Sunday, November 30, 2008

Barack Obama - Not Black?

So says Marie Arana in The Washington Post today.

We call him that -- he calls himself that -- because we use dated language and logic. After more than 300 years and much difficult history, we hew to the old racist rule: Part-black is all black. Fifty percent equals a hundred. There's no in-between.

That was my reaction when I read these words on the front page of this newspaper the day after the election: "Obama Makes History: U.S. Decisively Elects First Black President."

The phrase was repeated in much the same form by one media organization after another. It's as if we have one foot in the future and another still mired in the Old South. We are racially sophisticated enough to elect a non-white president, and we are so racially backward that we insist on calling him black. Progress has outpaced vocabulary.

To me, as to increasing numbers of mixed-race people, Barack Obama is not our first black president. He is our first biracial, bicultural president. He is more than the personification of African American achievement. He is a bridge between races, a living symbol of tolerance, a signal that strict racial categories must go.

Of course there is much to celebrate in seeing Obama's victory as a victory for African Americans. The long, arduous battles that were fought and won in the name of civil rights redeemed our Constitution and brought a new sense of possibility to all minorities in this country. We Hispanic Americans, very likely the most mixed-race people in the world, credit our gains to the great African American pioneers of yesterday: Rosa Parks, W.E.B. Du Bois, Martin Luther King Jr.

You can read the rest of this tripe at the link above.

Let me break it down for you.

I SO am not gonna listen to a Latino tell me who IS and ISNT Black.

He was Black during the Rev. Wright brouhaha, wasn't he?

Watching Spanish speaking television in this country, no one would believe that the overwhelming majority of those brought over in the hulls of those slave ships did NOT stop in North America. Look at Spanish speaking tv - nary a Black to be found.

Hispanics are mixed race?

WTF do you think Black folk are?

'African-American pioneers'

Rosa Parks - yella
DuBois - yella
King - medium

Don't none of these folks look like present day West Africans.

Look at West Africans.

Now, look at the range of colors amongst the Black community here in America.

How the hell did we go from THAT to what we are NOW, without mixing with a whole lotta folks. Having White ancestors is nothing new for Black folk.

Barack Obama doesn't even look 'bi-racial'.

4 years ago, before his speech, take Obama and Harold Ford, Jr's pictures to the local Black barbershop anywhere in America.

Ask them to tell you who the bi-racial person was.

Would they choose Obama?

Or the green-eyed, wavy-haired Ford, Jr.?

My money's on Ford, Jr., born to 2 Black parents.

Like I said, this having White ancestors didn't begin with Barack Obama....though a great segment of White America just likes to pretend that it did.

When White folks claim bi-racial Pookey that just robbed the liquor store and shot 3 people, then I'll know it's not just about trying to divorce Obama from the Black community.

That was a great deal of the animus behind the attacks on Michelle, IMO.

She was BLACK.

Her ancestors were slaves in the bottom of those ships in chains BLACK.

All the pain, hideousy, and contradictions to the great myth that is America BLACK.

I've got relatives of the entire Black Community spectrum, and we're all BLACK.

This was left in the comments section over at Ta-Nehisi Coates:

For some people the choice of Barack and other bi-racial folks is perplexing in this day and age. Why be black if you don't have to be? Oh sure maybe a generation ago you didn't have a choice, but now you do so why not? Why not complete the transition to being post-racial (not black)? Why marry black and more black babies? This woman feels like Barack made himself "blacker" voluntarily and she doesn't understand why on earth he would do such a thing. Maybe someone should tell her it's actually kind of great.

Ding ding ding

We have a winner.

It totally perplexes some folks. You can see it.

' Why does he call himself BLACK?'

I still say that Michelle has a great deal to do with it. Why would he CHOOSE to marry Michelle?

I've written extensively about Michelle at JJP, and how I used to didn't understand why Toots and Gramps never got their ' due' when it came to Barack - they raised him for a chunk of his life, and I thought it was obvious:

Harvard Law
President of the Harvard Law Review

that they more than deserved their ' props'.

Then, it came to me.


Michelle erased all that away, and ' negated it'. For, if Gramps and Toots had ' raised Barack right'...

then what's he doing married to Michelle?

And you all know, I then stepped away from that, because I didn't even want to try and understand folks who had that line of thinking.

Sorry, you're just going to have to deal with the full complexity of Black humanity.


Ricketson said...

Good points. Aside from ignoring the history of "race mixing" among American blacks, Arana seems to be intentionally missing the point of why so many people have made a big deal about Obama being the first black president:

It's as if we have one foot in the future and another still mired in the Old South. We are racially sophisticated enough to elect a non-white president, and we are so racially backward that we insist on calling him black.

She seems to miss the point that the idea of race is an idea from the (figurative) "Old South"...we can't talk about it without using their terminology because those people made up the whole idea of race, and used it as the basis for structuring a society.

If we were to talk about race without using those "Old South" categories, then we'd be reinventing a new form of racism, which is the last thing that we want to do.

Brian said...

This is an old question...

I guess it is going to keep coming up in some form. Will people ever stop asking? Unfortunately I don't think they will.

This is a big issue among those in the mixed race/biracial community as well. I tend to agree with their perspective... but ultimately how someone identifies is up to that individual.

Look.... the man is ethnically biracial... but socially he prefers to identify a little more with the minority group (as a Black man). Of course you have the hideous "one drop" rule which I believe influences a lot of this. It's a remnant of Americas racist past.

Obama felt more comfortable identifying as Black. Although more recently he has acknowledged his mixed background.

As far as i'm concerned, no one can say that he's "Not Black" or "Not White"....he is both. Although due to social constructs, it is much more difficult for him to claim that he is Caucasian. I don't think that he would have been allowed into an all White Country Club 20 years ago, claiming to be White. It wouldn't have worked for him. But that's society's problem....not Obama's.

I do wish that the one drop rule could be eliminated along with its ugly double standard... that standard being that partial Black ethnicity in your blood almost always = Black....but partial White ethnicity never = white. (This is especially the case with darker skinned people).

There is also a double standard in terms of who can claim "Caucasian" or "whiteness". Biracial Blacks (mixed with b/w) can never claim it... or have a very difficult time doing so... but I have noticed that Asian/white, light skinned hispanic/white, Arab/white have fewer problems claiming to be "Caucasian", in large part because they can physically pass as "White". But darker skinned people... Blacks, darker skinned hispanics, East Indians.... seem to have a harder time. Much of the problem seems to be due to skin complexion..... But then again.... lighter skinned Blacks who are mixed, still have a hard time. Some can pass...but so many others choose not to.

I wish this social construct would eventually go away. More importantly, I wish this question of Blackness or Whiteness would find a new place in our society (buried for good)....
We have an economy on thin ice, a financial system in critical condition...unable to function on its own as normal, a future in peril, an almost non-existent healthcare system, record deficits and a national debt that might be impossible to pay (in other words the U.S. is bankrupt), foreign Countries keeping the U.S. dollar from collapsing, more war & conflict on the horizon- this time Courtesy of Obama, more economic trouble predicted as new waves of foreclosures and layoffs are expected over the next year, and people are worried about this????

Race is an important subject, especially in this Country.... but sometimes people can become too fixated on it.... or fixated on the wrong aspects of the issue.
For example... the real issue in the above post is actually "one drop".... that's the heart of the matter. Those who claim that Obama isn't Black...and are upset that he has not chosen to be White (which is laughable in the context of American history...and American reality).... fail to realize the barrier that the one drop social construct presented for Obama.... Obama didn't create this construct... he's just a product and victim of it. Without this construct, I don't think he would have a problem with embracing his White identity in a more public and more enthusiastic way...if there is such a thing. He had a good relationship with his mother and his White Grandparents who helped raise him. And in fact, he used that imagery (of being raised by his white mother and white grandparents) heavily during the a way to make white voters feel comfortable with him. So he doesn't deny that side of his ethnic background. Does he use it when somewhat of a sneaky way?... perhaps. But he doesn't deny his White ethnicity... or his Black ethnicity.... it's just that publicly... living in South Chicago, having a Black wife... people take that as a sign that he's only identifying with one group... goes back to one drop...where Blacks can never have both.... they are always put in a strange position of making a choice....while others of mixed background (non-Blacks) are rarely cornered in this way... they can often claim both if they so choose.

King Politics said...

Right you are. Race is very much in the eye of the beholder and white America and (most of) black America see Obama as the first black president - and that's what he is.

Anonymous said...

I am really searching for answers on this question and I can see the passion that so many have on this subject. As the father of a mixed race child (we adopted as a result of prejudice in the girls family) I have also been wondering why the media refers to Barack as "black". It has really made me examine the issue and to search my feelings on this subject. I don't want to take anything away from the "Black " community because it is a fact that he is black but it is also a fact that he is white. But I hope one day we will be able to get past these labels and see each other as brothers and sisters in a crazy world. I would like to thank the writer of this post, I always enjoy hearing several view points and when my son gets older if he wishes to claim to be "Black" then that will be his choice. For now I will just love him for him and hope that the fact that we have a bi-racial president will help make his life easier some how when it comes to dealing with those that choose to be ignorant. thank you