Does It Matter if Harold Ford Jr. is Black or White?

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...pic borrowed from AP/Brandon
...full text also found on Truthdig

New Yorkers, beware. It seems that former U.S. Rep. Harold Ford Jr., a transplant from Tennessee, has upset people again. Ford, an executive at Merrill Lynch and New York University lecturer who might be seeking to unseat fellow Democrat Kirsten Gillibrand of New York in a race for the U.S. Senate, has made a very bold statement about his identity. In 2006, Ford claimed that despite official government documentation, family records and testimony to the contrary, his grandmother, Vera Ford, was not black. Rather, she was a white woman passing as black. According to the website The Black Commentator, Ford’s declaration has resurfaced recently and is not only fraudulent but insulting: “There seem to be no limits to the young congressman's perfidy and stupidity. In the process of depicting his own ancestors as people living a lie, Ford has also insulted the Black public and Black history -- not to mention common sense, a quality of which Harold Jr. seems to be totally lacking.” Even though Ford’s father says that Vera was white, the website says he is a liar because other relatives, including Ford’s aunt Barbara, maintain that Vera was black. The larger concern seems to be that if Ford would revise his grandmother's identity for political gain, there might be other and more far-reaching issues about which Ford feels he has the right and obligation to control or reframe for expediency, such as his record on issues like gun control, abortion or same sex marriage. Can Ford be trusted?

Ford’s critics, including family members who disagree with his story, argue that he is essentially a race traitor because he is a black man. They also question why it matters that Ford brought focus so heavily upon Vera as a (potentially) white ancestor. But I wonder if his contention is really so far-fetched or artless. When we step back and consider the long history of anxieties regarding miscegenation and the strict policing of borders between black and white, the choices begin to make sense. Mixing between African Americans and other non-whites has been far less fraught than that between blacks and whites, leaving the black/white paradigm intact and the “one drop rule” unchallenged. Ford’s grandfather, who is reported to be of African American and Native American ancestry does not seem to be such a controversial figure. Claiming that his grandmother was passing as black does require Ford to show some moxie and speaks to larger issues of race in the United States -- not just interracially, but also intraracially, as pressure to choose sides figures into racial politics as well. In the pre-civil rights era of U.S. history, many people with multiracial ancestry were forced to choose sides and identify as either white or black, but never (or very rarely) as both white and black.

The validity of Ford’s claim is not the issue, particularly because it’s so difficult to prove. Profiling is a slippery issue, and government documents have been contested. For instance, Susie Guillory Phipps of Louisiana unsuccessfully sued the Louisiana Bureau of Vital Statistics in 1982-1983. Phipps was designated as black on her birth certificate but wanted it to reflect the white status under which she’d lived out her life. It should be noted that Phipps lost her case because: (1) The state’s repeal of the “one-drop rule” was not retroactive; and (2) she could not present "a preponderance of evidence" showing that the birth certificate was wrong.

A related example was reported last year in The Chicago Tribune. Two transsexuals, Kari Rothkopf and Tori Kirk, sued the state of Illinois in order to switch the gender on their birth certificates. They too were unsuccessful, but only because their sex-change surgeries were not performed in the United States.**

So, people have been unofficially changing their races, genders and identity labels for decades here in the U.S. Why such a brouhaha about Ford? What’s at stake?

A little political history about the candidate can help answer these questions. Ford experienced some major disadvantages of being black in 2006, when he lost his race for the U.S. Senate in Tennessee to Republican Bob Corker. According to the website BlackAmericaWeb, “the race smacked of racial overtones and Republicans played hardball by making race an issue.” A controversial Republican ad portrayed Ford as many media outlets are now portraying Tiger Woods: as a white-womanchasing playboy who, it later turned out, could not be trusted. Many Democrats were particularly outraged by one ad playing on historical fear and anger over interracial relationships. Sound familiar?

In our current “ethnically ambiguous” generation, there are advantages for Ford if Vera was a white passing as black. For one, it allows Ford to lay claim to a multiracial identity and adds a layer of mystery to his persona. We can predict that this will be a political asset, as Sen. Harry Reid’s recent comments about President Barack Obama suggested that multiracial identity makes a candidate of color much more palatable. In a recent interview with The New York Times, Ford stated that Obama’s election whetted his “appetite to be part of the [political] process in a more meaningful and tangible way.” Passing for black and laying claim to mixed-race identity could also work to quell fears that were stirred up about Ford’s personal life during the 2006 campaign. Finally, making the claim that his grandmother passed as black also presupposes that distinct advantages existed for black people even under Jim and Jane Crow segregation. It’s racial common sense that people who could, would pass as white under these circumstances. But to pass as black? This would be a move that undermined the historic black/white social hierarchy that was the basis for segregation and discrimination, upset the biological foundation of race itself and questioned the notion of calling anyone a “race traitor.” Ford’s experience raises key questions about what race actually is and can be—mixed. Thus, it requires a deeper interrogation of racial categories and mixed race identities beyond the black/white paradigm to which the United States so desperately clings. This is powerful stuff indeed.

Though it’s unlikely that “Ann Coulter’s Favorite Democrat” will want to have this conversation, he should be aware that upholding his claims to multiracial identity will require some strategic maneuvering. This is because the question of what makes someone black or white -- or all or none of the above -- is now more complex than ever. No matter how many pundits declare that race and racism are dead politically, we must remember that politicians running for office are all in the persuasion business. And Ford has once again confirmed that race is one of persuasion’s biggest material and immaterial dimensions.

**Correction: The the outcome of the lawsuit brought by Kari Rothkopf and Tori Kirk mentioned in this article resulted in the state of Illinois changing the birth certificate policy and issuing new birth certificates to all who followed the specified guidelines. The case was moved to be dismissed due to the fact that new birth certificates had been issued and the claim they made no longer applied.


Now Ford's passing on his taxes too

The issue of trust with this "candidate" is very interesting. Check out the latest:

Vera was biracial...let's just admit it

Listen, if there is a debate raging as to whether or not Mr. Ford’s grandmother was white or black, it probably means that she was both. More than likely she was a woman of very light skin (very moderately complected) who in her day and time was considered “colored”. Such individuals appear to be white (because they are mostly), but in the color-stricken community they live in, care has been taken to note their inter-racial ancestry. So, white folks consider them to be “colored”, and some black folks consider them to be “white”. So, in the minds of people of her day, Vera Ford was “passing” as both white and “colored”; not that uncommon at all, I suspect. Today, we just openly acknowledge that such individuals are biracial.

I think that Obama’s campaign for President raised the awareness in the minds of many people concerning the business of biraciality. In Obama, we find an individual who looks so familiar to most of us in his appearance, and whose parents were undeniably from two different ethnic groups. I suspect that many people of Obama’s skin color have become more aware of their biraciality. Perhaps that’s way Mr. Ford feels compelled to talk more openly about his grandmother.

I think this century, with all that’s going on with geneological testing and racial awareness, many more African-americans will acknowledge their white roots as well as their African roots.

-- InTheKnow

THE FACTS On Mixed-Race Lineage

Even IF Harold Ford Jr.'s grandmother 'Vera'
WERE, in fact, of a Bi-Racial Lineage --
that still would NOT have made her into
a "black"person -- but rather -- would
have simply made her into a WHITE person
who was of a MULTIRACIAL Lineage that
also happened to include Black ancestry.
The Facts are as follows:
1) It is often a surprise for people to learn
that, in reality, there is actually No Such
Thing As a “Light Skinned Black” person.
2) Very few people seem to be aware of the fact that the term
“Light Skinned Black” is really nothing more than a racist
oxymoron created by Racial Supremacists in an effort to
forcibly deny those Mixed-Race individuals, who are of
a Multi-Generational Multiracially-Mixed (MGM-Mixed)
lineage, the right to fully embrace and to also receive
public support in choosing to acknowledge the truth
regarding their full ancestral heritage and lineage.
3) The people who have been slapped with
the false label and oxymoronic misnomer
of “Light Skinned Black” person are simply
Mixed-Race individuals — who are from those
families which have been “of a CONTINUALLY
Mixed-Race Lineage THROUGHOUT all of their
multiple generations” (starting with the very
first generation of racial-admixing and
leading to their present generation.).
4) Seeing that every other Mixed-Race group is allowed the
dignity of receiving support in having itself referred to
by the term that it most prefers … the question becomes
…“Why should the situation be any different for
those Mixed-Race individuals who are of an
Multi-Generational Multiracially-Mixed
MGM-Mixed) / Mixed-Race Lineage?”.
5) If an MGM-Mixed / Mixed-Race individual would like to
be referred to by the term ‘Mixed-Race’ (which is what they
actually are) rather than by that of “Light-Skinned Black“
(a term, which, once again, has the racist-origin of being
nothing more than an oxymoronic-phrase that was both
created and coined by Racial Supremacists in an effort to
try to deny these Mixed-Race people their right to and support in
publicly acknowledging and also embracing their FULL-Lineage)
there is no reason that they (like every other group on the planet
– whether Mixed-Race or not) should not be allowed the right
to choose the term that society uses in referring to them
(and to have their full-lineage acknowledged within that term).
ALSO …. here is a brief COMMENTARY on … the constant
misapplication of the racist ‘One-Drop Rule’ ** (to the
people who are of any part-Black / Mixed-Race Lineage):
The racist ‘one-drop’ “rule” was made ‘illegal’ in the U.S. in
1967 by the U.S. Supreme Court via the ‘Loving vs. VA’ case
(i.e. The ‘Loving’ case) – where the U.S. Supreme Court ruled ...
--- 1) All ‘Anti-Miscegenation’ Laws found throughout the U.S.;
--- 2) The racist ‘VA Racial Integrity Act’ (upon which most
of the anti-miscegenation ‘laws’ were founded); and
--- 3) The ('black-lineage mocking' and exceedingly) racist
‘One-Drop Rule’ (upon which the ‘Act’ was based.)
… as being ‘UN-Constitutional’ (i.e. illegal, banned, etc.)
due to the fact that it was both 'racist' and 'unscientific'.]
Listed below are links to data on the Historical MYTH
of a Color-Based / Slave-Role HIERARCHY — as well
as the Urban LEGEND of Paper-Bag, Blue-Vein and
Other Allegations of Features-Based Entry ‘TESTS’:
If there are any questions regarding the information
presented, I can be reached anytime at the email
address and / or websites noted below.
Thank you and have a good day.
– AllPeople (AP) G.i.f.t.s.
Founder and Moderator of the following
online Lineage-Discussion Communities

Quite insightful

I really enjoyed reading this one. Very interesting.

I like what you wrote

Well this whole thing is way too interesting. I have some comments/ observations to throw into the mix.

What I find fascinating in this whole discussion is Ford's attempt to simultaneously deconstruct and reify "race" through a denial of his grandmother's subjectivity. In other words, to me any charge of "passing" presumes that "race" (or "ethnicity" or "gender" or "age") is something other than a social construct. How Ford's grandmother identified, lived her life, was treated is what is really at issue and what Ford feels he has the right and obligation to control or reframe post-mortem.

It reminds me of discussions I've had with my father about his "ethnic" background. My father has selected to define himself the way generations in his family have, positing themselves as Spanish Jews and affixing an arbitrary cut-off of date for when ethnic heritage begins (Diaspora). Despite evidentiary DNA that traces an 180,000 year heritage that routes his family from East Africa to India to Egypt to Europe, the ethnicity that invoked the most recent trauma (Sephardic) is the only way he can make sense of the way he has been interpolated into society. As a "mixed heritage" irreligionist this is not how I experience my subjectivity, and yet I am constantly reminded by others (mostly Sephardim) that this is who I am. But for me to deny how my father has experienced identity based on some other set of constructed "facts" I've deemed important seems a bit ridiculous, as in the end this is how HE understands HIMSELF and has lived HIS life.

That said, for others to call Ford a race-traitor is equally ridiculous, because that presumes that "race" is something beyond a social construct, and that he identifies with a subjectivity that (from all evidence) he appears not interested in embracing. That is not to deny that Ford may in fact be a racist and that his comments serve to reify the belief that one subjectivity is better than another.

That's all I have for now... but this discussion is absolutely worth having.