It’s hard to write about something you know is stupid.
You try to come up with words. Something fancy or deep. Profundity, be mine! But the only thing you want to say is, “This is dumb, so dumb.”
Right now, on the Internet, some conservatives are trying to digitally relitigate Plessy v. Ferguson because it fits their anti-black-liberation, anti-Black Lives Matter agenda. It’s an agenda that is about disrupting and discrediting black people by attacking those who are both lighter than a paper bag and writing about anti-black racism.
First they came for Wesley Lowery of the Washington Post, a reporter who diligently covered Ferguson, Mo., and got arrested for it. I wrote nothing about it because I thought, “This is so stupid. I can’t give any legitimacy to this stupidity.” But now they’ve come for Shaun King at Daily Kos, saying that he’s a lying liar who lies about his race and other things—pulling along a little defamatory apple cart of woe, upsetting it all over the Twittersphere.
King wrote a post on Daily Kos in his defense explaining for the cruel and emotionally slow that his family history is complicated—the kind where the father on your birth certificate is not your real father; that he grew up identifying as black because he is a biracial black man. It was the kind of post that made you angry because, seriously, his family business is his family’s business. Besides, we wouldn’t even be discussing this if it weren’t for the folks at Brietbart and the Daily Caller reporting the story, leading media types like CNN anchor Don Lemon to entertain this circus, despite the fact that for months, conservative outlets have been targeting anyone who gains attention from writing, tweeting or talking about police violence against unarmed black people.
King shouldn’t have had to divulge anything, but he did because quite a few people, including some black people, fell for the ol’ okey-doke. It didn’t matter the URL. Or the agenda. So he was compelled to set himself free from this ridiculousness by digging into the family closet. But why is the conservative press going around asking biracial people to produce receipts for their race? What does that have to do with Black Lives Matter or police brutality or Michael Brown and Rekia Boyd? What does this have to do with anything?
The most obvious answer is that this has nothing to do with anything, and everything to do with the conservative media trolling journalists and activists they don’t agree with, and hitting these targets where it hurts by openly questioning their identity. Rachel Dolezal’s deception is often used as a justification—that folks are looking for other Dolezals in the social-justice woodwork, despite the sui generis nature of her entire delusion.
But conservatives have been pulling this prank for a long time, at least since Halle Berry won her Oscar in 2002, when conservatives mocked her for talking about diversity and the struggles of being a black woman while simultaneously being half-white. They accused her of “erasing” her whiteness, which was patently ridiculous, considering that it was racism that “erased” that whiteness. Berry, a person who is brown, has never been treated like a white person by white people.
And yet this is the charge that conservatives like Ann Coulter have lobbed at biracial people who identify as black (she has specifically attacked Berry, singer Alicia Keys and President Barack Obama, accusing them of rejecting their white mothers and embracing their black fathers), as if these people had any choice in the matter. Coulter, et al, ignore the enduring legacy of the “one-drop rule” in American society because it’s inconvenient to their attack.
Fast-forward to 2015, and the folks at Brietbart have apparently decided to take Coulter’s critique one step further and start openly calling for papers on a biracial black man, attacking him for living his truth by claiming that his very existence is a lie.
White people in America have historically defined what race is and what blackness is in opposition to whiteness, so I guess it makes sense that some white people would want to redefine it to fit their agendas. To try to renegotiate this more than 100 years after anti-miscegenation laws made the whole concept of light-complexioned black people anathema to the purity of whiteness is, quite frankly, dumb.
Nobody—unless he or she is straight outta the land of homogeneity (which is not melting pot America)—can claim any kind of “purity.” At least 6 million white Americans have some African ancestry. There’s a good chance that many of the same white people demanding that Shaun King take a DNA test have a few skeletons in their own racial closet that they would prefer stayed there.
But I get it. It’s more fun to ruin a family’s reputation and write think pieces on some Rachel Dolezal 2.0 drama than it is to talk about unarmed black men and women being killed by police, or black transgender women being killed by everyone. That’s upsetting. That’s complicated. Talking about that might mean having to do something.
Instead let’s focus on some nonsense. Some disruption and distraction. All because some hacks with a clear agenda want to ask: How black do you have to be to fight for the freedom of black people?
Don’t bother answering, because like all things involving race in America, it’s a trick question. Just like the one-drop rule. Just like passing. Just like Jim Crow. It’s all a deadly trick meant to disempower and segregate. Our only strength is in numbers, so you have to find some way to pick us apart.
So let’s all whip out the paper bags and see where we fall on this imaginary line.