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12 Light, Bright, Damn Near White Race, the Politics of Genealogy, and the Strange Case of Susie Guillory ANTHONY G. BARTHELEMY Because most whites believed in white supremacy, their attitudes had a profound effect on the way Negroes viewed themselves. Since white skin was glorified, since whites had all of the power and most of the wealth and education, many Negroes accepted the concept of the goodness, purity, and sanctity of whiteness and the degradation of blackness. Consequently, many of them tried and a number succeeded in passing for white. Mulatto women sometimes spurned unions with blacks and welcomed white males because they were flattered by the attentions they received from the "superior" race. —-John Blassingame, Black New Orleans What is metaphysics? A white mythology which assembles and reflects Western culture: the white man takes his own mythology (that is, Indo-European mythology), his logos—that is, the mythos of his idiom, for the universal form of that which it is still his inescapable desire to call Reason. What is white mythology? It is metaphysics which has effaced in itself that fabulous scene which brought it into being, and which yet remains, active and stirring, inscribed in white ink, an invisible drawing covered over in the palimpsest. —Jacques Derrida, "White Mythology" 252 LIGHT, BRIGHT,DAMN NEAR WHITE 253 From 1970 to 1983, the state of Louisiana held the distinction of being the only state in the Union to have a legally mandated mathematical formula for determining the race of its citizens: "In signifyingrace, a person having one-thirty-second or less of Negro blood shall not be deemed, described , or designated by any public official in the State of Louisiana as 'colored,' a 'mulatto,' a 'black,' a 'negro,' a 'griffe,' an 'Afro-American,' a 'quadroon,' a 'mestizo,' a 'colored person,' or a 'person of color.' '?1 This 1970 law was repealed because of the ignominy surrounding the case of Susie Guillory Phipps, who, in aJane Doe case, sued the state in 1982 to have the racial classification on her birth certificate changed from "colored" to "white." Proclaiming herself to be "all white"—a needless redundancy, if not an impossibility, since what had been legislated was the "notnegro"—Guillory, described in the New Orleans TimesPicayune as "a nervous, olive complexioned, neatly dressed woman," avowed: "I wasraised as a white child. I went to a white school. I married white twice." Her suit made headlines around the country, asnewspapers everywhere expressed delighted shock that in 1982 Louisiana proved itself still backward enough to have that one-thirty-second rule for determining the race of its citizens. The New York Times editorialized: "What is most offensive about the Louisiana law, and racial typing anywhere, is its extreme bias in favor of whites. If society must make a distinction, at least let it split the difference evenly: a person is white if 51 percent white, black if 51 percent black. And let us move as quickly as possible toward the day when any distinction is no longer useful." With suitable Mardi Gras flourish, the Times-Picayune commented, "Measuring in precise fractions the contribution of different races over generations—racial mixture is said to have entered Mrs. Phipps' ancestry in the late 17605—is best left to the successors of those who counted angels dancing on the head of a pin." In the Washington Post, Dorothy Gilliam remarked, "Instead of tut-tutting Susie Phipps, those of us who have been fooling ourselves into thinking that something had changed fundamentallyin America ought to be thankful for the reminder that it hasn't. This story is as old as the nation."2 1. Louisiana Revised Statutes, title 42, sec.267. 2. Ed Anderson, "Parents RaisedHer as a 'White Child,' Woman Tells Court," New Orleans Times-Picayune, September 14, 1982; Editorial, New York Times, September 26, 1982; Editorial, New Orleans Times-Picayune, September 23, 1982; Dorothy Gilliam, Washington Post, October 2, 1982. 254 ANTHONYG. BARTHELEMY All of the rhetoric in America's newspapers, however, could not possibly unravel the complicated web of Susie Guillory's case. Gilliam came closest to appreciating its complexity in her comment that the story was as old as the nation; indeed, this is a story even older than the nation, and one that the very idea of "news" cannot properly comprehend or explicate . That the story wasnews reveals the irony of its intrusion into the American consciousness, since American culture at every level exhibits its race consciousness. Even the drafting of the Constitution...


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