Archive for September, 2007

Transcending the quest for racial identity

Thursday, September 27th, 2007

Transcending the quest for racial identity
Thursday, September 27, 2007

By TARESSA STOVALL of The Montclair Times

Some bi/multi-racial people feel they have a choice of colors, options for selecting how they define their racial/ethnic identities. Between a decades-long movement to create a separate census category and an increasingly blended United States population bursting the seams of traditional definitions, the issue is on more peoples’ minds than ever before.

Charles Michael Byrd, who describes himself as being “of black, white and Cherokee heritage,” made a name as the editor and publisher of Interracial Voice Web site from 1995 to 2003. Byrd has taken his personal quest for identity beyond physical labels to a whole ’nother level.

In his first book, “The Bhagavad-Gita in Black and White: From Mulatto Pride to Krishna Consciousness,” (Backintyme, 2007) Byrd, whose Krishna name is Charukrishna, said he has found the answer to his lifelong quest of transcending race, ethnicity, religion and other physical categories to ascend to a higher, universal identity.

“The subtitle reflects my thinking over the years, my journey,” he said. Born and reared a Southern Baptist in Southwest Virginia, Byrd said he “came up buying into society’s notion that I was just a very light-skinned black kid. But over a period of time, when you keep looking at yourself in the mirror [and see that] there’s a disconnect there, I think you grow past the first level of identity that society gives you.”

“I went from black to being mulatto because one of my great-aunts used to tell me about back in the early days when the newspaper would list people as being black, white and mulatto,” he said.

“I don’t feel either black or white,” Byrd said, “but the racial identity crisis that this country causes, especially for people of mixed background, pushes you to search for a higher spiritual truth, something that makes sense of the madness behind lumping people into separate and distinct racial groupings.”

Now, when asked his identity, “I tell them I’m a human being, that I don’t racially identify anymore,” Byrd said. “Krishna Consciousness transcends identifying with the physical body. I no longer push for a multiracial identity because I’ve gone beyond that.”

Byrd’s turnaround from multiracial/mulatto crusader to the man who is above any race but human came in the form of a book. Seven or eight years ago, someone gave him a copy of “The Bhagavad-Gita: The Song of God,” which is widely considered to be sacred by many of the Hindu traditions, especially by followers of Krishna.

“I thought, ‘it’s a cult,’” said Byrd, who was familiar with the bald-headed, saffron-robed, chanting so-called Hare Krishnas who were often seen on street corners and in airports in the 1960s and 1970s. Then, curiosity drove him to read the book.

“It’s the deepest thing I’ve ever read in my life,” he said, inspired to learn more about the philosophy behind it. Today, he attends a Krishna temple in Brooklyn, and has gone through the first stage of initiation.

His leap from wrestling with black/white/other categories to transcendent Eastern theology is at the heart of “The Bhagavad-Gita in Black and White.”

“The book gives a pretty good outline of what’s been going on in this country the past few decades regarding racial identification, and freedom of association, such as interracial marriage,” Byrd said.

“Krishna consciousness is defined as the revival of our natural original consciousness of complete harmony with God, or Krishna,” he explained. “It changed me in the way I viewed myself, and it changed me in terms of how I view everything else. I see everyone else as emanating from the same source.”

Having fond a context and framework that work well for him, “I’d like to share it with others,” Byrd said.

“This book is primarily aimed at the multiracial population in America, and any American who wants to avail him or herself of the Vedic knowledge and how it might apply to the current situation of race consciousness in the United States,” Byrd said.

If you go

Charles Michael Byrd (Charukrishna) will discuss, read from and sign copies of “The Bhagavad-gita in Black and White: From Mulatto Pride to Krishna Consciousness,” on Thursday, Oct. 4, 7 to 8 p.m., in watchung booksellers, 54 Fairfield St., Watchung Plaza.