The Nazi Holocaust in Europe and slavery and Jim Crow in the United States are outgrowths of the same ideology—the belief that human beings can be delineated into categories that share immutable biological traits distinguishing them from one another and determining their potential and behavior.

Posted in Excerpts/Quotes on 2022-02-08 01:20Z by Steven

The Nazi Holocaust in Europe and slavery and Jim Crow in the United States are outgrowths of the same ideology—the belief that human beings can be delineated into categories that share immutable biological traits distinguishing them from one another and determining their potential and behavior. In Europe, with its history of anti-Jewish persecution and violent religious divisions, the conception of Jews as a biological “race” with particular characteristics was used by the Nazis to justify the Holocaust. In the United States, the invention of race was used to justify the institution of chattel slavery, on the basis that Black people were biologically suited to permanent servitude and unfit for the rights the nation’s Founders had proclaimed as universal. The American color line was therefore much more forgiving to European Jews than the divisions of the old country were. But they are branches of the same tree, the biological fiction of race.

Adam Serwer, “Whoopi Goldberg’s American Idea of Race,” The Atlantic, February 3, 2022.

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Whoopi Goldberg’s American Idea of Race

Posted in Articles, Communications/Media Studies, Europe, History, Judaism, Media Archive, Religion, United States on 2022-02-07 21:05Z by Steven

Whoopi Goldberg’s American Idea of Race

The Atlantic

Adam Serwer, Staff Writer

Larry Busacca / Getty; The Atlantic

The “racial” distinctions between master and slave may be more familiar to Americans, but they were and are no more real than those between Gentile and Jew.

It made sense, to the New York Daily News sports editor, that these guys dominated basketball. After all, “the game places a premium on an alert, scheming mind and flashy trickiness, artful dodging and general smartalecness,” not to mention their “God-given better balance and speed.”

He was referring, of course, to the Jews.

In the 1930s, Paul Gallico was trying to explain away Jewish dominance of basketball. He came up with the idea that the game’s structure simply appealed to the immutable traits of wily Hebrews and their scheming minds. It sounds strange to the ear now, but only because our stereotypes about who is inherently good at particular sports have shifted. His theory is not any more or less insightful now than it was then; his confidence should remind us to be skeptical of similar, supposedly explanatory arguments that abound today.

Looking back at old stereotypes is a useful exercise; it can help illustrate the arbitrary nature of the concept of “race,” and how such identities shift even as people insist on their permanence and infallibility. Because race is not real, it is malleable enough to be made to serve the needs of those with the power to define it, the certainties of one generation giving way to the contradictory dogmas of another.

Whoopi Goldberg, the actor and a co-host of The View, stumbled into a public-relations nightmare for ABC on Monday when she insisted that “the Holocaust wasn’t about race.” After an episode of The Late Show With Stephen Colbert aired in which she opined that “the Nazis were white people, and most of the people they were attacking were white people,” she was temporarily suspended from The View. She has apologized for her remarks…

Read the entire article here.

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Demography Is Not Destiny

Posted in Articles, Census/Demographics, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy, United States on 2021-08-20 22:55Z by Steven

Demography Is Not Destiny

The Atlantic

Adam Serwer, Staff Writer

Jan Hanus / Alamy; Paul Spella / The Atlantic

New numbers provide a reminder of the fluidity of American identity.

In the more racist corners of the mainstream right, the 2020 census findings that the white American population has declined are cause for panic.

“Democrats are intentionally accelerating demographic change in this country for political advantage,” the Fox News host Tucker Carlson insisted on Friday, treating the results as confirmation of this conspiracy theory. “Rather than convince people to vote for them—that’s called democracy—they’re counting on brand-new voters.”

Carlson, it’s worth noting, has it wrong—voters who are not white are no less persuadable than those who are. If Republicans want to win over those constituencies, nothing is stopping them beyond their own nativism. And any read of the census results that assumes the growing diversity of the United States will simply redound to one party’s benefit is likely mistaken.

Political parties and identities are not static, and few concepts are as elastic as the invention of race, in particular the category of “white,” which is defined not just by looks and ancestry, but also by ideology and class. The fact that fewer Americans identify as white in the 2020 census than did 10 years before does not spell doom for the Republican Party, nor does it herald an era of political dominance for the Democrats, despite the forlorn cries of those who are committed less to conservatism as an ideology than the political and cultural hegemony of those they consider white

Read the entire article here.

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African Americans are a hybrid people, he is nowhere near the first black man of mixed ancestry to protest against racism.

Posted in Excerpts/Quotes on 2016-09-01 00:53Z by Steven

There is nothing unusual in this. There is no tension, no hypocrisy, no contradiction, between [Colin] Kaepernick being a black person of unusual status, fame, and financial success and his demand that the United States treat black people equally. African Americans are a hybrid people, he is nowhere near the first black man of mixed ancestry to protest against racism. Du Bois had white ancestors, Frederick Douglass believed that his father was the white man who owned his body, Malcolm X, with his red hair and light skin, was asked by a student why he identified as black upon his visit to Ghana. There is also the current president of the United States.

Adam Serwer, “Colin Kaepernick’s True Sin,” The Atlantic, August 30, 2016.

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Colin Kaepernick’s True Sin

Posted in Articles, Media Archive, United States on 2016-09-01 00:19Z by Steven

Colin Kaepernick’s True Sin

The Atlantic

Adam Serwer, Senior Editor

The San Francisco quarterback has been attacked for refusing to stand for the Star Spangled Banner—and for daring to criticize the system in which he thrived.

It was in early childhood when W.E.B. Du Bois––scholar, activist, and black radical––first noticed The Veil that separated him from his white classmates in the mostly white town of Great Barrington, Massachusetts. He and his classmates were exchanging “visiting cards,” invitations to visit one another’s homes, when a white girl refused his.

“Then it dawned upon me with a certain suddenness that I was different from the others; or like, mayhap, in heart and life and longing, but shut out from their world by a vast veil. I had thereafter no desire to tear down that veil, to creep through; I held all beyond it in common contempt, and lived above it in a region of blue sky and great wandering shadows,” Du Bois wrote in his acclaimed essay collection, The Souls of Black Folk. “That sky was bluest when I could beat my mates at examination-time, or beat them at a foot-race, or even beat their stringy heads.”

Du Bois’s upbringing as a black child was, in some ways blessed, particularly for the time. He received a good education, he had white teachers who believed in his potential. Yet despite growing up in a white town, far from the bloody, violent turmoil of the post-emancipation South, he learned from childhood that he was different, that a wall yet lay between himself and the other white children. We cannot know who Du Bois might have been had he been raised in a mostly black town or gone to a mostly black school. What we do know is that growing up around white people, with opportunities other blacks did not have, did not make white supremacy invisible to him––on the contrary,the intimacy of his early relationships with whites helped shape who he was.

Ever since 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick declared that he would refuse to stand for the national anthem, to refuse “to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” particularly in the form of police brutality, he has drawn personal and bitter responses accusing him of disrespecting the country, police officers, and military service members. Donald Trump, the Republican candidate for president campaigning on a slogan implying America has ceased to be great and whose broadsides against “political correctness” delight his fans, urged Kaepernick to leave the country for expressing the incorrect political views…

Read the entire article here.

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Why Rachel Dolezal Needed To Construct Her Own Black Narrative

Posted in Articles, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2015-06-23 00:25Z by Steven

Why Rachel Dolezal Needed To Construct Her Own Black Narrative


Adam Serwer, BuzzFeed News National Editor

In order to pass as black, Dolezal took advantage of the black community’s long tradition of inclusion regardless of skin tone.

In 1895, when Justice Henry Billings Brown ruled that Louisiana’s law segregating train cars was constitutional, he didn’t want to get into the messy business of determining whether or not passenger Homer Plessy was actually black. Though only possessing “one eighth African blood,” with “the mixture of colored blood” not “discernible in him,” whether Plessy was black was a matter for the state to decide.

“[T]here is a difference of opinion in the different States, some holding that any visible admixture of black blood stamps the person as belonging to the colored race,” wrote Brown, “others that it depends upon the preponderance of blood; and still others that the predominance of white blood must only be in the proportion of three-fourths.”

Plessy v. Ferguson became the legal cornerstone of Jim Crow even though Homer Plessy was so light-skinned he could probably drive through Ferguson, Missouri, today without getting a ticket. In other words, who is black is a complicated question, one that remains fraught more than a hundred years after Brown’s ruling blessing racial apartheid in a country founded on the premise of equality under the law. But the long tradition of African-American resistance is one that excels in turning efforts to subjugate black Americans into advantages. One of these is the reversal of the infamous “one-drop rule,” which allows anyone who was a descendant of enslaved black Americans to identify as a member of the African-American community, which is why the NAACP’s Walter White used his racial ambiguity to report on lynchings in the South while passing as white. To claim is to be claimed; to love is to be loved in return. It is that very tradition of love and acceptance that Rachel Dolezal, the NAACP leader in Spokane, Washington, who for years passed as a light-skinned black woman, took advantage of by manufacturing a biography that reads like a racial caricature of a dystopian young adult novel.

Dolezal knew it wasn’t enough to perm and dye her hair and do whatever it is she did to her skin, and to tell everyone she was black. She also had to invent a history in which she and her family had borne the scars of racism, one in which she was born in a “tepee in Montana” and went hunting for food with bows and arrows. One in which she and her siblings endured beatings according to skin tone, and were lashed with “baboon whips” that were “pretty similar to what was used as whips during slavery,” to say nothing of the years she spent filing questionable reports with police about hate crimes. With that connection, even someone as light as her could be black.

The irony is that racial barriers in America have always been permeable and ambiguous, even when they have been most violently enforced…

Read the entire article here.

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Multiracal In America

Posted in Articles, Census/Demographics, Identity Development/Psychology, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy, Social Science, United States on 2011-05-03 00:40Z by Steven

Multiracal In America

Ebony Magazine
May 2011

Adam Serwer

In The Mix: Being Biracial in America

When President Barack Obama checked “Black” on his census form last April, it was an actual news story. The Associated Press subhed [sub-headline] was lined with implicit anguish: “President Ticks One Box Concerning Racial Heritage on U.S. Census Form, Despite Mixed Heritage.” For some, it was a grand betrayal by the candidate who had run ads highlighting the fact that he had been raised by his White grandparents, the candidate who falsely presented himself as a living avatar of American racial progress.

The president, a self-identified “mutt,” could have chosen any number of options. He could have checked White and Black, as I have every year I’ve been old enough to fill out the census form myself.  But Obama had made his own reasoning clear in 2007 when 60 Minutes’ Steve Kroft asked him how he had decided he was Black. The president had a simple answer. “Well, I’m not sure I decided it. I think if you look African-American in this society, you’re treated as an African-American.” Put another way, there’s nothing contradictory about being biracial and being Black. Since there have been Black people on American soil, the children of Black and White parents have always been seen as Black. It’s only in the past few years that we’ve even begun to ask the question and that people of biracial parentage have begun giving different answers.

Even in 2010, biracial people are treated as a novelty or a contradiction. My parents pointedly did not raise me as one or the other.  I never found anything odd about being given children’s biographies of Malcolm X and Muhammad Ali as Hanukkah presents. But interracial relationships are hardly novel. During Reconstruction, Black Republicans in Tennessee attempted to pass a bill criminalizing sex  between Blacks and Whites to prevent rape and to stop White men from fathering illegitimate children and then abandoning them. Instead they only succeeded in passing a bill that prevented the recognition of marriages between Blacks and Whites, ensuring that White men could continue siring biracial children without being fathers to them.

Read more in the May issue of Ebony available on newsstands now!

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He’s Black, Get Over It

Posted in Articles, Barack Obama, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy, Social Science, United States on 2011-01-16 20:12Z by Steven

He’s Black, Get Over It

The American Prospect

Adam Serwer

We may not have chosen to be a hybrid people, anymore than we chose to come here in the first place, but that’s what we are now. And it’s a beautiful thing.

In a provocatively titled op-ed for The Washington Post last Sunday, Marie Arana declared that President-elect Barack Obama is “not black” because he’s also “half white.” Arana argues, using a naïve and idealized evaluation of how race operates in Latin America, that identifying Barack Obama as black is “racist,” and “racially backward,” and pleads with the reader to stop “using labels that validate the separation of races.”

If identifying biracial people as black “validates the separation of the races” then there is perhaps no one contributing more to the cause of these neo-segregationists than Barack Obama himself. “My view has always been that I’m African-American,” Obama told Chicago Tribune reporter Dawn Turner Trice back in 2004. “African Americans by definition, we’re a hybrid people.” In seeking a validation of her own ideas about race and racial identity, and by casting Obama as the victim of a reductive racial vocabulary, Arenas simply ignores the will of her subject. But racial categories are only unjust insofar as they prevent people from identifying how they wish. Arenas is doing exactly what she is attempting to prevent, forcing Obama into the racial category of her, rather than his own, choosing.

Part of the problem with the American conversation on race is the bizarre license that people take when writing about it on the basis of their own biography. But being “biracial” does not make one an expert on race, or on racial hybridity, any more than being a Republican or a Democrat makes one an expert on politics. So much of the writing on Obama’s racial identity, or on his political impact is muddled by our own subconscious racial desires. We want Obama to mean something specific, either to us or to others, with little regard for how he actually sees himself. As it stands, Arenas seems ill-prepared to talk about how biraciality operates in the African-American context. The black community in America has always accepted people of varying shades, cultures and backgrounds. Originally, this was a consequence of racial oppression; racist laws that determined that anyone with black ancestry was black. We may not have chosen to be a hybrid people, anymore than we chose to come here in the first place, but that’s what we are now. And it’s a beautiful thing…

Read the entire opinion piece here.

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