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ELIJAH'S LIFE, ELIJAH'S RACE



Published: Tue, June 19, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



Toronto Globe and Mail: Elijah Van de Perre is a four-year-old boy. If he is like most children his age, skin color means as little to him as eye color and race is something he simply never thinks about. Yet thanks to the courts, his skin color and his race may determine where he lives and who he grows up with.

Elijah is the son of Kimberley Van de Perre and Theodore "Blue" Edwards. Ms. Van de Perre, who is white, is a former beauty queen who lives in Vancouver. Mr. Edwards, who is black, is a former star of the National Basketball Association who resides in North Carolina with his wife and twin daughters.

The two met in a Vancouver bar in 1996 and began an 18-month affair. Elijah was the result. Now they are fighting for custody and, somehow, race has become an important issue. So important that when Mr. Edwards brought his case for custody to the Supreme Court of Canada Thursday, he was supported by the African Canadian Legal Clinic, the Association of Black Social Workers and the Jamaican Canadian Association.

Mr. Edwards and his backers claim that because society will view Elijah as black, he would be better off living with his black father in a black environment. That way, he would avoid cultural confusion and learn to identify with his black heritage.

Appeals court ruling: Amazingly, British Columbia's highest court agreed. In a judgment that overturned a lower court and awarded custody of Elijah to Mr. Edwards, at least partly on the grounds of race, the B.C. Court of Appeal said that "it would obviously be in his interests to live with a parent or family who can nurture his identity as a person of color and who can appreciate and understand the day-to-day realities that black people face in North American society -- including racism and discrimination in various forms."

Obviously? It is not obvious at all that a boy who appears to be black would be better off in the racially divided American South than he would be in multicultural Vancouver. A generation or two ago in Canada, a black boy with a white mother might have been an object of curiosity, even derision. Today, in a big Canadian city with dozens of ethnic groups and countless mixed-race couples, he is unlikely to attract so much as a raised eyebrow.

It is even less obvious that Elijah should be encouraged to "nurture his identity as a person of color." As his mother points out, he has "two sets of roots. He is Canadian and he's African-American, and so there are two sides of him that he should be embracing." To tell him now that he is definitely and exclusively black, and so must live with people of his own kind, is to surrender to the racial pigeonholing that is the very essence of racism. A Canadian court should have no part of it. Justice in this case should be color-blind.

As he grows up, Elijah will have to grapple with his mixed heritage. If his parents are smart, they will encourage him to explore both sides, but not to be imprisoned by either. If they are wise, they will teach him to judge others by the content of their character, not the color of their skin.

But that is for tomorrow. Today Elijah is not a black boy, or a white boy, or a mixed-race boy. In his own eyes, he is simply a boy. The court should treat him as such, and leave race out of it.

AND NOW, CALIFORNIA, HERE'S ETHANOL

Scripps Howard News Service: California Gov. Gray Davis, who has howled about all the sensible responses of the Bush administration to his state's energy crisis, now has a grievance that comes a couple of steps closer to being legitimate: the administration's refusal to waive a rule that will likely require the use of ethanol in the state's reformulated gasoline.

That could eventually mean higher gas prices in the state, and there will be no gain from the pain. Supposedly, use of the additive makes air cleaner, but science is no friend of the theory. You have to ignore virtually every reputable ethanol study ever done to think its use might erase smog from California's air.

Midwestern farmers: Instead of air, the true beneficiaries of ethanol use are Midwestern farmers, whose corn is used in making the alcohol product. These farmers also happen to be voters, a fact that just may matter to the Bush administration and surely matters to the president himself. In a debate in Iowa during last year's primary season, George W. Bush not so boldly went on record as thinking ethanol a rather marvelous, wonderful, exciting thing.

Bush and his team are not precisely to blame for the California predicament, however. Congress, which has voted to subsidize ethanol for reasons having little to do with pollution, also put language in the Clean Air Act that makes a waiver difficult. According to a published statement put out by Christine Todd Whitman, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, a waiver must be preceded by evidence showing it would "actually help reduce ozone levels." Even if the administration found an honest way to squeeze past that requirement, some critics would no doubt cite a waiver as further evidence of an anti-environment bias in the administration.

What is needed, not just for California but for other affected states, is a rewriting of a portion of the Clean Air Act, and for that to occur, either the Republicans or Democrats or both would have to take some political risks in the Midwest. It looks like a long wait, California.




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