In the current world of racial politics, a prize-winning Dutch author lost a job translating a Black American poet, Amanda Gorman. Why? There was an uproar because the publisher had chosen a white translator.
In 2021 racial politics, the actor Daniel Kaluuya, who recently played 1960s Black radical Fred Hampton, introduced himself to a “Saturday Night Live” audience this way: “I know you’re hearing my accent and thinking ‘Oh no, he’s not Black — he’s British.’ I’m here to reassure you that I am Black. I’m Black. And I’m British.”
And in today’s world of racial niche media, a white TV host recently dismissed me from appearing on his show to discuss race relations by telling me I didn’t qualify because I was born in Panama.
He thinks I’m not Black enough. Seriously.
The white host of the PBS-affiliated show “This is America & the World,” flatly said despite my black skin — and award-winning books on race relations — my place of birth made me a bad fit for a discussion on the racial unrest following the murder of George Floyd.
I’m a big boy. To live as a Black man in America for the last 63 years requires tough skin.
I already have to deal with the fact that a lot of people can’t find the right box for a black Democrat who works for Fox News.
But rejecting me over where I was born is a new one.
I wouldn’t have known why the invitation was revoked if the host had not been so confident in his racial calculation that he sent me a note to share his thinking.
He opened a window on the kind of thinking once used to keep Blacks, women, Latinos, Asians — basically anyone but white men — out of public debates.
For most of American history, no-one blinked at the absence of those voices in dialogue about economics, foreign policy, scientific innovation. It was simply assumed that they lacked expertise and their point of view was marginal.
But as a Black American author of several best-selling books on civil rights history, it is new ground for me to be segregated out of a discussion about race relations.
What if I was white? In the TV host’s twisted sense of racial identity, are all white people also disqualified from a discussion about race?
If that’s the case, why was he hosting a show on race relations?
In any case, he is right that I was born in Panama.
But there’s more to the story.
I have lived in the United States since age four in Black skin.
I grew up in a low-income, Black neighborhood in Brooklyn.
In fact, according to an Ancestry.com survey I did a few years back, I am not, as he said his research determined, “100 percent Panamanian.”
I’m actually 50 percent African, 30 percent Indian and a 20 percent hodgepodge of Irish, Scottish and Norwegian genes.
There’s a lot of mixing in there — no doubt due to slavery and rape of Black women by slave holders over the centuries. But in a nation with a deep history of racial division, I’m definitely a Black man.
Genetically speaking, I’m more closely related to Vice President Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisMedia complicity in rise of the ‘zombie president’ conspiracy Trump looms over Senate’s anti-Asian hate crimes battle DC goes to the dogs — Major and Champ, that is MORE — her father is from Jamaica and her mother from India — than I am to former Panamanian leader Manuel Noriega.
As a matter of family history, my dad is Black. He was born in Jamaica. My mom was born in Panama to a father from India. Her mother, a Black woman of African descent, was born in Grenada.
All this personal history is a very common story for descendants of the Black diaspora. Our ancestors were taken from Africa by the millions in the transatlantic slave trade and brought to the Caribbean, Latin America and the United States.
But not only did the PBS host ignore my personal background, he was also blind to my professional background.
As an author and journalist at The Washington Post, NPR, and Fox News, I’ve covered race relations in America for over 40 years.
My book on the history of the Civil Rights movement, “Eyes on the Prize,” won awards. My biography of the first black Supreme Court Justice, “Thurgood Marshall: American Revolutionary,” was named one of the best biographies of all-time in 2018.
My most recent book, “What the Hell Do You Have to Lose?,” was an indictment of Trump’s abysmal civil rights record and the damage he did by reviving white supremacist politics.
I have been fired by white liberals.
Far-left Black thinkers point to my work at Fox and mistakenly label me a Black conservative.
Meanwhile, white conservatives have dismissed me as a Black liberal.
Former President TrumpDonald TrumpGraham: ‘I could not disagree more’ with Trump support of Afghanistan troop withdrawal GOP believes Democrats handing them winning 2022 campaign Former GOP operative installed as NSA top lawyer resigns MORE has attacked me as “always nasty and wrong.”
My purpose in recounting these attempts at putting me in racial and ideological categories is to shine a light on current walls impeding honest debate about race in America.
There is now an idea that only pre-approved Black, Latino and white people are allowed to speak about race.
There is no way to judge someone’s ideas and heart unless you hear them out.
The sin here is arrogance. It is an unspoken bias that causes too many gatekeepers in American media, business and academia to put people in boxes so they can dismiss or ignore their point of view.
It needs to be called out. So I’m calling out. Let’s all try to do better.
Juan Williams is an author, and a political analyst for Fox News Channel.