What Is Race, Anyway?

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The Root is hosting a slide show (here) entitled,”The Blackest White Folks We Know.”   Here’s the lede:

Race relations have gotten a little crazy lately. An all-white basketball league? Seriously? Then there’s Rod Blagojevich, declaring that he’s”blacker than Obama.”The Root takes a look at those who claim “blackness” and those that we think make the cut — whether they like it or not.


For those not familiar with The Root, it is a”daily online magazine that provides thought-provoking commentary on today’s news from a variety of black perspectives.”   It is published by the Washington Post Company (also the publisher of Slate).   Who might be these”blackest white folks”?   Here are 6 of the 32 (for the rest, see here)

  • Christina Aguilera (entertainer; she”received her official black card when she channeled Patti LaBelle in the remake of ‘Lady Marmalade'”);
  • Bob Barr (former Georgia Representative; at least one blogger speculates that Representative Barr has African-American heritage);
  • Rod Blagojevich (ex-governor of Illinois;”recently noting that he is “blacker” than President Barack Obama because he “shined shoes” and “grew up in a five-room apartment.” He has walked back his comments.”);
  • Ken Burns (filmmaker; for films about Jazz and Brooklyn,”Brotherman is certified, for sure!”);
  • Nicole Austin (wife of rapper Ice-T; since their wedding,”Coco’s been playing the bootylicious video vixen”);
  • Phil Jackson (basketball coach;”Something about the way he moves, his confident and laid-back demeanor, and his success in basketball both as a player and as a coach had some folks convinced that the blood of Mother Africa ran through his veins.”).

Contemporary media outlets are prime vehicles for the perpetuation of”Guess Who’s ____”parlor games — played by “in” group members and “out” group members alike.   Fill that blank with just about any religious, ethnic or racial minority in this country.   The Root‘s slide show adds a twist to familiar line-drawing, making claims not only (or, in some cases, at all) on the basis of ancestry, but instead on the basis of affinity, self-identification, association with African-American people, or possession of characteristics (either positively or negatively) associated with African-American people.

The slide show keeps the tongue firmly planted in cheek, but what does it say about race that might be relevant to those who think and teach and write about the law? Or is it just a humorous diversion on the internet, an invitation to laugh?   To my mind, the slide show invites consideration of complex ways that race is constructed by mainstream (and mainsteam-financed) media.

-Bridget Crawford

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