Home > culture/society, politics > Obsessed with Skin Color

Obsessed with Skin Color

Friday, July 29, 2011, 17:56 EDT Leave a comment Go to comments

ChecklistAmericans (some of us, anyway) tend to be racially obsessed. I’m not talking about concern for racial equality and fair treatment. I’m talking about irrational obsession for no reason or, worse yet, for nefarious reasons. As exhibit A, I offer a report from The Post and Courier of Charleston, South Carolina, about how incensed that state’s Democratic establishment is over Gov. Nikki Haley’s racial/ethnic self-identification.

The South Carolina Democratic Party tried Thursday to make Haley out as a liar for checking “white” as her race on her 2001 Lexington County voter registration application.

But the application had no specific option for “Indian.” Her options were “white, black/African-American, Asian, Hispanic, Native American or other.”

The governor stayed silent on the matter, although her allies accused the Democrats of the lowest-grade politics: race-baiting. Haley, the daughter of Indian immigrants, has never emphasized herself as South Carolina’s first female and minority governor and the country’s second Indian-American governor, but it has earned enormous national notoriety.

As Glenn Reynolds notes, “Well, policing the color line is something South Carolina Democrats have been doing for 200 years. . . .” Indeed, the fact that South Carolina’s Democratic leadership is trying to make this a scandal says more about them than it does about the Governor. So let’s walk down the path they’ve laid out, and see where it leads.

To the extent that I think about race at all, I tend to think of people as being what they look like to me. Based on the pictures I’ve seen, I think Nikki Haley looks more white than anything else I could identify. Granted, what someone looks like to any given individual might or might not be strictly accurate in a genealogical sense. For example, I think professional baseball player Derek Jeter looks white and President Barack Obama looks black, but both men are the children of white mothers and black fathers. One of my friends, a Chinese woman, has two daughters who are also half white; one looks more Caucasian to me, while the other looks more Chinese.

Genetics are funny that way, and not just where racial appearance is concerned. My brown-eyed mother and my blue-eyed father, both brunettes, had three children: a blue-eyed brunette (yours truly), a blue-eyed blonde (whose hair darkened as he grew up), and a brown-eyed redhead. More than one neighbor probably thought the redhead was the mailman’s kid, but the fact is that both my parents had redheads among their ancestors, even my ethnically Italian mother. Her mother was a fair-skinned Sicilian who might well have had some northern European blood; after all, Sicily was conquered over the centuries by so many empires, stretching from Scandinavia to northern Africa, that I’ve often said that if you go back far enough, Sicilians could be just about anything.

My elementary school social studies books taught that human beings were comprised of three major races: Caucasoid, Mongoloid, and Negroid. Within each of those classifications are many variations. Add migratory history and interbreeding and you begin to understand that there can be a lot of overlap in some parts of the world.

As for Nikki Haley, her parents are both Indian, not as in native American but as in from the country India. But remember that India was a British colony for centuries, so it’s possible for an Indian to also have some western European ancestry. We think of Russians as white, but look at a map and note that half of Russia lies north of China and Mongolia and the easternmost tip is separated from Alaska by just a strait. That explains why inhabitants of eastern Russia often have physical traits in common with Chinese, Japanese, Koreans, or Aleuts. And how many Americans realize that Arabs are, racially speaking, Caucasian?

So is Gov. Haley partially white? Judging from her physical features, I would guess it’s a strong possibility. Apparently, she considers herself to be, at least more than anything else. But just as the Jim Crow predecessors of today’s southern Democrats once embraced the “one-drop rule” to deny civil rights to mixed race people, there are those today who seem resistant to the idea that someone who is not purely European could be considered white. Indeed, as our nation becomes more and more racially mixed, the Census Bureau has created more non-white racial/ethnic categories to distinguish who is what, even going to so far as to classify Spanish-speaking people separately. One could argue that they are just trying to be more specific, but they don’t seem interested in, say, distinguishing northern Europeans from southern, or eastern from western, even though the cultural and genetic differences are significant.

Given all that, it’s hard not to conclude that the uproar over Nikki Haley’s benign action arises from her critics’ subconscious misconception that the white race must be protected from interlopers. That’s called racism, or if you prefer, white separatism. And it is apparently as present in today’s Democratic southern activists as it was in the bad old days of segregation and anti-miscegenation laws. Shame on them.

Categories: culture/society, politics
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