MONDAY: Do individuals belong to a race?


The Times toys with the question: Do individual people belong to a "race?" 

Individuals will be treated as if they belong to a race. But should we even believe in the concept?

Unfortunately, these are among the most important questions in all of American history. The brutal mistreatment of people on the basis of their "race" lies at the heart of our national story. Meanwhile, in the present day, "race" is widely viewed as a fundamental part of each person's "identity."

At one time, within living memory, progressive culture widely proclaimed that there was no such thing as race. It was common for liberals to enter words like "human" or "none" when confronted with government forms asking us to name our "race." 

Progressive culture stressed the idea that we humans are really all the same. Progressive culture stressed the idea that there was only one race, the human race; that "them old dreams [about the existence of race] are only in your head."

Today, progressive culture is deeply invested in the idea that race and gender are the primary building blocks of a person's "identity." Inevitably, a great deal of incoherence is built into these deeply held, frequently noxious, mandated tribal beliefs.

Enter the New York Times—for example, in a lengthy, rather peculiar report in yesterday's Sunday magazine.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep, but our self-impressed liberal tribe is crowded with fuzzy thinkers. Also, with people who may perhaps be just a bit self-involved.

Our journalism is crowded with people who mainly like to tell a good story—who may prefer the pleasures of same to the values of clear exposition. As a tribe, we're spectacularly impressed with ourselves, but also ginormously flawed.

Enter yesterday's puzzling report about Rebecca Hall's mother.  

Rebecca Hall is a British actress and director who is about to release a new film, one we look forward to seeing.  Her mother, Maria Ewing, is one of the most famous singers in the world. She was born and raised in Detroit.

That said, does Maria Ewing belong to a race? And if she does belong to a race, to what race does she belong?

Who the heck is Maria Ewing? You're asking a very good question.

On the one hand, Ewing is one of the greatest singers in the world, and has been for some time. On the other hand, since her career has mainly been in opera, no one in the hinterland has ever heard of her.

Maria Ewing is Rebecca Hall's mother. Here's the basic outline of Ewing's career, according to the leading authority on the topic:

Maria Louise Ewing (born March 27, 1950) is an American opera singer who has sung both soprano and mezzo-soprano roles. She is noted as much for her acting as her singing.


Ewing made her debut at the Metropolitan Opera in 1976 in Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro. Her first European performance was at La Scala, Milan as Mélisande in Debussy's Pelléas et Mélisande. Her repertoire includes Carmen, Dorabella in Mozart's Cosi fan tutte, Salome, the title role in L'incoronazione di Poppea, Marie in Berg's Wozzeck and Shostakovich's Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk. Ewing is particularly well known for her sensitive interpretation of the title role in Richard Strauss's Salome, where Oscar Wilde's stage directions for the original play specify that, at the end of the so-called Dance of the Seven Veils, Salome lies naked at Herod's feet. Ewing appeared fully nude at the end of this sequence, in contrast to other singers who have used body stockings. She also sang and appeared in Henry Purcell's Dido and Aeneas.

And so on, at some length. Excitingly, Ewing has appeared fully nude at Herod's feet!

At any rate, Ewing has been a major star for a very long time. But what the heck is her race? 

Yesterday, the New York Times played exciting mystery games concerning this topic. On the other hand, as far back as 1992, the Los Angeles Times had managed to tell the public this, as part of an interview with the star concerning a performance at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion:

ISENBERG (11/8/92): The soprano offstage still seems onstage—dramatically dressed in black jersey and jeans, her dark hair pulled back off her pale face, her full, sensual mouth layered in lipstick. Her exotic features reflect a Dutch mother and a father who was part Sioux, part black and part Scottish.

She was born and raised in Detroit, where her mother sang, and her engineer father played piano, painted, wrote and lectured on the plight of the American Indian. Her father’s piano selections included both ragtime and his own Sioux-inspired compositions, says Ewing, and “we’d all dance around the room when he was playing."

Ewing's mother was Dutch (and presumably "white"). Her father, an engineer, "was part Sioux, part black and part Scottish." 

On the basis of these particulars, how was Ewing treated / viewed / identified within her native Detroit? The 1992 profile didn't explore such questions. But there seemed to be no mystery concerning the fact that the immediate ancestry of this star tracked to more than one "race."

Maria Ewing isn't 100 percent "white!" All the way back in 1992, there seemed to be no giant mystery—and no giant sense of excitement—concerning this particular fact. 

Still, no one had yet forced the star to submit to a public DNA test. Two years earlier, the Washington Post had told its readers this:

MCLELLAN (11/15/90): In private conversation, Ewing, tall and slender, is elegant and quietly self-contained until she begins talking about opera and acting; then her voice becomes animated and she has a deep, earthy laugh...Her exotic good looks (inherited from a Dutch mother and a Sioux father) are even more impressive up close and without makeup than they are when she is onstage. She is 40 years old, looks less than 30, and is totally convincing when she impersonates a spoiled, sensual teenager who dances an elaborate, Oriental striptease to gain power, uses that power to kill the man who rejected her and then scolds and fondles his severed head.


Ewing became a singer almost by accident. Growing up in a music-loving family, the youngest of four daughters (her father was an engineer, her mother a good singer but not a professional), she studied piano and sang occasional duets with her sister Frances...

In this profile, her father had been Sioux (full stop); he was once again described as an engineer. Concerning Ewing's exotic good looks, she looked even better in person!

Long story short: It seems to have been clear for some time that Ewing's father wasn't exactly "white." To the extent that anyone cared, there doesn't seem to have been any mystery about this.

In terms of "race," how was Ewing classified, identified, treated, viewed within the Detroit of the 1950s and 1960s? We can't answer that question. But as of 1990 and 1992, it was being reported that Ewing's father wasn't "white," and it looks like Ewing herself would have been the source of these revelations.

There doesn't seem to have been any giant mystery about this. Indeed, as of June 2010, Hall was quoted telling The Guardian this about her famous mother:

"She came from working-class Detroit...Her mother was Dutch, her father half Native American Sioux Indian and half black of some unknown origin."

That was Hall, discussing her mother back in 2010.

Yesterday, the New York Times put the mystery back in the stew. Along the way, the famous newspaper skipped past a lot of questions about what it means to belong to a "race"—about what it means when we say that someone does.

Hall's forthcoming movie is an adaptation of  Nella Larsen’s 1929 novel, “Passing." As her profile of Hall begins, Alexandra Kleeman starts driving the mystery train:

KLEEMAN (10/24/21): When Rebecca Hall read Nella Larsen’s groundbreaking 1929 novel, “Passing,” over a decade ago, she felt an intense, immediate attachment to it. The story seemed to clarify so much that was mysterious about her own identity—the unnameable gaps in her family history that shaped her life in their very absence, the way a sinkhole in the road distorts the path of traffic blocks away.

So intriguing! There were unnameable gaps in Hall's family history which shaped her life in their very absence. The story in Larsen's novel seemed to clarify so much that was mysterious about her own identity!

That's spectacularly fuzzy writing, suitable for this ghostly time of year. The responsibility for that fuzzy writing lies with Kleeman and her editors, not with Hall herself.

Soon, though, Hall is quoted discussing her family history. We're somewhat puzzled by some of what she says:

KLEEMAN: Raised in England within the elite circles of classical theater, Hall, who is 39, had her first introduction to the concept of racial “passing” in the pages of Larsen’s novel. “I was spending time in America, and I knew that there had been vague, but I mean really vague, talk about my mother’s ethnicity,” Hall explained over the phone this spring. Her voice is calm and poised, with a warm polish to it, and she tends to speak in composed paragraphs. Over the year that we had corresponded, Hall hadn’t been acting much and had instead spent time writing screenplays from the Hudson Valley home that she shares with her daughter and her husband, the actor Morgan Spector. “Sometimes she would intimate that maybe there was African American ancestry, or sometimes she would intimate that there was Indigenous ancestry. But she didn’t really know; it wasn’t available to her.”

Hall grew up steeped in performance: Her father, Sir Peter Hall, was known for founding the Royal Shakespeare Company and serving as the director of the Royal National Theater for many years... Her mother, Maria Ewing, an American raised in Detroit, is one of opera’s most celebrated sopranos, famous for her daring portrayal of Salome in Richard Strauss’s production, in which she followed the Oscar Wilde-penned stage directions to the letter and went nude onstage.

After her parents divorced in 1990, Hall lived for many years with her mother in a manor in the English countryside, where she remembers rooms filled with the sound of jazz on vinyl, her mother making herself at home in the relative isolation and remoteness of an adopted country. “I was sort of brought up to believe that I was this—all of which is true, by the way—privileged, upper-middle-class, sort of bohemian well-educated white girl from a very prestigious family background,” Hall said. “And that was sort of where it stopped. And when I asked questions to my mother about her background in Detroit and her family,” Hall said, her voice low and firm, “she left it with an ‘I don’t want to dwell on the past.’”

In that early passage, the mystery story gets its start, and a certain impression gets lodged. Hall seems to say that her famous mother would sometimes "intimate" that there was African American or Indigenous ancestry. But she also seems to say that her mother "didn't really know."

"I don't want to dwell on the past" was all her mother would say, at least to Hall herself.

Possibly that's true! A more devoted journalist would have asked Hall to clarify this account based on those profiles in the Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times, in which, or so it seemed, Maria Ewing had made it clear that her father wasn't exactly "white."

Growing up, did Hall know that her mother's father had been described as "part Sioux, part black and part Scottish?" If not, when did she find out?

She certainly knew by 2010, when she spoke to The Guardian. But when did she find out?

In pursuit of basic clarity, an actual journalist would have pushed Hall to speak to these obvious questions. But the New York Times loves to entertain its readers, especially on thrilling matters involving "race."

There followed a jumbled mystery tale about the process by which Hall learned about her "racial" ancestry (also described as her "identity"). Readers were forced to waste some time while Kleeman, inevitably, told us a great deal about herself. Eventually, though, we were returned to Hall's current tale. 

As told by Kleeman, Hall's understanding seems to turn on research recently done for the PBS program Finding Your Roots, including some of the statistical sleight-of hand which commonly dogs that otherwise fascinating program:

KLEEMAN: Hall had recently taken part in Henry Louis Gates Jr.’s PBS series, “Finding Your Roots” (the episode will air next year), and filled in some of the lacunas in her family history that had made elements of her own life feel incomplete or difficult to comprehend. She had shown a version of her film to her mother, sparking conversations that they weren’t able to have in the decades preceding. And “Passing” had been sold to Netflix for almost $17 million, a deal that would guarantee the film the sort of broad audience and promotional support rarely given to intricate, demanding art foregrounding Black women.


The researchers on “Finding Your Roots,” she told me, traced her mother’s side of the family tree as far back as her great-great-great-great-great-grandparents. She learned that her great-grandfather, whose name was John William Ewing, was born into slavery but found government work post-abolition in Washington, and even gave the toast for Frederick Douglass at a banquet in his honor. Her great-grandmother was a free woman of color, descended from one of only 5,000 Black men who fought on the side of the rebels during the Revolutionary War. But against the background of so much lineage lost and recovered was the discovery of the exact point at which the narrative had broken. “The revelation,” she said, “was that it was just my grandfather who passed—just that one act that erased a huge amount of history, including some stuff that’s really extraordinary.” She spoke carefully, pausing often. “The irony is his father was a race man. His father was someone who wanted to uplift.”

I pointed out how rare it was for a person to have the chance to make a decision that so rapidly shifts the path of his descendants, a complex, psychological decision that erased anyone’s ability to find out why he made it. Hall nodded. “And if you know that it happened, it passes on a legacy that’s”—she trailed off, searching for the right term—“so confused, you know? Because if you’re the child of the parent, and you believe them to be doing the right thing, or hiding something by living in secret, then your obligation to the parent is to do what they do.” When I asked if her mother ever told stories about her own father that might shed light on why he chose to pass, or what his experience was like afterward, she told me that her grandfather was an artist and a musician, and this is part of what made them close—her mother learned to sing from imitating records in the basement of the family house. She left home soon after he died when she was 16, Hall said, gaining admission to the Cleveland Institute of Music against the odds and later moving to the Barbizon Hotel in New York, and eventually to Europe, where she sang in Salzburg, in Milan, in London. 

Hall didn’t know if her grandfather was a sort of anchor for her mother, whether his death caused her to leave home. But her mother did talk, Hall said, about an event that was very disturbing for her...

Had Gates' researchers really "traced her mother’s side of the family tree as far back as her great-great-great-great-great-grandparents?"

Since Hall, like everyone else, has a total of 128 great-great-great-great-great-grandparents, we'll guess that Gates actually researched a limited number of these ancestors, while obscuring the fact that there were so many others, with so many other personal histories. 

With respect to "her great-grandfather, whose name was John William Ewing," Hall has eight great-grandparents in all. Four of the eight may be Brit all the way. Two of the eight may be Danish. 

The two American great-grandparents were apparently classified as "black," though they may have had a great deal of European ancestry. (The one-drop rule would perhaps have been in effect.) According to Hall, her mother's father decided to "pass," moving beyond the stupid / cruel types of  "racial" categorization his society dropped on all comers.

(Full disclosure: Earlier this month, Hall was quoted telling The Daily Mail that it was "more than likely" that her grandfather's parents also "passed." The story keeps moving round.)

Does this story mean that Maria Ewing's father was regarded as "white" when Ewing grew up in Detroit? In yesterday's profile, Kleeman doesn't ask, and Hall doesn't say.

Does this mean that Ewing regarded or presented herself as "white" when she was growing up? That question wasn't asked or answered either.

Meanwhile, Hall seemed to insert more drama into the tale with her comments about Ewing leaving home soon after her father died. According to the standard bios, Ewing graduated from Detroit's Finney High School in 1968, when she was 18. Assuming that is accurate, she doesn't seem to have run away the day after her father died.

The story Hall goes on to tell involves Ewing and her father being assailed by a neighbor with a racial slur shortly before his death. Does that mean that Ewing knew about her father's black ancestry when she was growing up?

None of this is clarified. Instead, we get a bit of a pleasingly jumbled mystery tale.

Reading this imitation of journalism, readers are given the impression that Hall became aware of family background due to Finding Your Roots. That would make for a pleasing story, except for the fact that she was quoted saying this back in 2010:

"She came from working-class Detroit...Her mother was Dutch, her father half Native American Sioux Indian and half black of some unknown origin."

How long ago did Hall learn that? Who did she learn it from? Kleeman didn't ask.

Kleeman's profile is a jumble, a pleasingly novelized tale. Elementary questions go unasked as the fuzzy story emerges. Ultimately, this is the fault of Kleeman and her editors.

What does Hall actually know about her mother's early life? What does she actually know about her maternal grandfather's apparent decision to present himself as "white?"

Kleeman didn't try to find out. In the process, we got a pleasing tale, and we got a (thoroughly typical) celebrity-friendly promotion for a film for which Hall has already received $17 million. 

(Nothing the celebrity says will be questioned in the course of such profiles. Because it deals with such important issues, we look forward to seeing the film.)

All through American history, people have been forced to live within the socially defined boundaries of "race." 

People have been told that they belong to a "race," and that they had to stay within its established borders. People were badly and brutally treated, depending on which of those boxes they were said to be in.

People had "race" imposed upon them, often in absurdly arbitrary ways. Our progressive tribe once opposed such mandatory sifting of people. Today, it's the foundation of our frequently unimpressive worldview. 

(Many Others are able to see how unimpressive our worldview is. Only we cannot.)

Do individuals belong to a "race?" Individuals will be treated that way, but should we believe in the concept?

The concept comes from "the world the slaveholders made." Should we keep selling their concepts, or are there better ideas in which we humans are secretly all the same?


  1. "Meanwhile, in the present day, "race" is widely viewed as a fundamental part of each person's "identity.""

    Not 'widely', dear Bob, only in your liberal cult. Not in the universe of normal ordinary humyn beings.

    See, you need to get out more, dear.

  2. "Since Hall, like everyone else, has a total of 128 great-great-great-great-great-grandparents"

    Meh. We hate to nitpick, dear Bob, but really, it could easily be fewer than 128. If you keep going like this, by power of two, you'll soon run out of the number people alive at that time. So, your parents definitely had some common ancestors, and perhaps in not too distant past...

  3. Is it ok to be this dumb:

    "Today, progressive culture is deeply invested in the idea that race and gender are the primary building blocks of a person's "identity.""

    This inaccurate assertion is made without any evidence offered, and is exclusively a right wing narrative.

    Progressive culture is invested in social justice for those being oppressed, regardless of one's identity.

    Not just progressives, also science indicates that race is a social construct.

    Race only exists as a function of racism, only exists as long as racism exists.

    Racism has been foundational to American society since it's inception, and continues to this day as it is baked in to our institutions and systems.

    Somerby's ugly narrative indicates a sad, lost soul.

    1. What about gay marriage?

    2. If you feel like you are being oppressed by gay marriage, you at least have the support of the current supreme court!

    3. I'm opposed to it. Do you have room for me under your tent?

    4. If you are being forced into a marriage, gay or otherwise, there are people who will fight for your freedom. Marriages are in large part just grifts, but a love marriage will generally trump an arranged marriage.

      What tent? Nuances should be noted, but either you are for freedom or for oppression.

    5. The Democratic Party tent.

    6. Feel free to vote for Dems, no one will stop you - well, ok, Republicans will try to pass laws to stop you. You should know that in polls a majority of Republicans now support same-sex marriage (gay marriage). Best to stay away from marriage until you are able to engage in a way that is comfortable for you.

    7. I'm against it for gays, not me.

    8. So progressives never talk about white privilege or male privilege?

      Since they do, that would indicate that it is THEY who are invested in the idea of race, that race and gender are foundational to identity.

      "Social justice" for "those being oppressed". Except that progressives determine WHO is being oppressed by race and gender, and not by actual facts of oppression.

      Oprah, Tiger, Michael Jordan, and Pat Mahomes - oppressed. Because of their "race".* Me, a retired janitor making $679.15 a month - not oppressed, because I am a cis-straight-white-male. Pretty much every day some progressive or other tells me how much they hate me and want to take away my supposed privileges or how much they support Diversity, Inclusion and Equity, meaning they just want me to DIE.

      * Mahomes was oppressed yesterday by the Titans defense, but that is another story.

    9. If progressives are not invested in the idea that race and gender are the primary building blocks of a person's identity, what is intersectionality about?

    10. If you want to oppress gay marriage, you have an uphill battle with few allies - maybe Saudi Arabia, Putin. Maybe find peace by being for freedom, instead of for oppression:

      "God did not send His Son unto the world to condemn"

    11. Sorry, I'm against it. Take it or leave it. I'll vote somewhere else if it's a problem.

    12. Intersectionality is not about race and gender being the primary building blocks of a person's identity, but about multiple factors contributing to oppression.

    13. Just making sure my opposition to it doesn't make me less of a person in your eyes.

    14. "Intersectionality is not about race and gender being the primary building blocks of a person's identity, but about multiple factors contributing to oppression."

      What are the primary factors of which you speak?

    15. Dr T, I am sensing a little hostility from you. I too worked as a janitor while in college, solidarity my brother.

      There is a mountain of evidence indicating those who are oppressed in our society, even while some in those cohort have found success in spite of the oppression.

      While you may be unaware of your privilege as a white male, the anger and dissatisfaction you feel is not a function of progressivism, but of our current economic system.

    16. 5:21

      Wikipedia says "gender, caste, sex, race, class, sexuality, religion, disability, physical appearance, and height."

      But don't get too excited, Wikipedia further says:

      "a black woman might face discrimination from a business that is not distinctly due to her race (because the business does not discriminate against black men) nor distinctly due to her gender (because the business does not discriminate against white women), but due to a combination of the two factors."

      So again, it is not about the building blocks of identity, it is about factors that contribute to oppression. Oppression may be pure racism, but intersectionality looks at cases where it involves multiple factors.

    17. Africa would be a great place for the pwogwessives.

      No racism there whatsoever, and a perfect opportunity to create The Pwogwessive Paradise on a much large scale than Pwogwessive Paradises they already created in Detroit and Baltimore.

    18. 05:18 Within the context of being a lawful citizen, you deserve comfort and joy just as much as anyone else. By my ideology, I forgive your trespasses.

    19. Good. Also, I don't like Mexicans. Still want me as a voter?

    20. Sounds like Intersectionality is about how primary building blocks of a person's identity contribute to oppression.

    21. There is a long list of things everyone likes and does not like, no need to go through them individually, as the comment at 5:42 is a catchall. Any further questions or issues you have, I refer you to that comment.

    22. 5:53 Still not there, the oppression is external, not internal, so your framing is off; the issue is not the building blocks of identity, the issue is oppression.

    23. I thought it was about factors, like race and gender, that contribute to oppression. How "race and gender" contribute to oppression. That's what you said.

    24. "Oppression may be pure racism, but intersectionality looks at cases where it involves multiple factors."

      Multiple factors of identity. Mostly race, gender and sexual identity.

    25. 5:56 - Thank you for being understanding about my bigotry.

    26. Yes intersectionality is about oppression from multiple factors of identity, it is not about how various factors are the building blocks of identity, For most this is blindingly obvious, certain others will claim to struggle with this rather straightforward notion.

    27. Intersectionality is about oppression from multiple factors of identity of which race and gender and a few others are the primary building blocks (according to you). Therefore, progressive culture is deeply invested in the idea that race and gender are the primary building blocks of a person's identity as defined by intersectionality. Unless progressive culture doesn't believe in the concept of intersectionality. You tell me, bro.

    28. Your choice bro.

    29. 7:54

      Progressives are not arguing that things like race are the primary building blocks of identity; if anybody is, that would be racists.

      Progressives recognize that people are oppressed due to factors, such as the factors listed.

      Progressives are not invested in identity in and of itself, they are invested in opposing oppression, which can be due to a variety of factors, sometimes in combination, related to identity.

      You make a false assertion, then make an unsubstantiated leap to a conclusion that is based on an invalid proposition, but is also just incoherent.

      This is bone simple stuff told in plain language, you are choosing to be obtuse, more power to you, progressives are patient.

    30. How is the discussion of race in the New York Times profile mentioned here invested in opposing oppression?

      How is it not invested in identity in and of itself?

    31. It is not an article about opposing oppression, not directly, the general thrust is: someone's mom acted weird about her ancestry and it turns out it is because part of their familial history involved people that were historically oppressed and so chose to pass as white to avoid that oppression. Somerby nitpicks over who know what and when, but his stupid assertion remains dumb as dirt. Near the end of his weird nitpicking he lets slip on where the concept of race comes from:

      "The concept comes from "the world the slaveholders made.""

      Race exists because racism exists.

    32. The focus of the article is her race as a building block of her identity. The article doesn't say anything about her being oppressed or historical oppression. It discusses her identity in and of itself only.
      The rich and famous woman acted weird about her ancestry because her race was a primary building block of her identity. Primary enough to make it the focus of a news article for progressives who are deeply invested in the concept. Why are you embarrassed about what Somerby accurately wrote?

    33. The article is about racial identity and how people are treated and react according to that subjective, social construct. The article doesn't address the subjectivity of the designation though. It treats race as a primary building block of a person's identity not as a label that is a falsely imposed social construct that isn't a part of one's identity. That reinforces the notion that race is a primary building block of identity. Hence the criticism. There's nothing to be ashamed about being invested in social justice for those being oppressed based on their racial identity. One could, with it, address the subjective, arbitrary nature of the building blocks that are falsely made to be a building block of a person's identity ... as a way forward. And one could even aggressively challenge those socially constructed building blocks within these types of discussions.

    34. The focus is not her race as a building block of her identity, the focus is her coming to understand why her mom was reticent to talk about her ancestry, the mystery of why an ancestor decided to "pass", and how that obscured the past. Hall is not invested in having a new racial building block to her identity, the article makes it explicit, saying the issue of identity was due to "the unnameable gaps in her family history that shaped her life in their very absence". It wasn't race, it was the obscuring of her ancestors, which involved Dutch, Sioux, black, and Scottish (it could have been Chinese and Russian, it was clearly beside the point). Somerby wants you to think these are races, but nobody does, and Hall herself says otherwise "there had been vague, but I mean really vague, talk about my mother’s ethnicity". There is nothing in the article that reinforces race as a primary building block of identity. The revelation to Hall was not a racial one, it was filling in the gap in the history, Hall explains: “The revelation,” she said, “was that it was just my grandfather who passed—just that one act that erased a huge amount of history" Then Hall elaborates: “And if you know that it happened, it passes on a legacy that’s”—she trailed off, searching for the right term—“so confused, you know?" Confused legacy, she wanted the gaps filled, nothing to do with race being a building block of identity.

      Progressives are not invested in race being a building block of identity, they are concerned about race being a building block of oppression.

      You can twist yourself into a pretzel trying to frame an issue to fit your agenda, you can make unsubstantiated claims about the article, Somerby's assertion remains dumb as shit, just as dumb and right-oriented as his views on electoral politics.

  4. Marie Ewing's father Norman was born 1894 in Virginia. He and both of his parents are listed as "mulatto" in the 1910 census. His mother Hattie (or Harriet) was born 1865 in Ohio, also listed as "mulatto" in the 1870 census. Her grandparents were free, living in Washington County Ohio in 1850.

    Norman is listed as white in the 1940 census, but his mother and brother, also living in Detroit in 1940 were listed as "Negro".

  5. Anonymouse 3:17pm, I don’t know if you’re being disingenuous or if you truly are this naive.

    Nothing will get you in hot water as fast as NOT making distinctions based upon minority status.

    If you are in a position of the slightest authority, treating all people the same without regard to race will cause all hell to fall down upon your head. Even the suggestion of this will garner utter opprobrium.

    There is no power to be wielded in color blindness, for anyone. None. It is the worst nightmare of both social justice warriors and racists.

    1. 5:35 just a goofy and poorly constructed strawman.

      Progressives (leftists, sjw's etc) make distinctions NOT based on race, but on oppression.

      This is trivially obvious. Good grief everyone knows MLK jr's progressive speech on social justice "not be judged by the color of their skin..."

    2. Oh dear. Pwogwessives: maliciously maligned and cruelly misunderstood...

      Our heart is bleeding. Please forgive us for we are going to go and cry for a while now...

    3. “Progressives (leftists, sjw's etc) make distinctions NOT based on race, but on oppression.”

      That is an absolutely meaningless distinction when you believe that American culture is inveterately, institutionally… oppressive toward people who are not white and/or heterosexual.

    4. Well, it's also meaningless because in Zombie dialect "oppression" can mean anything.

      It's quite simple, really: any dembot word-salad is absolutely meaningless.

    5. To be fair, merely claiming a distinction is meaningless, is, itself, meaningless. Indeed, a non race factor is bravely listed in the 6:00 comment - keep going, keep going.

      Oppression is routinely defined and demonstrated. The oppressors are making the distinctions impactful, not people merely claiming an identity.

      As was said earlier, race exists only because of racism.

    6. Anonymouse 7:03pm, no, “the word “meaningless” has a definition. It is has meaning.

      Unless, you can change the human heart, there will always be oppressors. There will always be racists. YOU will always be able to find them. Both the real oppressors who victimize others and the imagined ones who are just the people who are in your way.

    7. This is entirely untrue, including your dim picture of human nature. Remember the South Pacific song, you have to be carefully taught how to hate.

    8. Since your claim of meaningless was unsubstantiated, it can be identified as meaningless itself.

      Racism has not always existed and humans have lived in general egalitarian harmony in the past.

      The darkness you ascribe to the human race is projection - you can't change your heart. This is why people become republicans, they are wounded to the degree that it can not be resolved.

    9. Anonymouse 10:21pm, if racism wasn’t happening you can be sure it was because the area was remote and the society was homogenous and they were going after each each other for different reasons.

      There is no doubt that societies can improve, but your adolescent argument is an admission of the obvious.

      You will always have contrarians to call the originators of all the bad in the world. You will always cast yourselves as being the protectors You will always eschew colorblindness because embracing it means a loss of power.

    10. 11:08 no, you are just unfamiliar with the history of racism, history in general, to be frank.

      The rest of what you say is just bizarre garbage that can't be taken seriously, with some mind-reading tossed in to boot; but being charitable, the gist of the small amount that is even tangential to coherence is that our problems are difficult and we can not solve them completely all at once so why bother. This is fine, actually, because your ideas are garbage; best to leave progress to those that are caring and competent, not to the angry and resentful.

  6. "Today, progressive culture is deeply invested in the idea that race and gender are the primary building blocks of a person's "identity." Inevitably, a great deal of incoherence is built into these deeply held, frequently noxious, mandated tribal beliefs."

    Conservatives believe in race and gender even more than progressives do. They are the enforcers of distinctions based on race and gender in our society.

    Many people believe that God doesn't exist either, but that doesn't stop people from establishing religions. These social constructs do not necessarily depend on reality. There are many kinds of social status indicators that have nothing to do with the objective value of people but rely on socially constructed meanings.

    Racism and sexism exist so that means that progressives, even while recognizing that race is socially constructed and without physiological reality, must acknowledge the social consequences of race and racism.

    Somerby's repeated attempts to argue that we should be ignoring race and gender (and all "identity politics") are wrong because of the way these affect behavior directed at people in our society. Taking the stance he has taken just ignores wrongdoing among racists and hurts people, and makes him complicit in the racism of our time by encouraging people to turn a blind eye to it instead of resisting and fighting it. And it makes him seem like the biggest racist in Baltimore when he starts these kinds of arguments.

  7. “ And it makes him seem like the biggest racist in Baltimore when he starts these kinds of arguments.”


    A color-blind society is the ideal, but you’re the biggest racist in…etc..etc… for actually advocating it.

    When will we reach the point where we can advocate for that stance (or even be skeptical toward any other route to equality) without being the biggest racist, etc…etc..,,?


    1. 6:51 this is so dumb, I am awestruck.

      Somerby et al (fanboys) are advocating for color-blindness now, in our current racist society, Progressives are advocating for color-blindness under diminishing racism; but while racism is a factor, so is race.

      This is so obvious and simple, no one is that dumb, it is just bad faith nonsense.

    2. You have the “simple” part correct. Add “minded” and you’ll be on the money.

    3. Simple minded is fine, this concept does not require much intelligence. (your "owns" are hilarious)

      Race ends when racism ends. While people are still being oppressed due to their supposed race, the victims will be recognized and the oppressors will continue to be called out as racist - this is individuals, and more importantly institutions and systems.

      Clarification can be a process when certain people are involved, happy to oblige.

    4. It’s not an “own” to say that what you’re saying is specious. I wouldn’t have guessed you capable of venturing this and I know how simpleminded and authoritarian you are.

      Do you have any markers for deciding when people are no longer oppressed? Is there a certain percentage of politicians, scientists, Shakespearean actors, etc from the ranks of all the races that you’re using for criteria?

      What will be the metric for your decision that our society is no longer an oppressive one in order for you to find colorblindness more than a cop-out by racists?

    5. If white men can do it...

    6. All you do are goofy attempts at "own", you do not offer counterarguments, or evidence, of substance. The goofiness is amusing, the values behind it are sad.

      There are a variety of markers involving things like wealth, land, education, health, and employment; this is not an unexamined field.

      A critical place to reach is a move away from capitalism, a system that was foundational to racism.

  8. Does Bob believe in race? Don't care. I do care that he doesn't believe in editing.

  9. Washington Post: MCLELLAN (11/15/90): "Her exotic good looks."

    Describing someone's looks as "exotic" would get an ordinary individual cancelled today, would it not?

    I demand that the Post issue an apology for its use of this unforgivably racist word! To truly make amends will require that the WP shut their doors forever.

    1. Exotic means: "originating in or characteristic of a distant foreign country"

      There is nothing "exotic" about being African American these days. Exotic is a code term for being not-quite-white, often applied to women.

    2. Your sarcasm has not aged well, we would all rejoice if the Washington Post went out of business. Corporate media only serves the powerful and wealthy, good riddance!

      And yes "her exotic good looks" is offensive.

    3. It’s not an apt description either.

  10. "In pursuit of basic clarity, an actual journalist would have pushed Hall to speak to these obvious questions. But the New York Times loves to entertain its readers, especially on thrilling matters involving "race.""

    This makes no sense at all. One cannot simultaneous gripe that the reporter isn't digging deeply enough into questions of race, while also blaming the paper for focusing too much on race.

    Both Ewing and Hall have the right to describe their identity in any way they choose, and the assumption is that they think of themselves that way. It isn't for Somerby, or some reporter, or even a newspaper to define a person's race.

    It may be that Ewing's father was African American and only African American. The invention of Scottish and Indigenous ancestry may have been invented to make her seem more exotic and thereby more acceptable to a perhaps snobby opera-going crowd. That may be why the question is shadowy despite what was written in interviews.

    Somerby is ridiculous in this description. A famous opera singer is going to be in a class by herself, as is her actress daughter. These people do not live the daily lives of everyone else.

    I have a half-Mexican American daughter who has darker than white skin. She is objectively beautiful. Such a child will frequently hear the question "what are you?" from curious others. She would answer Mexican-American and the asker would say, "But you can't be!" and she would say "Why not?" and they'd answer "Because my gardener is Mexican American." The obvious implication is not about occupation but about status. If someone appears too well off to be a member of a lower SES minority, they will be placed in a different, more exotic category. So that they can be accepted in the role they are playing without cognitive dissonance.

    Gates usually focuses on the ancestors that an audience will find most interesting. His reviews are not pretending to be comprehensive. Somerby has had this complaint before, worrying about the ancestors that weren't discussed on the show in order to invalidate a person's own sense of themselve and their identity.

    Passing wouldn't be necessary if race were not an organizing principle of American society. But it is. Even now -- witness Meghan Markle's problems and Somerby's complaints about her. Somerby somehow thinks there is a way for an inquisitive reporter to figure out who such women REALLY are, as if it matters and as if there is some objective answer when race is a socially constructed categorization system. Perhaps he thinks he is mocking the construction of race with his insistence that Kleeman must find answers to all the questions! But he is instead showing how clueless he is about how people relate to each other socially. And if he is serious, he is being majorly racist, in my opinion.

  11. “Both Ewing and Hall have the right to describe their identity in any way they choose, and the assumption is that they think of themselves that way. It isn't for Somerby, or some reporter, or even a newspaper to define a person's race.”

    Evidently, that is no longer “super problematic and wild”, huh?

    1. Nobody has any idea what your incoherent word salads mean, but for dressing i prefer a vinaigrette. Is the bread endless, like at Olive Garden?

    2. If you actually read what Somerby blogs, you might have an inkling.

    3. Bold claim, but no evidence.


      Bullshit, as usual.

    4. Your antagonism is childish. So you disagree? The world spins off its axis.

    5. How quickly Anonymices forget. TDH called this “The dumbest thing ever said.”

      I’d add the caveat….that wasn’t stated by an anonymouse.

      “ The popularity and ease of at-home DNA tests has led to a problematic conflation of genes and heritage with race, sociologists said. This has contributed to an unknown number of people marking multiple races on the census, despite having grown up identifying as one race, being perceived as that race and living in a culture that reflects that race.

      “To say that translates to somebody identifying as White, Black and Asian because their genetic ancestry points to those places on the globe is just really wild and super problematic,” said Nitasha Tamar Sharma, a professor of Asian American and African American studies at Northwestern University. “I find this to be in some cases a really racist role of peak Whiteness.”‘

    6. To understand why people should not be using these DNA tests to identify their own race you would need to understand how these DNA kits work. It isn't how you think.

    7. No, much to the professor Nitasha Tamar Sharma’s alarm, I prefer Anonymouse 9:44pm’s more scientific approach of going with “the right to describe your identify any way you choose”. It’s closer to colorblindness.

      Just try it though. Double dog dare you.