Yin and yang just got a new twist. The ebb and flow of reality just crossed over into a parallel universe. Talk about mixed race and mixed ancestry! If ever the saying was true that you can’t choose your relatives, it is most assuredly true in the case of former presidential hopeful, Senator John McCain. While everyone on the planet knows that President-elect Obama has White relatives, few are aware of McCain’s Black ones. That’s right. If McCain had been elected president, there would’ve been a bunch of Black people running around bragging that their cousin’s the President of the United States. “Some of McCain’s black family members say they are not sure exactly where they fall on the family tree,” says the South Florida Times, “but they do know this: They are either descendants of the McCain family slaves, or of children the McCains fathered with their slaves.” This revelation has to rank up there with Black Democratic President-elect Barack Obama and White current Republican Vice President Dick Cheney being distant cousins!
Research shows that William Alexander McCain, Senator John McCain’s slave-owning ancestor who fought and died for the Confederacy in the Civil War, acquired 52 slaves according to official records. Sexual commingling gave birth to several generations of Black and biracial McCains. The above article divulges that during his bid for the presidency, “The McCain campaign did not respond to repeated questions about John McCain’s black relatives.” The article goes on to disclose that “the senator has numerous black and mixed-raced relatives who were born on, or in, the area of the McCain plantation. The mixed races in the family can be traced back to the rural Teoc community of Carroll County, Miss., where his family owned slaves.” As America defines it, anyone of ‘mixed race’ ancestry with Black blood coursing through his or her veins is considered Black--as if blood from melanin-enriched People of Color is somehow contaminated. Consider this:
Blacks are the only ones fractionalized in the dictionary. For instance, “mulatto” means half Black and half White. It comes from the Spanish or Portuguese word mulo, meaning “mule,” and is defined in Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary as “the first-generation offspring of a Negro and a white; a person of mixed Caucasian and Negro ancestry.” The thought is that whenever Black blood is mixed with White blood, the result is an animal. Half of a half is a quarter. So, if you have one quarter of Black blood in you, then you’re a quadroon, “a person of one-quarter Negro ancestry.” Of course, half of a quarter is an eighth, hence, octoroon: “a person of one-eighth Negro ancestry.” Please note, neither a quadroon nor an octoroon is defined in the dictionary as three-quarters White or seven-eighths White respectively. The strategy is to keep track of the Black blood in you.
Worthy of note is a Newsweek article dated February 13, 1995, that dealt with the fractionalization of African American blood. The article states, rather frankly, that “In America still one drop of Black blood is enough to change one’s complexion....As F. James Davis, a sociologist and author of Who Is Black? observed, other racial minorities...can be absorbed if they become one-fourth or less of that ancestry. But because people are so accustomed to classifying anyone with any African heritage as Black, he says, most Americans don’t even think to view blacks the same way as other immigrant groups...In Virginia during the 1800s, someone with less than one-fourth Negro blood could be white. In 1910, the state codified what had already become custom: white was defined as having less than one-sixteenth Negro ancestry. By 1924, urged on by white supremacists, legislators prohibited whites from marrying anyone with ‘a single drop of Negro blood.’ Other states, in the North as well as in the South, adopted a similarly restrictive view.”
Taxonomically speaking, scientists tell us that we’re all one human family and that racial features are superficial. They say that race itself, as customarily defined, is in fact artificial. These realities notwithstanding, sociologically speaking, our European-based society has imposed its will on the masses and has left an indelible imprint on the collective American psyche. To hell with science. When Tiger Woods was coming into his own back in 1997, Fuzzy Zoeller, described by CNN as “one of golf’s most colorful characters,” said: “That little boy [reminiscent of McCain referring to Obama as “that one” during their second debate] is driving well and he’s putting well. He’s doing everything it takes to win. So, you know what you guys do when he gets in here? You pat him on the back and say congratulations and enjoy it and tell him not to serve fried chicken next year. Got it?” (My emphasis.) True to the aforementioned fractional breakdown, despite Tiger being “mixed race,” Zoeller didn’t say, “tell him not to serve fish heads and rice” as a derogatory reference to his Asian side. No, he went for the Black blood meandering through Tiger’s veins.
Some would argue that Tiger himself is in denial when it comes to his own racial heritage. Though his father’s Black (his mother’s Asian), he apparently doesn’t completely embrace his father’s ancestry, or even acknowledge the African blood in other “biracial” or “mixed-race” individuals. When commenting on Obama’s election earlier this week on CNBC he described Obama as “multiracial,” and said that he was “lucky enough to see a person of color in the White House.” Even though Obama unhesitatingly identifies himself as Black, and even though his father is a Kenyan--straight out of Africa--some would characterize Tiger as dancing around the expressions “African American” or “Black” when referring to the President-elect like he’s avoiding sand traps or ponds on the golf course. And speaking of athletes, in an interview with HBO’s Real Sports last summer former Yankees outfielder Gary Sheffield accused manager Joe Torre of having given White players “preferential treatment during his time in New York and said that biracial shortstop Derek Jeter wasn’t ‘all the way black.’” For a certainty, the mores of the dominant society has its impact. One wonders how Halle Berry, Mariah Carey, or other “biracial” brothers and sisters would weigh in on the matter. But McCain’s relatives, Black and White, have not left us guessing.
“Lillie McCain, 56, another distant cousin of John McCain who is black,” reports the Florida article, “said the Republican presidential nominee is trying to hide his past, and refuses to accept the family’s history.” The professor of psychology went on to say: “I am absolutely supporting Obama, and it’s not because he’s black. It’s because he is the best person at this time in our history.” Several of McCain’s White relatives also voted for Obama. A colleague said jokingly to me: “Don’t you just hate it when both your Black and White relatives vote for a Black man far president? I hate when that happens.” To be sure, the face of race is changing in America. It remains to be seen, however, if the change is for the better. Ultimately, it will be. Count on it. Amen.
Word for the Week (or is it “Weak”): taxonomy: “the study of the general principles of scientific classification.”
Dr. Firpo Carr can be reached