As a person of “mixed race,” the NAACP president has little use for racial categories.
Question: How does the experience of “mixed race” Americans differ from that of “black” Americans?
Ben Jealous: You know, the beauty of being black in this society is that black has always been an inclusive definition. White has always been an exclusive definition. I think one of the challenges for white people in the next 40 years is to figure out how to have a more inclusive picture of who their families are, of who they are.
I grew up in a family where my father's white and my mother is black, but if we're honest, the exception may be the two or three generations in between on the black side, most of the male parents – it’s hard to call them a parent, you raped the mother, most of the male parents were white for generations. Growing up as a black kid with a white father who loves you, who affirms you, who was part of your life is fundamentally different than what people in my family were subjected to in the 19 century or the 18th century. But unfortunately, it doesn't change the old racial order. I think we need to, in this society, let the old racial order just stay where it is and not seek to improve upon it. Not try to create more racial categories, because all that does is it makes a race stick around longer. And the reality is that race is a lie built on a lie.
The first lie is that people are different, somehow skin color or hair texture is more significant than eye color, or the shape of one's feet. The second lie built on top of that is that then there's a hierarchy that that more significant difference, the color showing up as brown on your skin rather than brown in your hair, or whatever, is somehow more significant and there's some sort of hierarchy. That the lighter you are, the straighter your hair, the better you are. And Obama, Oprah, you know, Dick Parsons, whoever is -- ****, have blown that out of the water, President Obama, Michelle Obama for the country. The trick now is for us to really incorporate that into our family lives and for people to not just, I guess be led by their children for whom race is just much less significant, but to help lead their children, or at least follow willingly.
Recorded March 10th, 2010
Interviewed by Austin Allen