Cabin Fever and Racial Identity

What, you might ask, do the two things have in common?  Not much, except maybe I would not have commented on the racial identity issue if I hadn’t been confined to the house by Tropical Storm Fay, which means I might have missed the comment by “Babette” on eehard’s blog entitled “Is Obama Black Enough?”

First, let’s get something out of the way.  I’m white.  Naturally blond.  Freckles, even.  My grandmother’s grandmother was from the Old Country.  That country would be Ireland.  My mother and grandmother had carrot red hair, which regrettably my sister and I did not inherit, and have been trying to correct artificially ever since.   On my father’s side of the family, we can only guess that their background was French.  Mostly because of the name, which shall remain unrevealed here, but also because of the location where they surfaced, and their appearance.  Dark brown hair and big noses.  Don’t believe me?  Go to France and walk down any street. 

So could it get any better?  Northern European descent.  The whitest of the white.  Well, somehow, I missed the part growing up where that made me special.  I thought it made me have a different skin, eye, and hair color than other people.  Here is as racist as I got:  I thought, Dang.  How sad that black people only get to have black hair and brown eyes. 

It took living in Memphis for me to understand that I was an enemy, and it took moving to New Orleans to finally get a break.  In New Orleans, it’s impossible to determine anyone’s race.  The absolutely wonderful New Orleans newspaper (the Times-Picayune) once did a  series of articles about the issue.  I hope they won a Pulitzer for it, but I don’t know.  They published a group of photographs on the front page of the newspaper, and asked, “What race is this person?”  You had to guess, and then on the inside pages, you found out what race the people identified themselves as, with some shocking results. 

In Louisiana in the 1990 census, something like 30% of the population checked “other” on the census form under the category of “race”, and wrote in “Cajun” or “Creole”. 

So Babette, don’t let the forms cramp your style.  Write in “Other”.  The real answer to that question, as eehard points out, is “Human”.

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6 responses to “Cabin Fever and Racial Identity

  1. Hawaii is like that; lots of mixing. As for the forms, I often checked “other” too because I didn’t want to have to “choose” between Asian, Hispanic, or White.

    Being all three allows me to slip into whichever “skin” I need to be to get the most “benefit”…lol!
    If some one wants to make decisions based on something like that, then I don’t mind being a chameleon to help them feel better! I like that the census now recognizes “mixed.”

    And as for the hair… I’ve always liked strawberry blonde because it mixes two colors I like.

  2. Well, um, I never had that choice. Pretty much you only have to take one look at me and you go “white female”, end of sentence.

  3. my father and sister have green eyes and mine are hazel. i have relatives in the boston area who were the subject of a book and film about them passing for white. we run the gamut from snow white to blue black.

  4. Wow, how cool! I’d love to see the book (you could email me privately with the info if you choose.)
    An interesting thing about living in New Orleans was that I was struck by the first week by how much racial harmony there is there, although there were fringe elements who tried constantly to keep the divide alive. But it could be that my perception was clouded by having moved there from Memphis, where racial hatred was a living, breathing monster that no one could escape.
    However, I once had a discussion about that harmony thing with my boss at the time, who was black, maybe after that newspaper article came out. I said it seemed to me that since nobody knew what race anybody was, nobody knew who to hate. And he said it seemed to him that since nobody knew what race anybody was, they chose to hate everybody. So there you go. Perspective is everything.

  5. That father-side could be Dutch as a co-worker from the Neatherlands once pointed out to me. All from the nameless name.

    I inherited a lot more of that nose than you did!

  6. Oh look at this, my friends, my real sister has joined as Fakesister. Is that funny or what? Well, don’t people from the Netherlands have blond hair, typically?
    I doubt that about the nose!

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