When William Edward Burghardt DuBois stated in his magnum opus The Souls of Black Folk that “the problem of the twentieth-century will be the problem of the color line” within that statement is an implied belief that problematic racial matters would only dog this nation for a century. Unfortunately, DuBois underestimated the staying power of racial animus within not only the United States, but also planet Earth.
Make no mistake about it, the most recent scuttlebutt regarding American racial matters emanates from actor Taye Diggs who has stepped into an arena that, judging from his initial statements, he knows little about. This dust-up revolves around his bi-racial son, Walker, and the issue of racial identity.
According to Diggs, his son should have the right to choose which race he will identify with as he is both black and white. Via instagram, Diggs related that “I am a proud black man. I want my son to grow up to be a proud black man if he so chooses. He has a mother who is white. He has every right to be just as proud of his mother’s ‘blood’ as well. Please wake up, people. It’s not that deep.” Apparently Diggs fervently believes this foolishness as he recently told The Grio that “I think when you (call biracial people black), you risk disrespecting half of who you are.”
The Best Man Actor went further and related that “I don’t want my son to be in a situation where he calls himself black and everybody thinks he has a black mom and a black dad and then when they see he has a white mother, they’re like, ‘What’s going on? Are you ashamed?’”
I would love to say that I am flabbergasted at Diggs perspective; however, I am neither surprised nor amused by the reality that yet another notable African-American celebrity is wasting what could be a prominent public platform to represent his people solely because he has little to no comprehension of American racial matters. Quite honestly, I have come to expect such asinine thoughts from individuals such as Diggs who bask in what must be a blinding Hollywood spotlight that blocks the view of African-American celebrities regarding racial matters.
The central problem with Diggs’ contention is that none of us are allowed to choose our racial/ethnic identity in America. Although it may be soothing to Diggs’ Negro soul to think that his child will be the first African-American person to escape the voluminous shadow of prejudice, discrimination, and racism; he will ultimately realize that not even money has been able to preclude what many term the stain of blackness. This socially constructed concept, meaning Race, is much more complex than someone like Diggs could ever imagine
In the utopia that individuals such as Diggs have created in their minds, Race does not determine the life chances and opportunities that a person will have available. Unfortunately for the eternal optimists, their fantasies do not hold much weight in the real world.
During a recent trip to Ghana, I had the pleasure of meeting with several Ghanaian collegians attending the University of Ghana. I soon found that they had little comprehension that when African-Americans emphasized their ‘blackness’ that it was not a physical description rather a political declaration that reflected the historic solidarity that our ancestors had to exhibit for sheer survival.
What individuals such as Taye Diggs fail to comprehend is that the myriad racial identifications that our people have undergone — Negro, Colored, Black, Afro-American, African-American — has frequently been a reaction to the pernicious white world supremacy that they have faced at every moment of their existence. Diggs should have enough sense to realize that not even his financial resources will be sufficient to protect his child from prejudiced people and discriminatory behavior.
Considering that it is best if we hear life-changing information from loved ones, there will come a time when Diggs should have a heart-to-heart talk with his son regarding racial matters. Failure to do so will leave him at the whim of a cruel world that has historically proven eager to denigrate Black children without the slightest provocation. Nearly every African-American below the age of 50 has an interesting story regarding when and how they learned that they were Black, especially if that information came from an outsider. And if Taye Diggs is not careful, his child could very well grow up devoid of a racial identity that is needed to navigate the prejudice, discrimination, and racism that every Black man is bound to experience in America.
James Thomas Jones III, Ph. D.
©Manhood, Race, and Culture, 2015.