I’ve read that you consider yourself to be black. Could you talk a little bit about how and why you identify the way you do?
Well, the state of New York started it. When I was born, in 1960, New York’s birth certificates carried a place for “race” to be indicated. The law was that children were given the same race as their father. Since my father is black (3/4 actually, with 1/4 native american), I was declared black. My upbringing was, I have to say, really race neutral – all the extended family on both sides lived in the same town, and I would spend time with my black relatives and my white relatives without distinction. There were other interracial marriages in the family. I went to public school in a racially diverse neighborhood, so for much of my childhood it wasn’t an issue. It started to become one in highschool, where other kids would, half kiddingly tease me about it. When I was applying to colleges, I received materials from Howard, which brought home to me that somewhere in some beurocratic was, I was marked as black. I’ve made that fact explicit in my dealings with other people to in part highlight how absurd notions of race are in this country, and I’ve attempted to use my work as a way of examining my own preconceptions about race and racial identity. The fact that I “pass” for white, has made me think about the other ways I have passed in this society. I’ve had many people say to me that I don’t look black, and I’d say that we really don’t know what “black” looks like: it was an invention that people latched onto for societal power and the sooner we rethink it the better.
Hope this answers it – and thank you for asking me.
The Question Shop is still open, ask me whatever and I’ll answer in a follow-up post.