Re-framing the national family: race mixing and re-telling American history.SINCE THE INCREASED VISIBILITY of the multiracial movement during debates over racial categorization for Census 2000, discourses concerning interracial relationships and multiracial individuals have multiplied. Images and stories about celebrities, such as Tiger Woods and Halle Berry, best-selling Oprah book picks, such as Slaves in the Family; and statistics on rising interracial marriage rates provide mainstream media with regular opportunities to discuss multiracial identity. Many commentators predict that the growth of "Generation M" (M for multiracial) will result in the end of racism. To a certain extent, this celebration of multiracial families is an attempt to re-frame the meaning of interracial sexual and family relationships from a shameful to a hopeful phenomenon. (1) Yet and still, the recent election has brought out evidence of intolerance toward mixed race people, most visibly in attacks on the first interracial Democratic nominee (now president), Barack Obama.
Karen Seifert, a volunteer from New York, was outside of the largest polling location in Lackawanna County, Pa., on primary day when she was pressed by a Clinton volunteer to explain her backing of Obama.
"I trust him," Seifert replied. According to Seifert, the woman pointed to Obama's face on Seifert's T-shirt and said: "He's a haft-breed and he's a Muslim. How can you trust that?" (2)
While we may be tempted to dismiss those who utilize anti-miscegenation hate speech as outliers, other data suggest that a significant group of white Americans remain uncomfortable with the idea of having people of color in their families. According to a 2004 national poll 2004, 34% of white Americans said they would object if their child or grandchild chose a black spouse. (3) And, pollsters and political scientists have released troubling findings that suggest many white Americans would not vote for Obama just because he is of African descent. (4) In other words, it is likely that a portion of the white public will be uncomfortable with a Black First Family headed by a biracial father. Despite visible racism during the campaign, Barack Obama's rhetoric and that of his surrogates consistently advanced the idea that their candidate's multiracial, global family biography is the stuff of the American Dream. That is, in Obama's campaign speeches and in statements from supporters, Barack Obama's interracial family was reframed as profoundly American, and as a synecdoche for the multiracial, multicultural, national family.
Given the continued resistance to and discomfort with interracial relationships, and given the willingness of opponents to play the race (and miscegenation) card, one wonders whether this particular re-framing will ultimately be successful. Importantly, we must ask: will significant numbers of Americans buy into the "multiracial national family" frame? And, even if they do, will discourses involving interracial families and the nation position us to have conversations not only about representations of the nation, but also about atonement to those previously excluded from the national family. Looking at previous cases of discoveries of "color in the families" of well-known patriots, I question whether this reframing will successfully launch discussions of history, race, gender and nation that would call upon White Americans to consider larger processes of atonement.
The remainder of the essay is in three parts. In the first, I summarize literature on racial frames and their impact on white public opinion. In the second section, I collate examples of counter-frames that encourage a sense of commonalities across racial lines. The final part of the essay examines how newly revealed descendants of Black women who were impregnated by powerful White men were treated by: (1) historians and historical societies; (2) their newly exposed relatives; and (3) mainstream news media. The conclusion considers whether these past examples augur well for Obama's reframing strategy, casting the national family as a multiracial entity.
Part I: Framing Race
NEWS MEDIA, as institutions of ideological production, are part of processes of racial representation and racial formation. Following Omi & Winant, racial formation is a social process by which racial categories are imbued with meaning, meanings that change over time and across cultures. Racial projects, then, simultaneously interpret, represent, and explain racial dynamics. (5) News media perform some of this interpretive and explanatory work when covering racial issues through the process of framing stories. News frames promote particular interpretations of social issues, their causes and effects, individual and institutional responsibility, and suggest certain solutions. (6) Audiences interact with frames, bringing their own cognitive schema and life experiences with them to news media texts. However, for some white audiences, dominant racial frames may remain resonant due to a lack of real-life experiences with people of color in non-mediated settings, like schools and social clubs. (7) In other words, the schema of white Americans may match up well with frames that are dominant in mainstream news media, thus reinforcing problematic racial beliefs.
Although dominant race frames are being challenged, they are still widely used in main stream news media. And, research suggests that dominant racial frames can influence public opinion, (8) These frames are: (1) historical progress and personal racism; (2) the self-making person; and (3) separate fates. (9)
The historical progress and personal racism frame promotes the belief that since the direct action phase of the civil rights movement, racial tensions and discrimination have dramatically decreased in the United States. The frame suggests that the only remnants of racism reside in the hearts and minds of white and black individuals who can't let go of the past. (10) The historical progress/individual racism frame localizes race in the hearts of individuals rather than institutions, (11)
The self-making individual frame posits that each individual is responsible for his or her own welfare. This is the American Dream: that anyone, regardless of origins, can make it with hard work and self-discipline. This deeply rooted frame dovetails with racial discourses in particularly troubling ways. In particular, this frame gets tied up with arguments against welfare, affirmative action, and other racialized policies. The usual story goes that people of color, especially African Americans, are incapable of being self-made persons due to deficiencies in "culture" or personal qualities. (12)
The separate fates frame posits that racial groups are destined for separate paths, and cannot connect. So-called "racial minorities" and "their issues" are conveyed as separate from "national" or "American" issues. The separate fates frame depicts marginalized groups as people who exploit the majority/dominant group to achieve non-universal goals. This frame reinforces real and imagined physical barriers between racial groups. The preoccupation, for example, with the question, "Why are all the Black kids sitting at one table in the lunchroom?" is driven by the sense of a racial gulf too wide to cross. (13) (Tatum, 1997). The separate fates frame also implies that whites remain the normative group, and that integration is contingent upon the efforts of people of color, not the other way around.
To reiterate, frames select and link facts to define problems, diagnose causes, and make moral judgments. In addition, frames arrange relationships between individuals and groups, and between past and present. The "separate fates" frame encourages us to see racial groups as unrelated except in conflict; to imagine that their separate worlds and worldviews are unyielding and static. The individual and historical progress frames discount the relevance of institutions to racial dynamics and question the relevance of the past. Taken together, these dominant frames cast interracial relationships as the product of individual choices, choices made in a historical vacuum.
Part II Re-framing Race
MANY COMMUNITY ACTIVISTS and scholars seek counter-frames to revitalize discussions of race and society. For example, Lani Guinier and Gerald Torres suggest the metaphor of the miner's canary to illustrate how racial inequalities are indicative of broader social problems that, in fact, impact all Americans (14) The canary, whose extra-sensitivity to noxious gases informs all occupants of the mine that the environment has gone bad, suffers first. Once the miners see the canary suffering, the best course of action is to figure out how to fix or change the environment rather than point to the individual weaknesses of the canary. This metaphor counters both the separate fate and individualism frames. It calls upon people to see themselves as connected, and to consider whether broader phenomena will, eventually, impact many more groups (15) This counter-framing challenges the neoconservative "colorblind" approach to race reflected in dominant frames and discursive strategies that seek to undermine color-aware public policies promoting diversity and equity in institutions. (16)
A reframing strategy that has emerged from Barack Obama's speeches and his supporters' remarks is envisioning the nation as a multiracial family. This re-framing seeks to persuade people that we are a multicultural nation with shared interests in need of a reunion and/or healing. At first glance, this strategy looks promising; after all, we regularly use family symbols to describe our nation. We revere our patriotic "Founding Fathers;" investigate our origins to determine if we are "Daughters of the American Revolution;" and, in the White House, we have our "First Family." Certainly, the nation-as-family metaphor is as accessible as the separate fates frame.
Rhetoric surrounding Obama regularly links his family's story to that of the nation. Some media and political commentators argue that his biracial background literally positions him as the "hope of an increasingly multicultural nation" and the perfect candidate to begin healing the nation's racial wounds. (17) When he accepted the nomination in Denver, Obama again articulated his multiracial family with the "national family" and the American dream:
Four years ago, I stood before you and told you my story - of the brief union between a young man from Kenya and a young woman from Kansas who weren't well-off or well-known, but shared a belief that in America, their son could achieve whatever he put his mind to. It is that promise that has always set this country apart--that through hard work and sacrifice, each of us can pursue our individual dreams but still come together as one American family, to ensure that the next generation can pursue their dreams as well. (18)
Presenting an interracial marriage as profoundly American and emblematic of American opportunity is a bold move. However, the media do not have a good record of representing the American family--national, "typical," "average" or otherwise--as anything but white. (19) Employing the story of Obama's interracial family to persuade voters to re-imagine American identity is by no means a foolproof framing strategy. I recognize that the term "family" is fraught with controversy and contradictions. I am also well aware that the nation state is a suspect formation in many ways. However, since the Obama campaign invested in the notion of national family, I now turn to recent cases where revered representatives of the national family have been implicated in interracial sexual relations, relations previously unknown and/or publicly disavowed. I consider the questions: Do revelations of interracial family histories value voices and concerns of people of color? Do they disturb dominant understandings of national/racial identity?
Part III: Can We Re-frame the National Family as Multiracial?
IN AN ESSAY on multiracial identity, Adrian Piper considered whether most Whites are ready to acknowledge the presence and contributions of Black ancestors to their own families and the national community. Recognition of interracial family ties, she argued, should prompt consideration current sets of entitlements, and how to address compensation for the injustices of slavery and Jim Crow. These suggestions, she added, could frighten whites whose identities are strongly linked to race, but they need not be. New interracial relatives could be perceived as no more frightening, really, than the thought of welcoming long-lost relatives back into the family fold and making adjustments for their well-being accordingly. One always has a choice as to whether to regard oneself as having lost something--status, if one's long-lost relatives are disreputable, or economic resources, if they are greedy; or as having gained something--status, if one's long-lost relatives are wise and interesting, or economic resources ... Only for those whose self-worth strictly requires the exclusion of others viewed as inferior will these psychologically and emotionally difficult choices be impossible. (20)
Until Whites are ready to come to terms with an expanded notion of family identity and racial belonging, Piper concluded, Blacks and other people of color will not be fully recognized as part of the family or the nation. Two public controversies concerning multiracial African Americans resonate with her insightful assessment: DNA evidence regarding the Jefferson-Hemings family relationships, and the revelation of Essie Mae Washington-Williams as Strom Thurmond's illegitimate daughter.
The Jefferson-Hemings Debate: Who Is Part of A Founding Father's Family?
FOR TWO CENTURIES, White historians had
regularly dismissed claims that Thomas Jefferson was the father of his slave Sally Hemings' children as political gossip. However, at the end of the twentieth century, scientific tests concluded that Hemings' son, Eston, shared DNA with Jefferson males. (21) The DNA results, records of Jefferson's schedule at Monticello, and the timing of Hemings' pregnancies strongly suggest that Jefferson fathered Eston Hemings. In the face of this evidence, the Monticello Society still voted in 2002 to refuse Hemings descendants admittance to their ranks. Another group of historians, in league with the Thomas Jefferson Heritage Society, issued a report questioning the conclusion that it was most likely that Jefferson was the father of Hemings' children. (22) As Patton & Stevens wrote in their analysis of reactions to the Jefferson-Hemings case, acknowledging hidden Black relatives can open the door to integrating and re-examining competing discourses of race, history, and American identity. But this integration can be delayed when conflicts over "whose voices to listen to and what evidence to value" crowd out evidence contributed by the descendants of slaves. (23)
So far, within the ranks of Jefferson's white descendants and in popular media, there have been few attempts to re-examine the contradictions of racial slavery and democracy that, one could argue, are d prompted by consideration of Black voices. The family has largely rejected the DNA evidence. Popular media, such as the film Jefferson in Paris and the televised miniseries Sally Hemings: An American Scandal, framed the relationship between Hemings and Jefferson as a romantic potboiler, and maintain a sober distance from Jefferson's status as a slave owner. (24) Many historians characterize his involvement with slavery (and Hemings) as a lone "failing" that should not prompt us to re-think his legacy. (25)
If popular and scholarly media reduce Jefferson's involvement in slavery to a glitch in an otherwise perfect resume, then we cannot enter into a re-examination of American history with the voices of slave owners and the enslaved in dialogue. The dominant approach makes it is easier to view the Hemings and Jefferson descendants as destined to divergent paths, and to assign the Hemings family--and other Black Americans--to a tertiary role in our nation's history. If this is the current fate of the Hemings' DNA-backed claim to the Jeffersonian heritage, what will it take for the members of less-illustrious families to have their stories heard, or to receive a hearing for reparations for the suffering and underdevelopment of their communities?
Essie Mae, Carrie Butler, and Strom: Re-telling the Tale of "Secret" Interracial Sex in the Nation
IN CONTRAST to response to the Hemings family, when Essie Mae Washington-Williams revealed that her father was Dixiecrat-turned-Republican Senator Strom Thurmond, there was no resistance from historians or the media. However, the mainstream press rarely moved beyond dominant racial frames. In particular, the mainstream coverage of Essie Mae's paternity recycled the individual racism and historical progress frame in ways that encouraged readers to see her story as a product of a particular time and space, one foreign and largely forgotten and/or transcended by those outside it. The press also encouraged readers to individualize the story. These frames emerged through three major rhetorical moves: (1) identifying the South as the locale for "secret" miscegenation and Jim Crow hypocrisy; (2) re-circulating Washington-Williams' romanticized rendering of her parents' relationship; and (3) presenting her refusal to out Strom as a noble "choice" and exemplar of how we should deal with revelations about the racial past.
Localizing Miscegenation in the Southern Part of the Nation
THE PHRASE that appeared most often in stories about Essie Mae Washington-Williams and Strom Thurmond was "the South." Journalists and commentators repeatedly and emphatically characterized the disjuncture between Thurmond's "private" life and political beliefs as a uniquely Southern phenomenon. Most of the stories quoted from his notorious speech defending segregation at the 1948 Democratic National Convention, listed his involvement in the composition of the Southern Manifesto, or described how he anchored the longest filibuster in Senate history to oppose the 1957 Civil Rights Act. No fewer than 106 of the 130 stories analyzed referenced to the South. One-third of those stories explicitly cited "Southern racial hypocrisy,.... Southern bigotry," or "Southern racism" as the source of the problem, and the rest implied that this story was a product of the South's peculiarities. For example, Newsweek's Jon Meacham titled his column on the story "Race: Southern Family Values." (26) New York Times reporters told readers that Essie Mae's announcement 'Was in keeping with the confounding nature of a story that some said was emblematic of the racist hypocrisy in the South ... " (27)
Some writers included testimony from historians that Thurmond had engaged in a common Southern white male ritual, using Black women as "practice" sexual partners. For example, in a piece for the New York Times, Edward Bell, author of Slaves in the Family, was quoted:
The typical case [where] the son of a master's family tested out his sexuality on a vulnerable young [black] woman in the master's house. This is exactly what Strom did ... There's a thread of this denial running through most every Southern family. (28)
But as writers and commentators excoriated the South and Thurmond for racial hypocrisy, many members of the press engaged in their own troubling racial practices. First, their focus on the South allowed them to imply that the North was immune from racial hypocrisies. However, Black women suffered similar lack of protection from white sexual predation in the North. Localizing miscegenation to the South denies the scope of racist practices, and works to contain the significance of revelations of multiracial family ties. (29)
Second, reporters contributed to the erasure of Carrie Butler, minimizing her presence and, in many cases, not even acknowledging her by name. Computer-run word searches done on the 130 stories revealed only a third of the stories mentioned Butler by name. In the remaining two thirds of the stories, reporters referred to her only by her race and her station: "black maid." Reducing this woman to her occupation and omitting her name dehumanizes her in ways reminiscent of slave sale papers that list Black women as property to be bought and used by their masters. (30) Carrie Butler, then, becomes an afterthought, an object in these stories.
The Southern frame was challenged by a handful of columnists and commentators who reminded readers that racial hypocrisies and wounds are American, not only Southern. Six of the 130 articles collected did this work. These six pieces called upon Americans revisit history as part of a contemporary reckoning with the continued legacy of slavery and Jim Crow. For example, in one of his two columns on the story, New York Times editorialist Brent Staples charged Americans to re-think race and national identity now:
The drama unfolding between the daughter of a black woman born in the shadow of slavery and a white family with deep Confederate roots seems the perfect window through which to revisit the subject [of race mixing]. If that is what Ms. Washington-Williams intended, she has served a useful purpose for us all. (31)
Re-circulating the Romance: Strom and Carrie as Star-Crossed Lovers in an Unforgiving Time
ANOTHER TROUBLING, but smaller, aspect of the coverage was that many reporters and commentators described Strom and Carrie's relationship as a love affair, a sort of Jim Crow Romeo and Juliet. Granted, Ms. Washington Williams encouraged this interpretation; she repeatedly rebuffed the claim that her parents' relationship was abusive, and insisted that her mother was in love with Thurmond. Twelve articles either reprinted her assertions that her parents were in love, or used terms like "secret affair" or "liaison" to depict the relationship. In a USA Today piece, the reporter reiterated that Washington-Williams "says her parents had a lengthy, forbidden romance." (32) Critical comments from historians, however, were inserted into an equal number of stories and letters to the editor to cast doubt upon Essie Mae's characterization of her parents' as secret lovers. A striking example is reader Beverly Anne Cawley's response to the Boston Globe's use of the term "affair" to describe Butler and Thurmond's relationship.
In the South Carolina of 1925, a young African-American teenager working as a domestic in the house of a wealthy white family would never have held the power to say no to Strom's advances, not would she have had the means to complain of sexual harassment or abuse ... Let's call this relationship what it really was: rape. (33)
At the time that Thurmond impregnated Carrie Butler, she was either 15 or 16, working as a maid for a White family in the South. At the time, white men had nearly unlimited ability to sexually prey upon Black women, who were unprotected by the courts, police, or other institutions of law and order. Rape and sexual exploitation of Black domestic employees were widespread in the pre-civil rights era, and a handful of commentators declared that it defies common sense to believe that coercion or force were absent when 22-year-old Strom had sex with 15-year-old Carrie.
Lionizing Silence: Essie Mae and the Grace of Forgiving Racism
ANOTHER STRIKING FEATURE interwoven into a quarter of the stories was that Essie Mae Washington Williams was heroic. These stories described her as graceful for allowing Strom Thurmond to deny her paternity for six decades. Thirty-seven stories contained quotes or passages that explicitly lauded Ms. Washington Williams for keeping silent all these years, and for not filing a lawsuit against the Thurmond estate to get a portion of the children's inheritance. Often, she was applauded for doing both in the same sentence, as in this editorial from Florida's St. Petersburg Time:
She wasn't looking for a piece of Thurmond's estate, which was modest in any case. She wasn't looking for fame. She wasn't asking for apologies. Instead she wanted only what the Thurmonds graciously but belatedly offered her: an acknowledgment that she is indeed part of their family. (34)
A reporter covering her book tour two years later noted how white book-buyers' appreciated of Ms. Washington-Williams's response to her white family:
Several white members of the audience say they appreciate Mrs. Washington-Williams's discretion, grace, and lack of bitterness. "I think she's a breath of fresh air," says Kathy Dunphi, a 63-year old paralegal. "No hostility, no resentment." (35)
This characterization of her silence as truly golden is troubling in the ways it supports the historical progress frame. That is, Essie Mae's silence, her forgiveness of his racial sins, and refusal to take what, arguably, is her due from the estate, are promoted as examples of "racial healing" or catharsis that doesn't "hurt" anyone. While this kind of racial reconciliation doesn't cost members of the dominant group any of their privileges or wealth, it puts the burden on people of color to "suck it up" and relinquish any claims to restitution in order to maintain equilibrium. As Gresson writes, dominant strands of "white racial recovery rhetoric" that emerged in the wake of the civil rights movement imagine whites as victims of Blacks who exploit racial guilt. (36) As much sociological research suggests, many whites resent the idea that they have anything to feel guilty or uncomfortable about in regards to racism, past or present, let alone responsibility for any reparation. (37)
THE VALORIZATION of Washington-Williams' capacity to forgive of her white family reflects aspects of the "model minority" stereotype. Here, "model" behavior is characterized in part by avoiding public discussions of white racism and/or racial discrimination. Model minorities' restraint is contrasted favorably to the anti-racist activism of other minority groups, who are framed as "hung up" on race and unwilling to work hard to achieve. (38) Thus, Essie Mae is lionized for her willingness to let bygones be bygones. This sets up a dynamic by which people of color are responsible for shouldering heavy burdens in the process of racial reconciliation: the burden of making whites feel comfortable during negotiations, and the burden of inequalities wrought by racial discrimination. As Kirt Wilson wrote in his insightful essay on the call for dialogues on racial reconciliation, neither scholarly research nor anecdotal experience suggest that whites are ready and willing to engage in dialogue about racism's legacy, let alone begin moving toward reparations. (39) Catharsis, though it may assuage some of the psychic toll of racism, does not deal with the material inequalities rendered by racial hierarchy. Wilson argues, then, that discourses of racial reconciliation need to be at least matched by "rhetoric that induces the [white] public to consider that its interests are served by dismantling ... systems of white privilege." (40)
Only one article in the mainstream news, written by a Black columnist, echoed Wilson's articulation of the gap between noble forgiveness and structural change. This writer rejected the idea that Ms. Washington-Williams' behavior towards her white father was heroic. Eric Deggans of the St. Petersburg Times re-framed her silence as follows:
I want to believe she's a heroine, someone long disadvantaged by a ruthless, powerful, hypocritical politician now getting her due. But isn't the essence of heroism doing things that don't necessarily advantage your family, but may help others?.... Sure [Thurmond] eventually pulled an about face, supporting civil rights issues when it became clear that remaining a racist would cost him his political career ... But I wonder now, how many heroes were hurt or killed before Thurmond saw the political light? How many bore the brunt of his actions, while one of integration's most powerful foes kept secret the daughter he had with his family's black maid? (41)
Deggans' column points directly at the material gains Thurmond reaped by playing the race card to his liking over the arc of his career, and the material losses of countless Black families who were victimized by the results of his filibustering, Dixiecrat authority. This was the single article that questioned the alleged heroism of Washington-Williams' silence, a silence that arguably saved Thurmond's career. This lone column was the only one to argue that her "forgiving" behavior had enabled the racism of whites, not helped the cause of anti-racism.
FEW JOURNALISTS bothered to disturb the assumption that the Thurmond family was anything but gracious toward their new biracial relative. That is, the story of how the white family reacted was muted; evidence of the biracial daughter's forgiveness of her father's racial sins was not mirrored with evidence that the white Thurmonds were ready to come to terms with their patriarch's racial legacy. Only three of the 130 stories mentioned the fact that many Thurmond relatives were not welcoming to Ms. Washington-Williams.
Although the family did not publicly protest having her name etched into the monument to Strom and his family in a South Carolina courthouse square, apparently some members referred to her as a "blight": Brent Staples related how:
"White descendants of ... Thurmond are frantic about the revelation that he fathered the child of a black maid ... his dependents have been fretting about how people look at them in church--and whether they will be invited to the fight parties." (42)
In early 2004, one New York Times reporter wrote of how some of the Thurmond clan had explicitly asked Essie Mae to refrain from divulging the names of those who had accepted her as part of the family. (43)
It seems that, despite the public face of acceptance, many of the Thurmonds were quite conflicted about their newfound relative, and were not willing to do as Piper suggests, imagine their biracial relative as an asset. Thus, even though the official record of the Thurmond family tree publicly acknowledges the fact that Strom Thurmond impregnated Carrie Butler to birth Essie Mae Washington Williams, that public acknowledgment falls short of a reckoning with the racial past and the meaning of racial identity. Instead of exploring how the white Thurmonds "acknowledged" Washington-Williams' parentage, mainstream press coverage was soft-focused into a self-help story, where Essie Mae occupied a variation on the "tragic mulatta" theme. She was "heroic" yet "tragic" in her determination to keep her paternity secret from the press. She "took the high road," and maintained that path by not demanding part of the Thurmond family inheritance. When she finally unburdened herself of the weight of "her" secret after his death, she was portrayed as dignified symbol of racial progress, a woman able to let go of the past. The press lionized her for inserting herself into Thurmond's family history without rocking any racial boats.
BUT, as Robin Morgan opined in Ms., having one's place in history confirmed is hardly enough given the damage done to Black women who were sexually exploited by white men and forced to hide their pregnancies, children, and pain in order to get by and survive.
Many Southerners yawn at how commonplace a 'shadow child' is. Many Northerners congratulate themselves on "how far" we've all come. And the story dies into history. Yet what should happen is that the press corner George W. Bush--who at Thurmond's death paid laudatory tribute to his "extraordinary life"--to condemn his extraordinary lie... What should happen is ... a measure posthumously censuring Thurmond for being the longest-serving hypocritical bigot to dishonor the U.S. Senate in history ... [S]omeone owes Carrie Butler a national apology, flowers on her grave, and much, much more.
To date, Carrie Butler has neither been given an apology, nor incorporated into either the Thurmond or the national family. Rather than spark a conversation about the legacy of Thurmond's political career and of socially and legally sanctioned White male exploitation of Black females, the press's reflex was to deploy the historical progress/personal racism frame. That the story might open up a public conversation about the structural consequences of slavery, Jim Crow, sexual exploitation and inheritances long spent was a possibility, but one that was foreclosed all too soon in favor of condemnations of the personal hypocrisies of one proud Confederate hold out, and praise for a "secret daughter" with the fortitude and forgiving soul to stay quiet all those years.
THAT BARACK OBAMA and his family are, at this writing, preparing to move into the White House suggests that discourses of race, family, and national identity have changed somewhat since Strom Thurmond ran for the White House. But we do not have a consistent record of progress or even basic recognition of shared fate when we relate stories of interracial sex and other phenomena that characterize our nation's racial past and present. We have never seen ourselves as a multiracial family; revelations of past multiracial links have been greeted either with suspicion or denial of racial history. The Jefferson and Thurmond families' aversion to their newly-discovered kin; the hateful speech that brands Obama an untrustworthy mongrel; the insistence that the South is the site of racial wounds and hypocrisy; these discursive responses do not support a process that acknowledges the contributions of African Americans to the nation's destiny, let alone begin discussions of reparation or atonement for racial injustices. Rather, these discourses continue a pattern of individualizing race and racial identity, and denying the work of institutions and groups in the making of past and present racial dilemmas.
(1.) Catherine Squires, Dispatches from the Color Line: The Press and Multiracial America. Albany, NY, SUNY Press, 2007.
(2.) Kevin Merida, "Racist incidents give some Obama campaigners pause." Washington Post, May 13, 2008, p. A01.
(3.) Adam Goodheart, "Change of heart." AARP Magazine, May/June 2004. Retrieved February 2, 2005, from http://www.aarpmagazine.org/people/Articles/ a2004-03-17-mag-changeheart.html.
(4.) Charles M. Blow, "Racism and the race." New York Times, August 9, 2008, p. A 19. There were also extensive discussions in the press the Associated Press-Yahoo! Poll done with scholars from Stanford that suggested racism contributed to a six-point deficit for Obama. See for example, Dr. Paul Sniderman's summation of the results at http: / /www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/2008/09/ 22/2008-09-22_poll_barack_obama_could_lose_six_percent.html, and at http://news.yahoo.com/page/election-2008-political-pulse-obama-race.
(5.) Michael Omi & Howard Winant, Racial Formation in the United States:From the 1960s to the 1990s. New York, Routledge, 1994, pp. 55-57.
(6.) Robert Entman, "Framing: Toward clarification of a fractured paradigm." Journal of Communication 43, (1993), 51-68.
(7.) Robert Entman & Andrew Rojecki, The Black Image in the White Mind. Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 2000, 48-49.
(8.) See Donald R. Kinder & Lynn M. Saunders, Divided by Color: Racial Politics and Democratic Ideals. Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1996.
(9.) Frank Gilliam, "The architecture of a new racial discourse: A FrameWorks Message Memo." 2006. Available at: http://www.frameworksinstitute.org/ race.html.
(10.) See Michael K. Brown et al., (eds.) Whitewashing Race: The myth of a colorblind society. Berkeley, University of California Press, 2003; Aaron D. Gresson, The Recovery of Race in America. Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press, 1995.
(11.) The current campaign has provided multiple examples of news media pundits and reporters questioning whether, for example, Bill Clinton was "a racist" (e.g., Todd Purdum, "The Comeback Id," Vanity Fair, July 2008) and whether figures such as Jesse Jackson had finally been thwarted by a "new kind of black politician" who would not try to "leverage white guilt" or employ "reverse racism" (e.g., Matt Bai, "Post-Race," New York Times Magazine, August 10, 2008, pp. 34-41; 50; 54-55).
(12.) Brown et al., 2003; Martin Gilens, Why Americans Hate Welfare: Race, Media, and the Politics of Anti-Poverty Policy. Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 2000; Gilliam, 2006. David Wilson, Inventing black-on-black violence: Discourse, space, and representation. Syracuse, NY, Syracuse University Press, 2005.
(13.) Beverly Tatum, Why Are All of the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria ? New York, Basic Books, 1997.
(14.) Lani Guinier & Gerald Torres, The Miner's Canary: Enlisting Race, Resisting Power Transforming Democracy. Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 2003.
(15.) See Roopali Mukherjee, "Regulating race in the California Civil Rights Initiative: Enemies, allies, and alibis." Journal of Communication 50 (2) 27-47 for discussions of color-blind rhetoric; see Marouf Hasian, Jr. & Fernando Delgado, "The trials and tribulations of racialized critical rhetorical theory: Understanding the rhetorical ambiguities of Proposition 187." Communication Theory 8 (1998) 245-270, for discussions of counter-rhetoric against colorblind framing.
(16.) Rachel L. Swarns "So far, Obama can't take Black vote for granted." New York Times, February 2, 2007, p. A1.
(17.) Barack Obama, speech to accept the Democratic Party's nomination, August 28, 2008, Denver, Colorado. My emphasis. The full text of Obama's acceptance speech is available at http://www.demconvention.com/barack-obama/.
(18.) See David Roediger, The Wages of Whiteness. New York: Verson, 1991; Ruth Frankenberg, White Women, Race Matters, Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press, 1993; Richard Dyer, White. London: Routledge, 1997.
(19.) Adrian Piper, "Passing for white, passing for black" in Elaine K. Ginsberg (ed.), Passing and the Fictions of Identity. Durham, NC, Duke University Press, 1996. pp. 268-69.
(20.) Eugene A. Foster, et al. "Jefferson fathered slave's last child." Nature 396 (1998), pp. 27-28. Because Jefferson fathered no sons with his wife, the only male DNA that could be tested came from his brother's male descendants. Thus, the evidence could only link Hemings' descendants to the Jefferson family, not to a specific Jefferson male.
(21.) See the minority reports at www.monticello.org. Also see press coverage of the report by Lewis Lord, 'Jefferson, Hemings--again a new report, and more questions about an alleged affair," in US News & World Report, April 23, 2001, p. 28.
(22.) Venetria K. Patton & Ronald J. Stevens. 2000. Narrating competing truths in the Thomas Jefferson-Sally Hemings Paternity Debate. The Black Scholar29, 4, (2000), 8-15.
(23.) See Tricia Rose's column on Sally Hemings: An American Scandal, in Essence, February 2001, p. 202.
(24.) For example, see chapters in the collection Sally Hemings and Thomas Jefferson: History, Memory, and Civic Culture.Jan Ellen Lewis & Peter S. Onuf (eds.), Charlottesville, University Press of Virginia, 1999.
(25.) Newsweek, December 29, 2003, p. 25. Retrieved from Lexis/NexisJune 24, 2008
(26.) Shaila K. Dewan & Ariel Hart, "Thurmond's biracial daughter to apply to Confederacy group." New York Times, July 2, 2004, p. A1. This piece was reprinted in the International Herald Tribune as "Senator's biracial daughter to apply to Confederacy group" on July 3, 2004. Both retrieved from Lexis/Nexis on June 24, 2008.
(27.) Jeffrey Gettleman, "Final word: 'My father's name was Strom Thurmond.'" New York Times, December 18, 2003, p. A1.
(28.) Catherine Squires & Daniel Brouwer, "In/Discernible bodies: The politics of passing in dominant and marginal media." Critical Studies in Media Communication, 19, 3 (2002), 283-310.
(29.) See Patricia Williams, The Alchemy of Race and Rights: Diary of a law professor. Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 1991.
(30.) Brent Staples, "Strom Thurmond continued: The known world of Ms. Washington-Williams." New York Times, July 17, 2004, p. A12. Retrieved from Lexis/Nexis on June 24, 2008.
(31.) Wendy Koch, "Strom Thurmond's biracial daughter sheds life of secrecy." USA Today, January 27, 2005, p. 1A. Retrieved from Lexis/Nexis on June 24, 2008.
(32.) Beverly A. Cawley, "Letters to the Editor: Strom's servant couldn't say no." Boston Globe, December 20, 2003, p.A18.
(33.) "A daughter's dignity." St. Petersburg Times, December 19, 2005, p. 20A. Retrieved from Lexis/Nexis on June 24, 2008.
(34.) Alan Freeman, "'I never called him daddy.' A 79-year old woman's new memoir about being the half-black daughter of notorious segregationist Strom Thurmond has opened the closet door on illicit interracial relationships in the South." Globe & Mail (Canada), February 5, 2005, p.F1. Retrieved from Lexis/Nexis on June 24, 2008.
(35.) Aaron David Gresson III, The Recovery of Race in America. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1995.
(36.) See e.g., Eduardo Bonilla-Silva, Amanda Lewis & David G. Embrick, "'I did not get that job because of a Black man ... ': The story lines and testimonies of color-blind racism." Sociological Forum, 19, (2004), 555-581.
(37.) See discussions of the model minority stereotype used as a wedge between blacks and Asians in Neil Gotanda, "Tales of two judges," In W. Lubiano, (ed.) The House That Race Built: Original essays by Toni Morrison, Angela E Davis, Cornel West, and others on Black Americans in politics today. New York, Vintage, 1998; and David T. Mayeda's overview of how the model minority stereotype is deployed in mainstream media in his article "From model minority to economic threat: Media portrayals of Major League Baseball pitchers Hideo Nomo and Hideki Irabu," Journal of Sport and Social Issues 23, (1999), 203-217.
(38.) Kirt H. Wilson, "Is there interest in racial reconciliation?" Rhetoric and Public Affairs, 7, (2004), 367-377.
(39.) Wilson, p. 368.
(40.) Eric Deggans, Is she really a hero? St. Petersburg Times, December 28, 2003, p. 7P. Retrieved from Lexis/Nexis on June 24, 2008.
(41.) Brent Staples, "Senator Strom Thurmond's deception ravaged two lives." New York Times, December 26, 2003 p.A42. Retrieved from Lexis/Nexis on June 24, 2008.
(42.) Jeffrey Gettleman, "The Nation: Post-confession; When family values clash with family secrets." New York Times, January 4, 2004, Week In Review, p. 3. Retrieved from Lexis/Nexis on June 24, 2008.
(43.) Robin Morgan, "The ghost of Carrie Butler." Ms. 14, 1. (2004), p. 95.