They look white but say they’re black: a tiny town in Ohio wrestles with race

Posted in Articles, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2019-07-25 18:14Z by Steven

They look white but say they’re black: a tiny town in Ohio wrestles with race

The Guardian

Khushbu Shah

Roberta Oiler, center, stands with her daughters Janelle Stanley and Jessica Keaton in East Jackson, Ohio Photograph: Maddie McGarvey/The Guardian

Many residents in East Jackson were raised to identify as black. But what dictates race: where you live, your DNA, the history you’re taught?

The stale, smoky air around Clarice Shreck heaves. She takes a long hit of oxygen from the tube under her nose. She leans forward, shifting in her armchair, before releasing her raspy smoker’s laugh, which is smudged out a second later by her smoker’s cough.

The pale woman with frizzy grey-streaked hair commands her on-and-off partner of over 20 years, Jimmy – who is from one of the few white families in East Jackson – to fetch her purse. He plops it on to her lap; she struggles to get at an old piece of paper folded up in her wallet. She slowly unfolds it to present her birth certificate.

“Negro”, it reads, next to each of her parents’ names. She looks up triumphantly, victory in her periwinkle eyes. “It’s a legal document,” she says.

The last known full-blooded black person in her family was her great-great-grandfather Thomas Byrd, her parents told her. Photos of them, who both look white, adorn the wooden walls on either side of Shreck’s chair. Their stares follow her throughout their former home. They are the ones who told her she was black…

Note from Steven F. Riley: See the State of the Re:Union podcast “Pike County, Ohio – As Black as We Wish to Be” from 2012-09-28.

Read the entire article here.

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I’m part of the community now. I’m a white boy! I’m as white as snow…

Posted in Excerpts/Quotes on 2012-11-25 05:30Z by Steven

“…It’s kind of like living in a shadow. It sounds funny, but that’s what it feels like.

I want to be able to walk and say: ‘Hey, This is who I am. This is what I am. This ain’t what you want me to be. This ain’t what I’m thinking to be.  This is me.’…

..I’m hoping it [DNA test result] is what I’m thinking it is. I’m hoping that I am a white American…

…They [blacks] got it rough, I know. If I’m gonna be black I don’t want to be in America. Because they don’t get a fair shake.

I’m ready…  Here we go.

It says 75% European… so I’m all… I’m white! [Be]cause I’ve only got 22% of African and only 3% of Asian. So hey… that’s sweet! When they ask me ‘what you are?’ I can tell them now. I’m part of the community now. I’m a white boy!  I’m as white as snow… I just can’t believe that I’m a white man. I can actually say I’m a white man now.  I’m happy!  [laughter] I can’t believe this.  I should have done this years ago.”

Jeff Harris (Janitor, Waverly, Ohio Courthouse) on his racial identity before and after reading the results of his DNA ancestry results.

Al Letson and Lu Olkowski, “Pike County, Ohio—As Black as We Wish to Be,” State of the Re:Union, September 28, 2012. (Part 7, Segment C, (00:08:02-00:11:44)

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