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Today in Post-Race History: Say it Ain’t Sosa

Credit: ROBYN BECK, AFP/Getty Images / November 5, 2009

Credit: ROBYN BECK, AFP/Getty Images / November 5, 2009

We’ve seen the Sammy Sosa picture(s) by now.  The Michael Jackson jokes are stale and unimaginative.  So I won’t make any here.  Yet as a black blogger, I guess I have to say something.  So I will mention just a couple of things.  This is a mere sketch.  Would love it if you all would fill-in and/or correct me.

Interestingly, to me at least, a few days before the Sammy Sosa photos surfed every wave of the internet, NPR’s Weekend Edition ran a story about Blended Nation, a new book of photographs and interviews about people who identify as mixed race.

The 2000 U.S. census was the first to give Americans the option to check more than one box for race. Nearly 7 million people declared themselves to be multiracial that year, a number that’s expected to shoot up in the 2010 count. As more of the nation’s population identifies itself as being of mixed race, the authors of a new book say Americans’ traditional ideas of racial identity are in for a challenge.

Folks, especially mixed race advocates (see Maria P.P. Root, for example), would like a story like this; they often highlight the increasing presence of multiracial people (and recognizing them as such) as part of the rubric for more pleasant and healthier (future) race relations.  The argument being, of course, that seeing more interracial couples and/or bi and multiracial people will make Americans more racially tolerant.  Plus, eventually all that blending will make everybody brown anyway.  (I’m not going to get into all the problematic biological, racial purity, etc. stuff here, but feel free to mention it in the comments section.)  So, racial rigidity gives way to racial fluidity and everybody’s happy, right?  Racism is dying!  Yay!

The expert NPR consulted for the story, Alan Goodman adds, “I think the real change that is taking place [is] in the way people think about themselves[.]”  I guess so.  There will definitely be a lot more hyphens involved.   But I’m not entirely sure that that’s a good thing.

Here we have Sammy Sosa, native son of the Dominican Republic, a place–nearly 75% multiracial–with a more varied, fluid racial stratification system than the United States, bleaching his “sun damaged” skin, still rocking that (very unimpressive) conk and a thinner nose.  (His rhinoplasty is Halle Berry-esque.  Look closely.)

This is what wikipedia (and wiki never lies) has to say about the DR’s racial problems:

A recent U.N. envoy in October of 2007 found racism against blacks in general – and Hatians in particular – to be rampant in every segment of Dominican society.  According to a study by the CUNY Dominican Studies Institute, about 90% of the contemporary Dominican population has West African ancestry to varying degrees. However, most Dominicans do not self-identify as black, in contrast to people of West African ancestry in other countries. A variety of terms are used to represent a range of skintones, such as morena (brown), canela (red/brown) ["cinnamon"], India (Indian), blanca oscura (dark white), and trigueño (literally “wheat colored”, which is the English equivalent of olive skin), among others.

If this potentially blended nation follows the example of the DR and other parts of Latin America, then it seems to me that what results isn’t necessarily a more accepting society, but rather nomenclature that allows one to move away from blackness.  This, in my estimation, does not undermine or eliminate, but reinvigorates societal structures that rely on denigrating blackness.  Hypodescent sucks.  And this might just mean that more folks won’t have to deal with it anymore.  So how much hope should we have for our future blended nation?  When I look at Sammy Sosa, I’m not comfortable with this “new” model.

In other words, fluid racial categories did nothing to stop the cultivation of Sammy Sosa’s internalized racism, his aversion to blackness.  To add, the presence of a multiracial population perhaps gives us the illusion that we’ve moved on from our anxieties about being associated with blackness, lures us into the comfort of believing we’ve overcome–making discourses on race reactionary, passe, and simply a headache–and Sammy Sosa just ends up being a weirdo.  Though a blended nation might seem nice, it really does nothing to advance critical and honest conversations about race that need to be had for a less bleak racial future.  We’re still left with the residue of blackness on our hands, and washing it off or pretending it isn’t (wasn’t in Sammy’s case) there are not viable options, especially for old school Negroes such as m’self.

Sometimes Charles Barkley says dumb things, but I still love him:

Have at it.