I'm as confused by recent news concerning racial identity as anyone else. Rather than trying to offer any answers, I thought I'd share a few loosely related thoughts on the matter:
My first thought was that my girlfriend was actually Puerto Rican, as opposed to African-American, but that seemed a weak argument. I'd recently read a fascinating essay about the origins of voodoo and the cultural storms caused by the slave trade in the West Indies (it's called Hear That Long Snake Moan, by Michael Ventura. Highly recommended.) I instinctively decided to respond to my attacker's historical sophistication.
I said, "I get what you're saying (I may have called him "Sir" at this point.) But I'm not white. I'm Irish. Until about a hundred years ago, the Irish were oppressed in many of the same ways your ancestors were. In fact, about 80,000 Irish women and children were sold in the slave markets of the West Indies. That's why Jamaicans like Bob Marley still speak with an Irish accent today."
He looked at me for what felt like a long, long time. Then he laughed. Hard. "Look at this mutha&*#%. He says he's not white!" He stepped aside and said a few words I'll never forget. "Alright. Have a good night, my brother."