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Ironically, Tim Graham is More Right Than Wrong in His Insight About Karen Finney and "Blackness"

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Tim Graham should be hired to hold up brown paper bags against the skin of African-Americans in order to determine, to his satisfaction, if they are sufficient "black." Tim Graham could also perhaps be hired to help coordinate the next census as he trains others in this most important of tasks.

Despite the howls of his critics, Graham is (ironically) in some ways more accurate than not in his description of the relative "blackness" of Karen Finney, the newest host on MSNBC.

Race is a true lie and a social construction. The meaning of race, and how different people are located within its shifting boundaries and categories, is a function of the politics of the moment, and the type of "social work" that race does in a given society.

While not as infamous or well-known as Supreme Court Chief Justice Robert Taney who ruled over the Dredd Scott case, Judge Sutherland was also instrumental in how race was made in the United States during the early 20th century.

In his decision about Bhagat Singh Thind, a Sikh who petitioned for citizenship on the grounds that his people were "scientifically white," what was the legal prerequisite for naturalized citizenship, Judge Richardson rejected his claims and argued that "whiteness" was a category wholly determined by the "common sense" judgement of white men.

He wrote:

What we now hold is that the words “free white persons” are words of common speech, to be interpreted in accordance with the understanding of the common man, synonymous with the word “Caucasian” only as that word is popularly understood. As so understood and used, whatever may be the speculations of the ethnologist, it does not include the body of people to whom the appellee belongs.

It is a matter of familiar observation and knowledge that the physical group characteristics of the Hindus render them readily distinguishable from the various groups of persons in this country commonly recognized as white. The children of English, French, German, Italian, Scandinavian, and other European parentage, quickly merge into the mass of our population and lose the distinctive hallmarks of their European origin.

On the other hand, it cannot be doubted that the children born in this country of Hindu parents would retain indefinitely the clear evidence of their ancestry. It is very far from our thought to suggest the slightest question of racial superiority or inferiority. What we suggest is merely racial difference, and it is of such character and extent that the great body of our people instinctively recognize it and reject the thought of assimilation.

It is not without significance in this connection that Congress, by the Act of February 5, 1917 . . . has now excluded from admission into this country all natives of Asia within designated limits of latitude and longitude, including the whole of India. This not only constitutes conclusive evidence of the congressional attitude of opposition to Asiatic immigration generally, but is persuasive of a similar attitude toward Asiatic naturalization as well, since it is not likely that Congress would be willing to accept as citizens a class of persons whom it rejects as immigrants.

In the United States a person's status as "black" was determined by the "one-drop rule." This phrase signaled to how race is/was made by commonsense folk wisdom enforced and made real by pseudoscience, Power, and the State. One "drop" of "black blood" in the United States makes a person "black." Historically, this could mean the difference between slavery and freedom, life and death, or that one's children will be deemed the property of some other to be sold at auction.