspora Studies. We've just read the Norton Critical edition of "The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano" where we read Gates' essay on the trop of the talking book. We're reading selections from Souls of Black Folk next, so this reference to Toomer ought to work beautifully when they've finished Souls. We'll move on to James Cone after that. I'd like to think this will help students develop a complex-enough picture of the role of "race" in American identity.

5. adminnyc - February 07, 2011 at 12:10 pm

When Toomer says he was not raised a Negro, perhaps he was referencing the fact that his experience as a fair skinned black person in an upper middle class household was markedly different from poor, uneducated, dark skinned blacks, i.e., "Negroes."

As a toddler in the late sixties, I saw a little gitl on television and told my mother that I did not like the girl becuase she was black. My mother replied, "but you're black, too" to which I replied, "no, I'm gold." My parents are very well educated, and we were solidly middle class. As disturbed as I am by learning that I did not like a little girl because she was black, I am also intrigued as to why I thought I was gold. (Perhaps this was due to the fact that, in the summer, the reddish brown hairs on my arm turned golden in the intense Alabama sun.) The point is that at an early age, despite my parents many messages promoting black pride, I had learned from society that black was not desirable and had further deduced that I was not black.

For a person like Toomer, whose skin color allowed him the dignity of looking white people in eyes, when most blacks lived a life bent, physcially and psychologically, in deference to whites; alloweed him the simple dignity of viewing himself as attractive when other black folks, succumbing to the myth of their "undersirable physical traits," were buying the latest products that promised to straighten their hair and lighten their skin, it is no wonder that he felt pulled by the rightness of whiteness. He must have suffered greatly.

I wish Toomer could have seen the real truth in the African-American story; that ours is ultimately a story of unparalleled triumph. Yes, we still have many problems to this very day, but the fact that we have achieved all that we have in spite of every chain, whip, rape, lynching, and discrimnatory law, reveals our true strength. We have survived and, in many cases, thrived when others would surely have crumbled. And that is why to be "black" really is beautiful.

6. 11185500 - February 07, 2011 at 01:29 pm

An interesting footnote, but let's not make it more than that. Toomer deserves to be recognized for his insightful writing and willingness to synthesize new realities (e.g., need for multi-racial designations). Whether or when he "passed" doesn't diminish and only marginally informs his role in American literature. If one wishes to treat his racial composition as predictive, a far more disciplined and comprehensive analysis would be required. For example he is described as a "mulatto among a family of mulattos," which should have prompted a discussion of the well-documented tendency among African Americans of that era to equate light skin with beauty. Thus "marrying up" often meant "marrying light", and the generational effect was bound to create a person with the potential and implicit values to "pass." That Tooms was the only one in his family to pass (as it is alleged) means nothing more than he was at the point of a generational spear. Let's confine this discussion to a footnote on Jean Toomer, celebrate him for his courage and talent, and make it possible for his progeny to live without choosing between inaccurate descriptors of self.

7. profitgrad - February 07, 2011 at 01:52 pm

The times that Toomer lived in were incredibly difficult for any person of color. If Tomer "passed" as it was called back in the day, it was because he was able to and for reasons of economics. In today's world, we look down upon someone who was able to pass and acuse them of betraying their race; when, in fact, the ability to pass was more based on economic need then embarrassment and shame. The inability to get a job, secure a place to live or go to the bathroom were all predicated on race. Because the doors of opportunity have now been opened, thanks to Dr. Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement, we don't question the difficulties that were part of daily life for people of color. We should not pass judgement now, knowing that those who struggled with their ability to "pass" did so with a heavy heart. We have come a long way and the standards that the country lived by back in the 1920s has changed completely. Discrimination and denial of opportunity is still a factor today but not like it was in that era. We have much to be proud of and can take pride in how far our families have come till now.

8. hugo_de_toronja - February 07, 2011 at 02:58 pm

America's racial hysteria, and its legacy, always make for depressing reading.

Although its logic, like that of all hysterias, seems to operate chaotically, like a kind of dreamwork, America's racial hysteria invariably, inevitably, and inexorably, prohibits African Americans from simply being in the world in the way that white Americans are free to simply be in the world.

It prevents African Americans from exercising their wants, whims, interests, talents, and distractions, with the freedom and unselfconsciousness that white Americans, without a second thought, assume as their natural right.

In other words, within the confines of America's racial hysteria, there's no way that a black man or black woman can win.

Had Toomer, for example, claimed an exclusively "black identity," he would have made himself vulnerable to accusations that, given the color of his skin, he couldn't possibly have appreciated the full range of injustices and indignities suffered by African Americans darker than he.

Had he claimed a purely "white identity," he would have been assailed by white Americans perpetually in the thrall of a chronic, intractable phobia of "blackness," and he would have been mistrusted by African Americans who, rightly or wrongly, could view his claim only as betrayal.

And any claim on his part, however accurate or authentic, of a "mixed" or "multi-racial" identity, would be rejected outright by a society forever uncomfortable with subtlety, and often violently opposed to ambiguity.

The truth is that Toomer didn't choose the color of his skin, and could live no life other than the life he was able to live given the very real and unavoidable constraints of the time and place into which he was born.

You can't fault someone for living a life that doesn't conform to your expectations, no matter how reasonable and admirable, when this person had no choice but to play by rules that were profoundly irrational and shameful.

Toomer's life may not make "sense" when viewed from outside.

But please consider that white Americans are now, and have always been, completely free to live their lives without ever worrying or caring whether their lives make "sense" to themselves, or to anyone else, for that matter.

9. raceprof - February 07, 2011 at 03:23 pm

"Like many African-Americans (one of us, for example, happens to be 50 percent European and 50 percent African, genetically)"

No one is 50 percent of this or 50 percent of that. . .good grief. Race doesn't work that way.

10. rambo - February 07, 2011 at 03:36 pm

so there is no racism to be a person of color or white? Isn't it whitism to be racist??

11. juanitamwoods - February 07, 2011 at 04:44 pm

One concept that has not been discussed is one's assumption of race. I think I would be correct in assuming that most whites who encountered Toomer "assumed" he was white and therefore treated him as such, especially after he removed himself from the D.C. area where inter-marriage among mulattos was common. However, while the white community often viewed the off-spring of these unions as "white" purely from an appearance viewpoint, the Black community always seemd to know otherwise. Indeed, there are many stories of very light skinned Blacks "passing" for employment opportunities in D.C. and then walking home to their Black communities to live. Color and race are often in the eyes of the beholder

12. mischling2nd - February 07, 2011 at 09:13 pm

Henry Louis Gates, Jr. hash made a career out of demonizing mixed whites (dead ones who can't fight back)such as Jean Toomer and Anatole Broyard. He accuses them of "passing" for a white race that was their biological and cultural reality. Blacks have no right to claim anyone who "looks white" or otherwise nonblack for their "race." Furthermore, the Chronicle of Higher Education is guilty of racism for publishing this white-purity-endorsing nonsense. Morally, you stand with the Nazis who said that Jews were too inferior (non-Aryan) to call themselves Europeans (whites). Would you publish a "scholar" advising us that Jews are not white? Would you publish anyone claiming that Hispanics are really "black" because nearly all of them have the "tainted black blood"?

A black/Negro stigma on otherwise white people (or any other non-black groups) is NOT a true race or ethnicity, as you claim. A stigma SHOULD be rejected. The people that Gates and Byrd accuse of "passing" were in fact white, and they should be CELEBRATED for rejecting the black lie of forced hypodescent. It is those who were too cowardly to reject the black stigma who should be condemned. Nevertheless, mixed-whites and mulattoes in the Mulatto Elite caste usually practiced endogamy because they knew that they were far closer to white than black and differed from the blacks in both culture and race. Gates and Byrd pretend to be too dense to know when their "race" is being rejected.

John McWhorter was unusually honest in admitting that the bacl insistance on claiming non-blacks for their "race" in the name of hypodescent and a "one drop" myth is rooted in an inferiority complex.

Leaders of the Multiracial Movement know that most whites have no interest in forcing people to call themselves "black." The NAACP used all its power to stop a modest "multiracial" category on the federal census. Black elites use their inflated moral authority to propagandize for the "one drop" myth in mainstream publications (while being careful not to insult their Hispanic allies by mentioning THEIR African ancestry). The problem does not come from "whites."

Charles Drew, Jean Toomer, Julian Bond and "Choices"
by Charles Michael Byrd (Multiracial Movement leader)

Leftist Socialism or Multiracial Libertarianism:
Our Community's Two Choices?

Census 2000 Protest:
Check American Indian!


Critical discussion of
ONE DROP by Bliss Broyard (Anatole's daughter)


Myths of the "One Drop" Rule

Multiracial Whiteness - There is no such thing as "passing."




13. travisone - February 08, 2011 at 12:26 am

It's so very sad that anyone gives a shit about what "race" this man was.

14. anonytrans - February 08, 2011 at 12:53 pm

Yeah, travisone, let's not just pretend race is irrelevant today, but was totally irrelevant for anyone, ever, including those who lived with intense race-based scrutiny, oppression, and violence. Yay, all those problems went away because we decided to ignore them!

15. drness - February 08, 2011 at 01:15 pm

I totally agree with you, travisone! The One Drop Rule, no matter how you look at it, is a racist concept. It implies that black blood is akin to poison--if you have one drop of it flowing through your veins, you are contaminated, and any and all other parts of you are worthless and must be discarded. Ironically, blacks are the main ones to attach a black label to mixed race individuals. The joke is, it only applies to blacks, and is found only in the United States!

Tiger Woods' statement on Oprah that it bothered him to be called just African American prompted eruption of a "mini-racial fire storm," where blacks first embraced him as a symbol of racial progress, then rejected him as a traitor. To them, Woods appared to be running away from being an African American, but in their rush to judgment, they apparently never stopped to consider that Woods was not turning his back on any part of his identity but instead was embracing every aspect of it.

In a 2006 Zobgy International poll, 55% of whites considered Obama as biracial after being told that Obama's mother was white and his Kenyan father was black. Even more Hispanics--61%--also saw Obama as biracial. However, 66% of black polled classified Obama as black!

The issue stems from the deeply ingrained, pervasive, negative stereotype of blacks; one that is internalized, if not more so, in blacks, as in all other ethnicities. Because of the perception of what being black stands for, consensus among the blacks with whom I have communicated is that overall, blacks are self-loathing and many, if not most of them, do not want to be black.

Consider my black girlfriend and her family, how, in her own words, do not date blacks. She will teach diversity and black studies and sponsor black student unions, but will not become intimately involved with a black man. Consider Michael Jackson. Skin disease or not; paternal issues or not; the man went to obsessive, extreme measures to make himself look white. None of his chosen "mates" were of color. He ensured that his children look white.

Black author K.G. Shockley recounts in his book, The Miseducation of Black Children, when he went around the room asking for background on workshop participants consisting of practicing K-12 classroom teachers, one woman claimed to be German; another English and Scottish; and when he came to a dark-skinned black woman, her response was: I'm American and British.

Blacks were deliberately stripped of their identity and culture. It tooks centuries of denigration of blacks' very essence to cultivate and nurture the self-deprecation and defensiveness that remain today.

The most thorough way to weaken a people is to strip them of their identity and culture. It is this lack of identity that pompts blacks to snatch anyone of mixed race as their own. Ironically, they do so resentfully.

I believe blacks are more than capable of embracing their authentic self and that they can and will turn it all around. I believe it will happen, and I believe it begins with elimination of this one drop garbage.

16. drness - February 08, 2011 at 01:24 pm

I must correct a statement I made above that the one drop rule only applies to blacks. Apparently, the racist concept is more pervasive than the article claiming this showed:

The one drop rule is not confined to Blacks: Madison Grant of New York in The Passing of the Great Race, wrote: "The cross between a white man and an Indian is an Indian; the cross between a white man and a Negro is a Negro; the cross between a white man and a Hindu is a Hindu; and the cross between any of the three European races and a Jew is a Jew." Hypodescent.

Now why would blacks align themselves with such an ass?

17. gholcomb - February 10, 2011 at 10:41 am

I think we need to recognize that during the 1920s and 1930s, black intellectuals posed competing notions of how to respond to the rapid modernization of identity. The Harlem Renaissance was a celebration of African heritage and Southern rural black "folk" culture, a Romanticist embracing of the authentic against the tide of the modern breakdown of traditional cultural identities. At the same time, black intellectuals like Toomer gravitated toward a notion of identity that rejected race as an identity category. Toomer's assertion of whiteness is not necessarily merely a rejection of African heritage; it may be seen as a rejection of what modernists regarded as worn-out categories for self-identification, not only racial but also nationalist, class, gender, and other received ideological formations.

I think also that, acknowledging Toomer fabricated his genuine past in order to gain advantage, we should recognize some subversion in the author's shifting back and forth across racial boundaries, this unwillingness to be contained by accepted notions of cultural identity during the interwar period. For Toomer to assert strategically that he is "white" may be seen as an act of undermining the neutrality and naturalism of whiteness, the assumption on the part of those who unthinkingly identified white as a neutral, natural state, and that being black, Native American, Asian American, or among other ethnic or tribal groups amounts to cultural difference. Even "mulatto," a term Langston Hughes used to describe himself, may be regarded as a stable and therefore retrograde category.

We now conceptualize cultural identity in a post-social movement era, where the idea that asserting whiteness is justifiably regarded as supremacist ideology. Perhaps the most difficult lesson gained from tracing Toomer's black-white dance steps is the recognition that the past, even as recent as less than a century ago, is difficult to disentangle from our present concerns.

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