eral racial classification. The importance of civil rights compliance monitoring,
and the difficulty of devising an acceptable alternative to the current method of
relying on racial statistics, was made especially clear by the White House announcement of January 19, 1998, unveiling a plan to increase annual federal civil
rights spending from $516 million to $602 million in the 1999 budget.
would represent nearly a 17 percent increase, amounting to $86 million. Federal
racial categorization would be a fundamental factor in determining how a great
deal of this money would be spent. The history of federal racial categorization,
the extent of its spread throughout both the public and private sectors, and its
application in civil rights compliance monitoring are among the subjects of
Eric Sadler, and
Carl Ridenhour, "Fear of a Black Planet"," on Fear of
a Black Planet by Public Enemy, Def Jam Recordings, Columbia Records (CK 45413), 1990.
In medieval Europe many people believed that the Earth was flat, yet despite this
mistaken appreciation of geophysics they developed a coherent civilization. Similarly, peo-
ple in the United States have found ways to rationalize and live with the false conscious-
ness of race. One must visualize oneself outside the American racial system in order to see
how it perpetuates itself and how it masquerades as an already present empirical condi-
tion of the world.
This thought experiment is adapted from an earlier version originally published in my article "Race in the Face"," Interrace, June-July 1994,26.
That the important differences between people are cultural and not racial is illus-
trated by an encounter I had a few years ago with two colleagues. My Afrocentric friend
began a statement with the words "We Africans . . ." but he was stopped cold by our col-
league from Sierra Leone. She halted him in midsentence, telling him in no uncertain
terms that he was an American, not an African, and that he'd do well to remember this fact
in her presence. That experience continues to impress upon me the fact that the American
idea of racial identity is not a universal one.
Marvin Harris, Patterns of Race in the Americas ( Westport,Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1964), 56.
Marvin Harris and
Conrad Kotak coined the term " hypo-descent" in The Structural
Significance of Brazilian Racial Categories," Sociologia 25 ( 1963): 207.
Harris, Patterns of Race, 56.
I want to be very clear in acknowledging that so-called racial mixture between whites and Asians, and whites and Native Americans, is indeed problematic. However, neither of
these cases is as problematic as black/white racial mixture, either immediately or through
The infamous Susie Guillory Phipps case of the 1980s consisted of a district court
trial and several appeals involving a Louisiana woman whose birth certificate listed her as
colored in virtue of her having had a single black ancestor in the late eighteenth century.
Phipps argued that she was raised white, that she considered herself white, that she lived
her life as a white person, and that her birth certificate should therefore be changed ac
Questia, a part of Gale, Cengage Learning. www.questia.com
Book title: Spurious Issues:Race and Multiracial Identity Politics in the United States.
Contributors: Rainier Spencer - Author.
Publisher: Westview Press.
Place of publication: Boulder, CO.
Publication year: 1999.
Page number: 49.
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