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Marcia Dawkins Headshot

Black, White and Other... Worldwide

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Even though the 21st century is seeing an exponential increase in reports of multiracial ancestry worldwide, exactly what makes a person multiracial remains a puzzling concept. According to the Association of Multiethnic Americans and Project RACE, the definition of a multiracial/interracial person is either someone whose parents were of more than one race or racial background, or someone who had parents that were of different racial groups. But what about those who identify with more than one racial background, irrespective of their parents' identities? Or, those who identify with a racial background completely different from those of their parents?

Case in point: Nmachi Ihegboro, a blond haired and blue-eyed white baby born earlier this month to proud black Nigerian parents Ben and Angela Ihegboro in London UK. Nmachi's parents are somewhat mystified about how they could create a white child and they are not the only ones. According to the New York Post, genetics experts are also baffled. So far they have offered three theories: (1) Nmachi "is the result of a gene mutation unique to her. If that is the case, Nmachi would pass the gene to her children -- and they, too, would likely be white. (2) She's the product of long-dormant white genes... that might have been carried by" her ancestors "for generations without surfacing until now." Genetics professor Sykes of Oxford University thinks that some form of mixed race ancestry would seem to be necessary, and notes that sometimes multiracial women can carry some genetic material for white children and some genetic material for black children. It is also conceivable that the same holds true for multiracial men. (3) "While doctors have said Nmachi is not an outright albino, or lacking in all pigment, they added that the child may have some kind of mutated version of the genetic condition -- and that her skin could darken over time."

The take home point seems to be that something is, in fact, unusual about the circumstances of Nmachi's birth. History reveals that this is not necessarily the case, especially during the slavery and segregation eras in the United States. Many white parents gave birth to black children, so many that the U. S. ultimately had to enforce the "one drop rule," that classified everyone with any black features or any amount of black blood as black. It is telling that the same type of genetic scrutiny that Nmachi experienced was not enforced on most of these births.

What will be even more interesting than Nmachi's birth is how her racial self-concept develops. We can only speculate how she will answer questions regarding her ethnic and/or racial origin. It is clear that when she needs to "tick the box that... most adequately describes" her ethnic origin for the British Census, she will have many options. Will she tick the White box, the Black or Black British - African box, the Black Other box, the Mixed White and Black African box, the Other mixed background box or Other ethnic background box? No matter how Nmachi chooses to identify at various points in her life, her experiences will continue to challenge conventional thinking about racial and multiracial identity all over the world. Hopefully, along with Nmachi, we will all come to understand race as a way of thinking that is as much a symbolic social construct as it may also be a biological matter of fact.