Monday, January 29, 2007

Black sailor harbors secret

Black History Month starts in America this Thursday. This annual celebration involves a lot of reflection upon African-American people of the past, some of whom were in positions of authority, including the military. The "Black Admiral" was an example of this; it was a painting of an African-American navy leader during the 18th century--which was very rare for a work of art because Blacks were usually shown in negative stereotypes back then.

It turned out too good to be true. Last year, an art restoration revealed: he's White!



Monday, January 22, 2007

Polite racist people

Last week was Martin Luther King Day and next week is Black History Month. We're in the middle of African-American celebrations and many African-Americans themselves are in the middle of being Black and non-Black (which I explained last week). This gray area of Black identity can sometimes lead to interestingly racist situations. Like this African-American woman who was served at a White-only diner:


Carol Parks-Haun was doing a sit-in protest against racial segregation at a diner in Kansas, when, to her surprise, she wasn't discriminated against:

Parks-Haun remembers entering (the diner). She sat down on the center stool and ordered a coke, but didn't think the waitress would actually serve her. [...] "She gave it to me and I said, 'oh my,' and the others came in and they sat and she looked at them -- and she looked at me -- and she leaned forward and she said, 'You are not colored are you dear?'"

"You are not colored are you dear?"? I never knew people could be polite and racist at the same time.

Of course, it's possible that the waitress wasn't prejudiced herself; she could've been just following orders. But I thought the whole point of prejudice was to prejudge people? Not ask them about themselves and then judge them. Can you see why it's weird to ask someone what race they are, just so you can say something racist? If you're going to discriminate someone, at least be confident about it. (Of course, it's better to not discriminate at all).


Monday, January 15, 2007

Martin Luther King Jr. was Irish

Today is Martin Luther King Day, the only American holiday that honors a Black person. Most people know King was an African-American, but how many people know he was part Irish? That's right, the most famous Black person in U.S. history actually had some European ancestry. According to this page from Stanford University, King's grandfather, James Albert King, was Irish-African (that probably means he was half Irish and half Black) which would make Martin Luther King one-eighth Irish. And in the past, I read somewhere that he was 1/8 Irish. So it's probably true.

Some people might be shocked to know he was part Irish, but it's really nothing surprising. Many African-Americans today have distant non-Black ancestors (usually American Indian or European). This likely explains why some African-Americans are more light-skinned than others (and these particular Black people aren't known to be multiracial). Some examples I can think of are:

Will Smith
Colin Powell
Michael Jackson

These people are all generally assumed to be "full" Black, but they are rather light-skinned. Colin Powell certainly looks like he's more White than Black (in my opinion). Before Michael Jackson surgically became White, he had about the same light-brown skin color as Will Smith. And I've never heard anything about Beyoncé being multiracial.

It is possible that these people have more European ancestry than Martin Luther King did (since King was known to be part Irish, and he was darker than most of them). I can understand why he's considered to be full Black instead of mixed-race (1/8 Irish is very small), but I wish more people would know that "full Black" doesn't necessarily mean "100% African heritage." In fact, "100% American heritage" would be more accurate, keeping in mind that "American" is not a race or an ethnicity, it's an identity that transcends both of those.


Monday, January 08, 2007

Tiger Woods could die

There's this drug, which was approved in the U.S. last year, that was designed to treat heart problems. But get this, this drug was also designed--for Black people. "Bidil" is the only drug in America that is made for a specific racial group; in this case, African-Americans. As usual, this got me thinking. How Black do you have to be for this medication to work? And by "how Black," I mean: how much of your blood has to be African? When they tested this drug, they said it worked best for people who self-identitified as Black, but I don't think this will work when prescribing it, because not everyone who self-identifies as Black is going to be genetically Black enough for this drug to work. (A drug can't know your personal identity!). Whoever designed Bidil most likely didn't have mixed-race people in mind.

However, I can understand why people would want a drug like this. There are some diseases that are very common among a specific race. Like sickle-cell anemia and glaucoma, both of which affect Black people more than other ethnicities. But I don't think it's as easy as marketing a drug to people of a certain race...because there are people who aren't a certain race.

If you're reading this because of the strange title, then I won't disappoint you...I was imagining, what if these racial drugs were used in emergency rooms at hospitals? This could prove to be a disaster because race isn't always clear. If someone like Tiger Woods was rushed to the emergency room, the doctors would think he's Black just by looking at him; so they'd give him the drug for African-Americans...but he'd die anyways because he's only a quarter Black (many people assume he's all African-American). If these race medications were necessary, they'd have to give him the Asian drug because that's what most of his heritage is. Or better yet, give him an accurate dosage:

1/8 European drug
1/8 American Indian drug
1/4 Black drug
1/2 Asian drug


Monday, January 01, 2007

New Year Special: interracial history

It's 2007! And to ring in the new year, I thought I'd take a look back at mixed-race experiences of the past. We often think about interracial marriages as being a new thing, but it's been around for centuries. Here are some random multi-ethnic stories from the past.

During the 1950s, North Korea and East Germany had a foreign exchange program which allowed Korean students to study at German universities. This resulted in some interracial marriages between German and Korean college students. However, it also resulted in some heartbreak; in 1961, North Korea ordered their students to return home. Some of the German wives have been trying to reunite with their Koreans husbands for more than 40 years.

Separated by fiat, a German awaits North Korean spouse

Please Find My Husband… Heartbreak over a Repatriated Husband

One can only imagine what half-Japanese people experienced during World War II; especially if the other half of their heritage was a country that was fighting Japan. Here is an article (with an audio interview) about 2 orphan sisters who grew up in Britain during the 1940s. They did not know until they were older that their mother was British and their father was Japanese.

Home Truths: Half Japanese

In 1889, a Chinese immigrant to the U.S. named Huie Kin married a Dutch American woman named Louise Van Arnam. Today, the descendants of their 9 children comprise a multi-ethnic clan who are proud of their mixed heritage (mostly European and Asian), which is celebrated at their family reunions.

The Huie Kin Family's Dynasty of Diversity

Victoria Ka'iulani would have been the next queen of Hawai'i, had the monarchy not been overthrown in 1893. She was the daughter of a businessman from Scotland and a princess in Hawaii's royal family, which made her half Hawaiian and half Scottish.

Women in History of Scots Descent: Princess Kaiulani

Sheraton Princess Kaiulani: History of the Princess


Family tree leaves many colors

If you look at the family tree of a mixed-race person, you'll probably see one ethnicity on the mother's side and a completely different one on the father's. That's because many mixed people are the children of 2 monoracial parents. But imagine a family tree that doesn't have one ethnicity on each side, but instead, has many ethnicities on both sides.

This is what the Huie Kin family tree is like. In 1889, a Chinese immigrant named Huie Kin married a Dutch American woman named Louise Van Arnam. And they had 9 children. Here's a link to the story:


I've heard stories before about interracial marriages in the 19th century, and almost always, the modern-day descendants of those marriages don't really have a mixed heritage anymore, because the following generations married people of the same ethnicity, which gradually wiped out traces of a multiracial heritage, because one ethnicity slowly became dominant in the family tree. This family, however, is a different story.

The Huie Kin daughters all married Chinese men, and the Huie Kin sons all married White women. So the Eurasian identity of this family has been unusually maintained for more than a century. How often do you see a mixed-race family that's been mixed-race for over a hundred years? I guess these kind of families are common in some places, like Hawaii, but this was the first time I've read in-depth about it.