Thursday, April 13, 2006

White like me!

"Can you make me white?" -Alleged question asked by Dr. Dre to Suge Knight

A couple of years ago, I heard Suge Knight explain in an interview that he told Dr. Dre he could get him anything he wanted. In response, Dr. Dre responded, "could you make me white?" At the time, I definitely took it as a Suge story that he had concocted alone in prison (which it likely still is), but now thanks to the rise of "recreational genomics" it may be possible for Dr. Dre to become White! Kinda... The NY Times' story "Seeking Ancestry in DNA Ties" weaves a frightening story about the ways many people are pursuing their geneology.
Driving the pursuit of genetic bounty are start-up testing companies with names like DNA Tribes and Ethnoancestry. For $99 to $250, they promise to satisfy the human hunger to learn about one's origins — and sometimes much more. On its Web site, a leader in this cottage industry, DNA Print Genomics, once urged people to use it "whether your goal is to validate your eligibility for race-based college admissions or government entitlements.

A couple of years back, my interest was peaked in racial admixture tests, but they were largely inaccessible to the general public. I had read about them in scientific journals. Hell, I even joked that I was going to test a friend of mine whose "pigment and facial features" made me leary he was purely European. But I didn't think these ancestry test would so quickly evolve into mechanisms of privilege.

For Americans, or rich people at large, if you can fork over the money, you too can find a genetic footprint that may take you back to find some "minority blood." I think it's interesting how the Times piece, for the most part, concentrates on Whites finding ancestors of color, while Gates' African-American Lives uncovered the prevalence of European ancestory among African-Americans.

Ultimately, the attempt to reduce race and ethnicity to scientific categories is going to be flawed. Though one may be able to trace their lineage to a given people, identification of a point of origin does not inherently make one a member of that group. Basic social identity research has demonstrated that repeatedly. By attempting to cash in on the "science" of race, we're sidestepping what race and ethnicity mean historically and contemporarily. Lester Monts, U of M Senior Vice Provost comments, "If someone appears to be white and then finds out they are not, they haven't experienced the kinds of things that affirmative action is supposed to remedy." I've seen one website already say this diverges from the argument used in the Supreme Court decisions. *News Flash* legal arguments by a University and individual comments of University employees may vary. Using "science" to determine race is imprecise and does nothing to address the issue of lived experience. Some argue lived experience is the catalyst for the rationale of diversity. Until they can test if you've lived as a Black, Brown, etc. person I don't see (bad) science coming into the admission process in a substantial way (besides the defrauding that folks are using right now to get into school).

Now a high cost alternative to recreation genomics (doesn't that term just remind you too much of eugenics?) Black. White. The show is now over, I've pretty much reserved comment. Well here is my take, I LOVED IT!!!! Okay, so the show concept was decent, the make-up sucked (except in the case of Rose), and the people were poorly matched, but I think it was great. For me, it marked one of the best public examples of how not to have discussions about race. Steps to developing an under-developed dialogue on race:
1)paint people the opposite color
2)pick people who are assured their beliefs about race are correct
3)follow them with a large camera crew
4)have them reveal their "true" identities half way through the experiment
5)let them battle out their race issues without guided conversation (with the exception of two appearances by a therapist type person)
6) Stir and you end up with a terrible show

If I learned one thing from Black. White. it's that I now have a perfect example for lectures of general perceptions of racism. Bruno is it. Unless someone walked up to Bruno, called him a nigger, told him they called him a nigger because he had Black skin, and they didn't like him because of his black skin alone (remember can't be anything else like dress, walk, social class) then there isn't racism. Sheez. Well the show if nothing else reminds me of what my old computer programming buddies used to tell me "shit in, you get shit out."


Chetly Zarko said...


*Newsflash* - Lester Monts was at the core of the group of U-M administrators who created the legal arguments, and indeed, Monts oversaw Patricia Gurin's "scientific research" claiming alleged educational benefits. Remember, Monts and Co. were arguing that preference was supposed to be a "remedy" for discrimination, only a way to make white people better by having a token representation of non-whites. To the extent that his comments are inconsistent over the course of time, it is fair for individuals to criticize both him and the university for that inconsistency. It proves that even the top people at U-M don't really believe the "diversity" bull they espouse institutionally. And its not just Lester Monts. We have found quotes from Lee Bollinger, Mary Sue Coleman, and other leaders that reflect the same contradictions. Hypocrisy is always a fair argument.

Institutional policies are made by individuals. If I were to be restricted to your argument that individuals have different beliefs from their institutions legal arguments, there would be no way of judging the consistency of the institution. I argue that if some, or indeed most or all, of the individuals running an institution behave or speak inconsistently from the policies and rationales of their institution, that the institutional policies have less validity and meaning. Does that mean they have no meaning. Certainly not - but they do have less when their is such inconsistency.

Marc Lamont Hill said...

well put, you know from my blog, i thought the show was sickening and i was actually grateful that there were only 6 episodes. my major beef, though, was with the representation of the black son. i mean, damn.