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Choosing Your Own: Definition of Race Becoming Fluid



In this image released by NBC News, former NAACP leader Rachel Dolezal appears on the "Today" show set on Tuesday, June 16, 2015, in New York. Dolezal was born to two parents who say they are white, but she chooses instead to self-identify as black. Her ability to think she has a choice shows a new fluidity in race in a diversifying America, a place where the rigid racial structures that defined most of this country’s history seems, for some, to be falling to the wayside. (Anthony Quintano/NBC News via AP)

In this image released by NBC News, former NAACP leader Rachel Dolezal appears on the “Today” show set on Tuesday, June 16, 2015, in New York. Dolezal was born to two parents who say they are white, but she chooses instead to self-identify as black. (Anthony Quintano/NBC News via AP)

JESSE J. HOLLAND, Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — Rachel Dolezal, born to white parents, self-identifies as black — a decision that illustrates how fluid identity can be in a diversifying America, as the rigid racial structures that have defined most of this country’s history seem, for some, to be softening.

Dolezal resigned as the leader of the NAACP’s Spokane, Washington, branch after questions surfaced about her racial identity. When asked directly on NBC’s “Today” show Tuesday whether she is “an African-American woman,” Dolezal replied, “I identify as black.”

Her parents identified her as white with a trace of Native American heritage, and her mother, Ruthanne Dolezal, has said Rachel began to “disguise herself” as black after her parents adopted four black children more than a decade ago.

Dolezal isn’t the first person to make this type of change. Millions of Americans changed racial or ethnic identities between the 2000 and 2010 censuses, even though their choices may have contradicted what their skin color appeared to be, or who their parents said they are.

“It forces us to really question whether or not this biological basis for identity is a smart path to continue down in the future,” said Camille Gear Rich, a University of Southern California law and sociology professor who writes about elective race choices.

Americans have become comfortable with people self-identifying their race, Rich said, “but often that invocation of identity based on a biological claim isn’t backed up by anything else after the claim is made.”

In the United States, there is an expectation that people would have a biological connection to a racial or an ethnic identity they are claiming, said Nikki Khanna, a University of Vermont sociology professor. She co-authored a 2010 study that found increasing numbers of biracial adults were choosing to self-identify as multiracial or black instead of white.

“There really is no biological basis to race, but what I’m saying is that in our society the everyday person tends to think race must have some link to ancestry,” Khanna said. “So we expect that when people self-identify with a particular group they must have some ancestral link to that group.”

In the past, race was determined mostly by what other people thought a person was. For example, the Census Bureau’s enumerators would determine on their own what a person’s race was, and classify them as such. By the 1960s and 1970s, census officials were allowing people to self-identify.

Currently, the Census Bureau allows people to choose a racial category, or even multiple categories, to which they think they belong. The census identifies races as white; black or African-American; American Indian or Alaska Native; Asian; Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander; and “some other race” for those claiming more than one race. There is also a Hispanic ethnic category.

People have been using that freedom since the early 2000s to move back and forth. They switched between races, moved from multiple races to a single race or back, or decided to add or drop Hispanic ethnicity from their identifiers on census forms.

Last year, a study showed that 1 in 16 people — or approximately 9.8 million of 162 million — who responded to both the 2000 and 2010 censuses gave different answers when it came to race and ethnicity. In addition, in the 2010 census, more than 21.7 million — at least 1 in 14 — went beyond the standard labels and wrote in such terms as “Arab,” ”Haitian,” ”Mexican” and “multiracial.”

Dolezal, 37, said Tuesday that published accounts described her first as “transracial,” then “biracial,” then as “a black woman.” ”I never corrected that,” she conceded, adding that “it’s more complex than being true or false in that particular instance.”

She and her parents have disagreed about her backstory. Dolezal says she started identifying as black around age 5, when she drew self-portraits with a brown crayon. Her mother told Fox News on Tuesday that’s not true.

Dolezal has gotten support from some in the black community, who say she should be allowed to self-identify as she pleases. However, other African-Americans say she is “passing” — a term mainly used to describe blacks who looked white enough to deny their African ancestry — and should not claim a racial identity that she cannot prove.

She isn’t the only person who has faced that accusation. An opponent of Houston Community College trustee Dave Wilson complained that campaign mailings Wilson sent to voters in the predominantly black district implied Wilson, who is white, was black. U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts faced questions about her Native American ancestry during her last election after being listed as such in several law school directories.

Some people have used their ability to self-identify as another race simply to get access to resources aimed at minorities, Rich said, but “race is something that is a social contract and it is not something that you just passively inhabit.”

That’s why Rich said she isn’t comfortable with people announcing themselves as a member of a community. “There might be some spaces in which Rachel gets to be a black person, but I want to be very careful about any context in which she is taking away resources from people who have come from a more subordinated experience,” she said.


Jesse J. Holland covers race, ethnicity and demographics for The Associated Press. Contact him on Twitter at

Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Bay Area

Nigerian Bank Chief Killed in Helicopter Crash on Way to Superbowl XVIII

According to the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Dept., the crash occurred near Nipton, on the edge of the Mojave Desert Preserve. The poor weather conditions — rain, wind and snow showers—may have contributed to the accident, although the investigation is not complete. All six aboard were killed. Herbert Wigwe, 57, founded Access Bank in 1989, and it became the country’s largest competitor, Diamond Bank in 2018.



Herbert Wigwe with his wife, Chizoba Wigwe, left, and Abimbola Ogunbanjo, right. ENigeria Newspaper image.
Herbert Wigwe with his wife, Chizoba Wigwe, left, and Abimbola Ogunbanjo, right. ENigeria Newspaper image.

By Post Staff

The co-founder of one of Nigeria’s largest banks died with his wife, son and three others when the helicopter transporting them from Palm Springs, Ca., to Boulder City, Nev. to attend the fifty-eighth SuperBowl at the stadium outside Las Vegas crashed on Feb. 9.

According to the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Dept., the crash occurred near Nipton, on the edge of the Mojave Desert Preserve. The poor weather conditions — rain, wind and snow showers—may have contributed to the accident, although the investigation is not complete. All six aboard were killed

Herbert Wigwe, 57, founded Access Bank in 1989, and it became the country’s largest competitor, Diamond Bank in 2018.

More recently, Wigwe was planning to open a banking service in Asia this year after making successful expansions to other parts of Africa, including South Africa, Kenya, and Botswana.

Nigerian President Bola Tinubu described Wigwe’s death as an ‘overwhelming tragedy.”

Oakland resident and Nigerian immigrant Kayode Gbadebo agrees with Tinubu. He met Wigwe in Nigeria but crossed paths with him in London in 2006. Wigwe, he said, “took risks.”

He was young and people thought he couldn’t do what he intended, which was not so much about money but community.

“He was more like Jesus in washing the feet of the poor– Wigwe was culturizing community,” Gbadebo said.

“There will never be another like him. This is a deep, deep loss” and he hopes everyone will eventually “be comforted.”

He was also disappointed that a replacement has already been named even before Wigwe is buried. “It is not reasonable. You don’t want a vacuum, but it’s” not fair to the family, Gbadebo observed.

Wigwe had also been working to solve the migration issues from African countries, believing that “investing in higher education was key to controlling mass migration, which “is destabilising countries across the world,” BBC News reported.

“We need to take a holistic approach to address global migration, starting with our traditional framework for international development,” Wigwe wrote.

To that end, according to BBC News, Wigwe was preparing to open Wigwe University in Niger, where he was from.

“The best place to limit migration is not in the middle of the Mediterranean or the English Channel or the Rio Grande. It is in the home countries that so many migrants are so desperate to leave,” he wrote, saying his university was an opportunity for him “to give back to society.”

Besides Wigwe and his wife, Chizoba Nwuba Wigwe, and one son, two crew members and Bimbo Ogunbanjo, former group chairman of the Nigerian Exchange Group Plc, were also killed in the crash.

According to Wikipedia, three other children survive Wigwe.

In his statement reported in People magazine, Tinubu described Wigwe as “a distinguished banker, humanitarian, and entrepreneur.”

“I pray for the peaceful repose of the departed and ask God Almighty to comfort the multitude of Nigerians who are grieving and the families of the deceased at this deeply agonizing moment,” the president said.

He added, “Their passing is an overwhelming tragedy that is shocking beyond comprehension.”

Besides feeling the tremendous loss, Gbadebo fears the disorder and greed that will follow. “It’s a mess,” he said.

People magazine, BBC News and Wikipedia were the sources for this report.

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Faces Around the Bay: Rhem Bell

In 1863, Captain Horace James established a camp for freedmen near New Bern. James City was named in his honor. The attributes of having been reared and educated in the legacy of freedmen continues to run deep in my soul,” said Rehm Bell.



Rhem Bell. Courtesy photo.
Rhem Bell. Courtesy photo.

By Barbara Fluhrer

Rhem Bell has lived in various places around the Bay Area and served in several capcities as an activist and labor rights supporter since his arrival more from North Carolina more than 25 years ago.

A very private person, he preferred to speak about the place that shaped him and how it influenced his perception of opportunities here.

“My original home community, prior to relocating to California, was James City, a small town east of New Bern, N.C.  James City was known as a Freedmen’s, Negro and eventually a Black village. Many of the people who reside there are descendants of former slaves who populated the area during the Civil War and Reconstruction.

“The village began with the seizure and subsequent occupation of New Bern by the Union Army in March, 1862. It was then that New Bern became a refugee center for thousands of North Carolina slaves who sought freedom and safety within Union lines.

In 1863, Captain Horace James established a camp for freedmen near New Bern. James City was named in his honor. The attributes of having been reared and educated in the legacy of freedmen continues to run deep in my soul,” Bell said.

“Throughout the San Francisco Bay Area are reminders of my hometown: of micro-cultures or villages amongst and just outside of the urban experience.

Hailing from a small town under Jim Crow and segregated schools left an indelible impact that fueled Bell’s determination to honor ancestral and deep family roots steeped in the spirit of freedmen.

“It did not take long, upon arrival in California, for me to realize that the San Francisco Bay Area was a place to pursue a career, invest in educational opportunities, build deep relationships with family, neighbors, friends, colleagues, and continue the legacy of my village, my community…a place to call home,” Bell said.

His life motto is: “Keep the Faith and Build a Life of Service.”

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Oakland Post: Week of February 21 – 27, 2024

The printed Weekly Edition of the Oakland Post: Week of February 21 – 27, 2024



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