Shades of Cray

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Day 0

My name is Alistair Cray. I was born to African American parents. I’ve spent the majority of my professional scientific career working to make myself white. Predictably, this has caused some controversy.

They all think I’m a racist-that may be the first thing liberals and white supremacists have ever agreed on. And those who don’t think I’m a racist assume I’m a coward, that I can’t take the discrimination, that it’s all about closing the wage gap, or the opportunity gap, or about being able to walk down a dimly lit street without every white woman crossing to the opposite sidewalk. And I’d be lying if I said I’ll miss any of that, but I see those things as unintended perks.

My critics have dubbed me “transracial.” At first I thought it was a boon, because it would link my studies and my thought to the transgender movement, and maybe even the nascent transhuman movement.

What I found instead was that trangendered people, on the whole, were just as disgusted by my work as evangelicals. In retrospect it shouldn’t have surprised me. Blacks aren’t statistically more likely to favor gay rights than whites; in fact, there’s some polling data to the contrary. Apparently, even those of us most affected by intolerance don’t recognize our own intolerance.

But it isn’t about them, and at the risk of alienating the good people who have come this far into reading this, it isn’t about you, either. It’s about me. It’s something I’ve always felt, always been.

Kids in school made fun of me, called me an Oreo. Growing up in a predominantly black school, being singled out as too white was not conducive to a happy childhood, and that lack of connection made me look for intellectual stimulation elsewhere, amongst my teachers, and amongst my studies.

But it goes back before that, even. Growing up, I used to have wonderful dreams. Dreams of splendor and fantasy. A knight fighting dragons for the favor of beautiful princesses, a spaceship captain romancing and blasting his way across the unknown corners of the galaxy, even simple quiet moments with a family of my own, smiling wife and happy, energetic children. In all of these dreams, without question or pretension, I was white.

I’m sure there are those who would hear that and presume that an Anglo-centric U.S. media warped my innocent brown mind- but as far back as I can remember, I felt white. It was quite a shock, really, when I started to realize that little dark child in the mirror was me.

That doesn’t mean I don’t love my parents, or don’t respect them. Just as the son of a bricklayer might want to be an astronaut (or the son of an astronaut might want to be a bricklayer), I don’t want what my parents had. I remember the first time I discussed it with my mother, she slapped me, and said, “Thank Jesus your father isn’t alive to hear you say that.”

I wish he were. I wish he’d lived long enough for me to get up the courage to tell him. I’m proud to be his son, proud that he worked so many extra hours at the mill to put me through school. Proud that he was so strong, and brave, and confident. I wanted to be all those things, to emulate him in all those things, but my whole life I felt like a swan raised by ducks. I know in our beauty-obsessed culture, that sounds like a value judgment, because swans are prettier, and more majestic, but it’s not; my parents are simply different from who I think I am. I still think I am a swan, and being a swan means being myself, not just quacking and waddling like I was raised to, to fit in.

But I wanted to jot down some of the technical bits, too. There are certain genes affiliated with racial characteristics, and more than half of my research focused on tracking those down.

Next, I took a sequence of my own DNA, and replaced African traits and characteristics with European ones. It sounds simple, but it wasn’t, and my research was enabled by the Human Genome project and hundreds, perhaps even thousands, of other studies.

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