African American News and Genealogy

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Saturday, August 13, 2005

"Blacks" and the Disclosure of their Multiracial Roots

(excerpts from an article written by By Eric Schmidt(NYT), Vicksburg, Miss., for the New YorkTimes, National Desk, March 31, 2001)When Milton Heard was filling out the census form forhis family last year, he hesitated where it askedthe race of his two sons, Jacob and David.Mr. Heard, who owns a women's apparel andcosmetics store here, is [categorized as] "black".His wife, Chong Suk, is Korean.His sons, ages 21 and 17, are "black" with distinct Asian features.For the first time, the 2000 census allowed Americansto check more than one category to identify their race...''I thought about it and ... I didn't feel therewas enough information about what the governmentwas trying to do,'' said Mr. Heard, who is 76.More than 550 miles and a cultural world away in Lawton,Okla., in the shadow of sprawling Fort Sill, Neil Domingo,a retired Army staff sergeant, recalled weighing thesame decision and coming to a different answer.''I identify with being "black", but I'm also Hispanic,''said Mr. Domingo, 53, who said he describedhimself both ways in the race category.''Why cast away my 'black' or myLatin heritage when I can mark both?''The suspicion harbored by Mr. Heard and the opennessof Mr. Domingo are attitudes reflected in the census,which found that Mississippi had one of the lowest multiracialresponses in the country, while Oklahoma had one of the highest.And those polar views reflect the [so-called] "black"community' in America, which IS NOT MONOLITHIC in itspolitics, its socioeconomic status, its intermarriagerates or `how it perceives itself racially'.A look at these two places with thriving `African-American'communities underscores how much the concept of race isinfluenced by recent memories of segregation and oppression,levels of integration and different views of history.Census figures show that more than 2 percent of all 281.4 million Americans said they belonged to more than one race.But about 5 percent of all "black" people said they weremultiracial, double what many government demographers and civilrights leaders had predicted based on surveys in 1996 and 1998...[In Comanche County, Okla., which includes Lawton, many"blacks" celebrate their diversity, a result they said ofmore than a century of intermarrying with American Indiansand of the Army's influence in integrating military towns...It is difficult to say whether the differences in twocounties is the cause of their different politicaland social views -- or the result of them...Representative J. C. Watts of Oklahoma, the only "black"Republican in Congress, who is also part Choctaw Indian, said,''It's hard to be from Oklahoma andnot have some native American blood.''For many of the more than two dozen "blacks" interviewedin these two counties, separated by history, geographyand culture, racial identity seems influenced by forcesless biological than social and environmental...In Oklahoma...[the so-called], "blacks" and native Americanshave a racial relationship that spans nearly 200 years...Blacks were freed after the Civil War, and over the years were ableto buy land and established all-black towns throughout the state...


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