Born the illegitimate, white-looking son of a dark-skinned woman in a small Virginia town in the 1950s, I squandered countless years wandering in the darkest mental ignorance before ultimately discovering that my atma-dharma (the natural devotional inclination of the soul or atma) or purpose on this planet was not to be a loyal servant to racial identity politics. Our eternal atma-dharma has nothing to do with the dharma of body, dynasty, caste or race. Those falsely identifying the body as the real self cannot fathom this.
That racial inheritance made me keenly aware, however, of the struggles multiracials endure regarding personal identification in a society that has only grudgingly begun publicly accepting the notion of hybridity. Even Barack Obama spent eight years on the global stage identifying exclusively as black, although the entire world knew of his white mother.
Against that backdrop, critics deride as naive post-racialism the notion that multiracial self-identification on the part of an ever increasing number of people may be, as the late mixed-race poet, novelist and philosopher Jean Toomer opined, “the turning point for the return of mankind, now divided into hostile races, to one unified race, namely, to the human race.”
Here’s the point that strident defenders of the racial status quo miss. It is not an individual’s duty to take a blood oath of fealty to a racial commune until such time that the last vestige of racism is eradicated from our sphere. The primary task of any human is inquiry. Who am I? From where did I come, and where am I going after death?
Even those whose elevated consciousness allows them to glimpse a transcendent form of existence often succumb to the argument that society’s fixation with making negative value judgments based on physical cues is the perpetual bane of the mixed-race due to their physical ambiguity. This supposedly leaves them exposed to hurtfully racist experiences, and, besides, the officially recognized minority racial groups — who would resultantly offer comfort and succor — need the official number count to remain constant in order to maintain accrued political power and continue monitoring racial discrimination. Civil rights organizations employed that argument to block a census 2000 multiracial classification.
Using race to monitor race, however, results in one thing – race-consciousness, along with the concept of “the other” and the twin iniquities of superiority and inferiority. The mixed-race also collect hurt from the minority side of the ledger in the form of guilt trips relating to “trying to be white” or “running away from blackness” in the case of the mulatto. That individuals are so overwhelmed by internalized victimhood and self-loathing that they attempt to prevent others from liberating themselves from artificial political collectives exposes the inherent weakness in the continual use of mutually exclusive racial groupings – upon which people become completely dependent — to monitor racialized forms of disadvantage.
Organized religion has become so politicized itself that it does little to affirm the soul as superior to flesh. Conversely the world’s more esoteric belief systems affirm that you’re not your body — not even the blood coursing through your veins — and that inquiry as to why we have assumed these forms is paramount, not railing against and perpetrating violence against other bodies. Remaining enmeshed in racial ignorance is yielding to the proposition that human makeup is considerably higher, deeper than we’ve previously imagined.
Black/white Americans essentially fall into two camps. The first are those who quickly began searching for a higher truth allowing them to make sense of the madness behind lumping human beings into separate and distinct racial groupings. They fundamentally agree with Toomer. The second faction views its European ancestry and the attendant colonialist history as evil incarnate, irredeemably racist. They are practitioners of what John McWhorter has dubbed the religion of antiracism that demands the incessant chanting of mantras from a prayer book of emotionally charged social issues — while disregarding underlying realities.
For example, my response to “Black Lives Matter!” is “All Black Lives Should Matter!” Ignoring hundreds of black youth slaughtered by other black youth while fixating on a far lesser number whose lives were snuffed out by white cops is beyond comprehension. This is more the power of cultish indoctrination than enlightenment leading out from the dark night of the soul.
The philosophy of multiracial identity points toward an embrace of humanity, the platform from which one can best cultivate spiritual self-realization. Those contemplating navigating that road less traveled might consider these meditations valuable on their journey.
Charles Michael Byrd, a freelance opinion writer whose pieces deal with racial identity politics and religion, is of white, black and Cherokee heritage. He lives in Queens, N.Y. @ChasbyrdM