Skip to main content

Tiny Post 3: The Impossibility of Biraciality

I was once interviewed by a journalism student for an article about what it means to be biracial in America, a subject she told me that was near to her heart (and experience). Among other things she wanted to learn about my experiences as a successful biracial academic. I imagine the conversation that ensued resulted in no small amount of consternation for her, because I informed her that I not believe I am biracial, because there can be no such thing. One's race is defined by one's position in our societal hierarchy; it is imposed, not inherited. To be Black is to be in the lower caste, to be white is to be in the upper. To claim biraciality, one must believe either that race is a biological reality that can be genetically amalgamated, or that the social hierarchy is justified such that you belong above those who are Black, and by doing so you may lay claim to the benefits of being white. I reject both positions. Further, the woman in the elevator clutching her purse or the police officer with his hand resting on his gun as he approaches me are both clear about my race, even if I were to attempt to explain to them, "Don't worry, I am part white!" This is a fools errand, and I imagine it was to the student's dismay that I informed her that, until the Revolution, we are both Black. 

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

An annual note to all the (NSF) haters

It's that time of year again: students have recently been notified about whether they received the prestigious NSF Graduate Student Research Fellowship. Known in the STEM community as "The NSF," the fellowship provides a student with three years of graduate school tuition and stipend, with the latter typically 5-10% above the standard institutional support for first- and second-year students. It's a sweet deal, and a real accellerant for young students to get their research career humming along smoothly because they don't need to restrict themselves to only advisors who have funding: the students fund themselves!
This is also the time of year that many a white dude executes what I call the "academic soccer flop." It looks kinda like this:


It typically sounds like this: "Congrats! Of course it's easier for you to win the NSF because you're, you know, the right demographic." Or worse: "She only won because she's Hispanic."…

Culture: Made Fresh Daily

There are two inspirations for this essay worth noting. The first is an impromptu talk I gave to the board of trustees at Thatcher School while I was visiting in October as an Anacapa Fellow. Spending time on this remarkable campus interacting with the students, faculty and staff helped solidify my notions about how culture can be intentionally created. The second source is Beam Times and Lifetimes by Sharon Tarweek, an in-depth exploration of the culture of particle physics told by an anthropologist embedded at SLAC for two decades. It's a fascinating look at the strange practices and norms that scientists take for granted.
One of the stories that scientists tell themselves, whether implicitly or explicitly, is that science exists outside of and independent of society. A corollary of this notion is that if a scientific subfield has a culture, e.g. the culture of astronomy vs. the culture of chemistry, that culture is essential rather than constructed. That is to say, scientific c…

The Bright Line is not Monotonic

The anthology of myths commonly known as America rests upon the notion that history is linear. In the past people in this country ignorantly did bad things to other people. But thanks to the passage of time, we can now "let the past to be the past," because today we live in a time when things have gotten much better. Furthermore, any problem that our society faces in the present will inevitably be solved as "the old guard" dies off and a new generation of better people takes their place. 
Of course this story isn't told so simply or explicitly. But the assumption lurks beneath the other stories we, as Americans, tell ourselves and each other. The myth certainly undergirds the notion that racism is a thing of the past, and that today we inhabit a "post-racial" world in which all people, regardless of race have equal access to betterment, dignity and happiness. We are lulled into beliving that at some point in the mid to late 1960's, a wise reveren…