In an emotional blog post on the Daily Kos website today, embattled Black Lives Matter organizer Shaun King finally revealed his secret: he had no idea who his real father is. King’s account confirmed all the key details of Breitbart’s reporting.
“Until this past week,” writes King, “never has anyone asked me who my father was during these 35 years of mine. It occurs to me now that I’ve never asked anyone that question either.”
Like much of what King says, that isn’t strictly true. For two months, bloggers and journalists have been asking King to comment on his ethnicity and to provide an explanation for the many inconsistencies in his public narrative. He didn’t do that; he blocked us all instead.
Now he has answered one looming question, at last. His defense until today appeared to be: my mother slept around, and never told me who my father was, and I still don’t know who he is but I’m sure he must have been black because I have always “felt” black and always enjoyed the company of black people.
Or: I don’t know who my dad is, but he’s definitely not the man on my birth certificate and he’s definitely black, but light-skinned. According to King, his mother told him yesterday, following our report, that she’d had an affair with a black man, who is his father.
Like everything else King says, this statement is best taken with a healthy dose of skepticism. There is no way to verify what he says, and no indication that King knows who his father is – only that he was black. Given how inconsistent King has been on other aspects of his biography, such as a “race hate” attack that may never have happened, the best approach may be to “trust, but verify.”
King has declined to perform the DNA test that would have provided an easy $25,000 from a black conservative group for Black Lives Matter and has not addressed the fact that his own extended family told both CNN and Breitbart that he was white.
King’s explanation of his own race, like Rachel Dolezal’s, boils down to feelings over facts. He has no idea who his biological father is, and has, by his own admission, never asked. But he felt an affinity for the black community, he says, so he identified as black. Were it not for our story, he would still be presenting himself as biracial without really knowing the truth.
Now he says he knows his father was a “light-skinned black man.” He knows this thanks to Breitbart’s reporting. He may not know who exactly his father is, and he may have chosen to represent himself as biracial for 30 years without being sure, but at least now – if he is telling the truth – he has achieved some degree of closure.
The Washington Post, to whom King gave an interview today, summarizes the case like this: “King said that he never knew who his biological father was, and realized at the age of 8 that he was likely biracial. He publicly identified as black throughout high school, and said by the time he went to college he ‘had honestly moved on from even wanting to know the details of who [his mother] slept with in January of 1979.'”
He writes: “A part of this story has always been that I never chose to be black/interracial. Not only was it chosen for me by birth, but white students and staff fundamentally rejected me. Furthermore, the black community, my peers, their parents, and local black leaders, seeing that I was, in essence, a kid without a community, embraced me in the deepest, most soul-soothing ways.”
“Every friend I had was black,” he continues, “my girlfriends were black, I was seen as black, treated as black, and endured constant overt racism as a young black teenager. Never have I once identified myself as white.”
Of course, King’s account of his childhood remains deeply unsatisfactory. He repeats a story about suffering from racist abuse at the hands of “rednecks” but does not address the questions that have been raised about his account and why it differs from the police report, nor why that report listed him as white.
He provides no comment on the many, very troubling financial allegations that are sure to dog him for the rest of this life, about which more is sure to be published here and elsewhere in the coming months. He doesn’t explain why he looks so similar to the man named on his birth certificate.
But at least there is the first step toward redemption in King’s admission that he accepted an Oprah scholarship without knowing whether or not he was eligible for one, and making no effort to find out.
Claiming to be biracial when you have no idea of your true ethnicity is a slightly lesser crime than claiming to be biracial when you know for a fact you are white. King says he had a hunch, in essence, but he never asked, perhaps because he didn’t want to know the answer. Now he knows.
Shaun King surrounded himself with black people: his wife, his daughters, his friends and his colleagues. By his own admission, he allowed them to believe in a state of affairs for which he had no evidence and about which he had cause for considerable doubt and confusion.
He doesn’t provide an explanation as to why a young boy who looked white and was raised by two white parents would adopt a black identity as an adult and become a leader in a movement called Black Lives Matter when he has no idea whether he was even biracial.
King’s extraordinary public meltdown and his evasion even in this apparently truthful confession have shown just what a mess identity politics in America now is. Perhaps, rather than welcoming in the Minority Wars that look set to define the next decade, American civil rights leaders and figureheads in the public square will start to argue with reason from facts, rather than relying endlessly on personal identity.
It may well be that King had a miserable childhood. Lots of us did. But most of us don’t weave a life story around rumor, speculation and shame and then leverage it for professional and educational advantage.
People who were always going to back King are backing King today. In responding to our story, Joy Reid at MSNBC and outlets like Gawker have attempted to smear our reporting as “racist.” Nothing could be further from the truth: it was black readers who first sent us questions about King, and it has been black readers who have moved this story forward, demanding answers to questions King has still not addressed about his charities’ finances.
It will remain a mystery why someone so troubled about his own racial identity could rise so far, so fast, in a movement dedicated to the advancement of African-Americans. But this chapter of King’s story, at least, is over for now. Breitbart’s reporting has been vindicated, and King’s family can finally move on.