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My little sister had red hair. I mean, really red hair: dark, bright, astounding.

When she was a very young child, adults, particularly women, would gush over how beautiful her hair looked. This constant barrage got on her nerves.

One day, after being asked for the umpteenth time where she got her “beautiful red hair,” she responded, “my hair is black!”

That was a statement, a social statement. I am not sure if it was irony, exactly, but it was a signal: stop bugging me.

Many statements are not what they seem. What looks like a false statement may very well be a performance of some sort, a “speech act” more than a proposition.

Which brings us to race. In America, sometimes it seems as if everything brings us back to race. The fretting about race is so ubiquitous that I would not be shocked to hear someone respond to some inapt racial query with “my race is red, white and blue.”

But we probably will not hear this from Michael Jackson’s daughter, Paris.

83FE0212-4584-44EE-85DE-EB247C7E6E80“Most people,” she says, “that don’t know me call me white. I’ve got light skin and, especially since I’ve had my hair blond, I look like I was born in Finland or something.”

So, doesn’t that make her white?

At least “off-white”?

Not according to her father, who “would look me in the eyes and he’d point his finger at me and he’d be like, ‘You’re Black. Be proud of your roots.’”

Dutifully, she follows her late father’s instructions. “I consider myself Black,” she says.

She does not look “black.”

I guess the one-drop rule still applies. The commonsense color-coded race designators no longer apply; it is not about color as such, any more. The issue seems to be tribal membership, instead . . . and there is open enrollment.

Or maybe it is about self-identification, the presentation of self in a social context. It is a badge.

Progress? Regress?

I confess, it seems utter perversity to me. But then, I not only look “like I was born in Finland or something,” according to 23andMe I am thoroughly and almost entirely Finnish. To me, race and ethnicity are fun games to play, something of a lark. But seriously, I “identify” as my very own self, an individual. Or That Individual, as Kierkegaard put it.

Others do not have — or take — that “privilege.”

They seem to prefer not to emphasize their personhood.

Bizarre.

twv

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