Yesterday, social media was in a tizzy talking about Black Lives Matter activist Shaun King and his racial makeup. A conservative, right-winged, historically inaccurate website Breitbart attempted to make King out of a liar saying that he’s only been pretending to be Black, pretending to be oppressed. And while King was a bit careful and guarded when he issued his initial response to the attack, today, in an extended essay for The Daily Kos, he told the full story, or as much as felt comfortable sharing with many who sought to discredit him yesterday.
On his parentage
The reports about my race, about my past, and about the pain I’ve endured are all lies. My mother is a senior citizen. I refuse to speak in detail about the nature of my mother’s past, or her sexual partners, and I am gravely embarrassed to even be saying this now, but I have been told for most of my life that the white man on my birth certificate is not my biological father and that my actual biological father is a light-skinned black man. My mother and I have discussed her affair. She was a young woman in a bad relationship and I have no judgment. This has been my lived reality for nearly 30 of my 35 years on earth. I am not ashamed of it, or of who I am—never that—but I was advised by my pastor nearly 20 years ago that this was not a mess of my doing and it was not my responsibility to fix it. All of my siblings and I have different parents. I’m actually not even sure how many siblings I have. It is horrifying to me that my most personal information, for the most nefarious reasons, has been forced out into the open and that my private past and pain have been used as jokes and fodder to discredit me and the greater movement for justice in America. I resent that lies have been reported as truth and that the obviously racist intentions of these attacks have been consistently downplayed at my expense and that of my family.
Learning and coming to terms with his Blackness
When I was 8 years old and in the second grade, black children first began asking me if I was “mixed.” In our house, my white mother, the sweetest woman ever and one of the best friends I’ve ever had, didn’t talk much about race. Most white families don’t. It’s part of the privilege. I didn’t even know what “mixed” was. This isn’t a secret. I’ve told this story publicly in front of thousands of people.
After that day when I was first asked if I was mixed, while I was still a very young child, kids and their well-intentioned parents began telling me they knew who my black father was, that I was so and so’s cousin, etc. This was in small-town Versailles, Kentucky, in the 1980s. It happened regularly for years on end. While I didn’t have an understanding of the national dialogue on interracial children, I knew even as a young child that what people were telling meant something very peculiar and unflattering about my mother. I was aware at how different I looked than my siblings, but didn’t understand DNA or genealogy. They were my family and I loved them…
By the time I reached middle school, I fully identified myself not even as biracial, but just as black. Of course, that was an oversimplification of my story, but that was what made sense at that time. Adults who loved and knew me, on many occasions sat me down and told me that I was black. As you could imagine, this had a profound impact on me and soon became my truth.
He also spoke in depth the very real abuses he suffered as a Black child in a rural town, including being called Nigger, being spat on, having tobacco thrown in his face and being jumped by a mob of angry, racist teenagers.
As a result of that beating, King has had to have several spinal surgeries. He had to have one after he was accepted to Morehouse, on a full academic and leadership scholarship. He subsequently lost the scholarship and was later awarded one by Oprah Winfrey.
She wanted it to be for “diamonds in the rough” and that was pretty much who I was at that point. I didn’t apply for it. Nobody does. The college selects brothers who need it and I was, very gratefully, chosen for it
And lastly he addressed the intentions with which people sought to question or raise doubt to his racial identity.
Not one person behind these reports has remotely good intentions—quite the opposite, in fact. Since these articles have been released, my family and I have received constant death threats and nonstop racist harassment. Multiple members of my family have been harassed and we now have been forced to take extra security measures for our safety.
This was the goal… divide and conquer. But I will not allow it to define or distract me for one more day and hope that all of you reading this will move on with me. I have promised my wife, kids, extended family, and friends that this will be the last time I talk about this publicly for a long time. My work has never been about me and I’ve never made a big deal about my race. I’ve actually tried hard to avoid ever making a big deal out of it and have, instead, simply tried to do good work that matters. I’m eager to get back to the cause that concerns me most.
My focus will continue to be ending police brutality. I believe it is the pre-eminent civil rights issue of modern America and that, together, we can fight against it effectively.
It is a complete and utter shame that Shaun had to come out and detail his parentage. Particularly when the people who are calling for it, could care less about whether or not he’s exploiting Black people. It was never about that. It’s sad. But if there’s any good that can come of this, people will think twice about the information and the source of the information they consume. And perhaps we won’t be so ready and willing to tear down our own letters just because White folks said so.
Amen, God Bless and goodnight, there’s nothing more to see here.
You can read Shaun’s full essay over at The Daily Kos.