Interview with Daniel J. Sharfstein, author of “The Invisible Line”

Interview with Daniel J. Sharfstein, author of “The Invisible Line”

The Christian Science Monitor

Stacie Williams, Monitor Contributor

In “The Invisible Line,” law professor Daniel J. Sharfstein uses the stories of three families to explore the fluid nature of racial identity in America.

Race has never been an easy concept in this country; the rigid constructs by which people judge black and white have always left room for individuals who could move across either side of the line. Today, more Americans are choosing to identify as multiracial; that segment of the population has grown 35% since the 2000 Census.

Exhibit A: The president of the United States, who has a white mother, but chooses to identify himself as African American.

Vanderbilt University Associate Law Professor Daniel J. Sharfstein analyzes the constantly evolving perceptions and experience of race in his new book The Invisible Line: Three American Families and the Secret Journey from Black to White. Sharfstein uses his legal background to fill in the shades of gray and highlight an American experience, which for many changed with the stroke of a pen, or with hair dye.

I recently had a chance to talk with Professor Sharfstein about his book and questions of racial identity in America….

…How key is the role of the Census in gauging how many more people are keeping their racial identities fluid?

As a country, we’re committed to principles of equality. The Census has an important function in figuring out how things are going—how well we’re living up to the principles of equality and anti-discrimination. On one level, how people self-identify is an interesting measure of how far we’ve come. On another level, it’s not completely related to larger societal issues we’ve made a commitment to overcome.

Have your opinions on racial constructs changed with Obama in the White House?

I think this country has changed a lot in the past couple decades and the way in which we understand the color line has been changed. As people have embraced multiracialism, its raised interesting questions about people who have been able to discover they have African Americans in their family history. I think these new ways of understanding identity are playing a role in how people are understanding their heritage. But I do think the election of Barack Obama is a major moment in the history of race. Race has never been about biology and blood. Plenty of white people have African blood. I’m looking at this history of migration across the color line and what do categories of black and white mean? These categories have been proxies for hierarchies and discrimination… for having a full set of rights as citizens.

Read the entire interview here.

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