21 "Soulmaning": Using Race for Political and Economic Gain
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21 "Soulmaning": Using Race for Political and Economic Gain LUTHER WRIGHT, JR. Philip and Paul Malone, twin brothers from Boston, applied to be firefighters in 1975, but were not hired because of low civil service test scores. The brothers reapplied in 1977, changing their racial classifications from "white" to "black"l Due to a court mandate requiring Boston to hire more minority firefighters and police/ the Malones were hired in 1978, even though their test scores remained the same. Had the Malones listed their race as white in 1977, they most likely would have been denied employment a second time. In 1988, ten years after being hired, the Malone brothers' racial classifications were questioned by a Boston Fire Commissioner when the twins applied for promotions. The commissioner, who knew the twins personally, was puzzled that they listed their race as black After a state hearing, Philip and Paul Malone were fired for committing "racial fraud."3 Hispanic and black organizations in Boston criticized the city government for allowing the Malones to work for ten years before questioning their racial identity. These organizations called for a full investigation of the Malones' case and for prompt investigation of other·allegations of racial fraud. One Boston official claimed that as many as sixty other firefighters had engaged in racial fraud, but other officials estimated that the actual number was closer to ten. Shortly after the Malones' hearing, eleven Boston firefighters classifying themselves as Hispanic were investigated; two resigned.4 In the mid-1980s, allegations of racial fraud also surfaced in the political arena. In 1984, Stockton, California, City Councilman Mark Stebbins survived a recall election organized by a black councilman he had defeated.5 Stebbins, described as a man with a "broad nose, light complexion, blue eyes and curly brown hair ... worn in a short Afro style," had run as a black candidate in the city council election. While the birth certificates of Stebbins's parents and grandparents listed their race as white, and Stebbins acknowledged that his siblings were white, he contended that he was black At the time of the election, Stebbins's council district was forty-six percent Latino and thirty-seven percent black Accused of lying about his race to get votes, Stebbins argued that he first believed he was black when he was growing up and other children referred to him as "niggerhead." Stebbins also hinted he believed he had a black ancestor who had passed as white. Despite this somewhat tenuous assertion, many of the black leaders in the community accepted him as black, apparently to gain more minority influence on the counci1.6 American society has long differentiated among individuals on the basis of race. Paul 48 VAND L. REV. 513 (1995). Originally published in the Vanderbilt Law Review. Reprinted by permission. Copyrighted Material 126 Luther Wright, Jr. Finkelman recently noted, "the word 'race' defies precise definition in American Law."? No physical attribute or collection of physical attributes adequately defines "race." This lack of a precise definition led to accusations of racial fraud in the Malones and Stebbins cases. The make-shift definition of race used during the Malones' hearing encompassed appearance , self-identification of the family in the community, and ancestry. In the Stebbins election , California voters and leaders created a definition of race premised on physical features and personal self-identification, but paid absolutely no attention to Stebbins's obviously white ancestry. Finkelman argues, and the Malones and Stebbins cases support the assertion , that the American definition of race is much like Justice Potter Stewart's definition of obscenity-"I know it when I see it."B The problem with race, as with pornography, is that people "see it" differently. From slavery to the present, some blacks have passed for white. In recent years, incidents of whites claiming to be black have become more and more frequent. I use the term "soulmaning "9 to describe whites passing for black to gain employment, education, and political opportunities. The Malones and Stebbins incidents illustrate soulmaning. [See Chapter 43, below. Ed.] While the case of Mark Stebbins may seem unbelievable, his case is probably more common. The "Black Pride" movement of the 1960s encouraged people to take pride in and embrace their fractional black heritage. Mark Stebbins may have been one of these individuals, but that seems highly unlikely. The political benefit that he received by identifying himself as black in a district composed of thirty-seven percent blacks and eighty-three percent minorities is a classic...


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