Friday, February 09, 2007

Today in Black History--Barack Obama isn't black

Apparently I missed the last Meeting of Black Folk, which is too bad because it was a doozy. Quick on the heels of Barack Obama's apparent decision to run for President of the United States, Black Folk have decided that he isn't really black. Because his father is an African immigrant (arriving here in 1959) and his mother is white, he has no claim to "blackness." As Debra Dickerson (author of a truly annoying book called End of Blackness, and no the irony is not lost on me) says in the clip, Obama is like an adopted brother. The suggestion from people who argue against his blackness is that Obama is taking unfair advantage of the cultural cache, the gravitas if you will, that comes from being black in America.

Did I miss two Black Folk meetings? Have I slipped into some alternate reality where being black is some sort of advantage when running for national public office? An advantage so great that you'd claim blackness even though you don't have to?

Of course the love affair with Obama had to end as soon as he threw his hat in the presidential ring. That's not what annoys me here. What annoys me is that of all the things smart black people could be questioning about Obama (like the fact that he voted for the atrocious bankruptcy bill, like the fact that he lacks experience for the office, like the fact that his popularity rests on white America's fascination with people who are just black enough to be titillating), they instead spend their energy arguing that he is not black.

And we wonder why black people aren't taken seriously in national politics.


CT said...

I'm glad you wrote about this. I heard a similar story on NPR--about the "question" of Obama's blackness--and found it rather troubling for all the reasons you mention. I was going to try and find the story to forward to you.

On a slightly tangential note--

I continue to be annoyed that in America's decision-making about our leaders, it seems to be a high school popularity contest. Let's obsess about what people look like, whom they sleep with, whether they're "posing," whether they make cookies or wear pant suits, whether they have the right friends and go to the right clubs.

When will we start focusing on the crucial, critical questions that will actually measure the worth of a candidate in terms of what s/he can provide for the country (and world)? And when will people stop being so freaked out about an honest assessment of our nation rather than craving some sugar-coated pill wrapped in an aura of warm fuzzy-ness?

The personal matters. But not to the exclusion of everything else.

Sorry. Rant over.
*off of soapbox*

Thanks for your post.

Conseula said...

Thanks for the comment, CT. I want to like Obama. I really do. I probably do like him. But the conversation surrounding his campaign is just so silly and pointless and non-productive that it's painful.

Alison said...

Don't worry, Conseula--it's not just smart black people who are spending their time in stupid conversations. It seems to be a pervasive problem in American culture, particularly the liberal wings.

And the idea that race is socially constructed is still so hard for most people to grasp that we're not even able to have an intelligent discussion of what race means.

claire said...

Give me a break -- she does not really want to say that Barack Obama should be called "an American of African Stock" how essentialist can one be??

Conseula said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Gunfighter said...

I like Obama... especially compared to the other Democrats that are in the race... I also like Bill Richardson... but the idea that he can't be black is assinine.

Anonymous said...

okay it's absolutely rediculous on how prejudice people still are. who cares if he's black and white? and he's not sitting there making a big deal of being "african american" in his campaign. the most he's said is he's a darker color. interracial couples are fine. i'm in an interracial couple myself. and i'm sorry, but if someone is half puertorican, half white, EVERYONE WHO FIRST LOOKS AT THEM THINKS "oh they must be puertorican" because they're as dark as one. so as far as i'm concerned, obama is still african american. it's in his blood.

who cares what his color is or if he's 100 percent ALL african american. are you prejudice against whites because he's half white? is that why you're making such a big stink about this? it's rediculous. listen to the message that wonderful man is bringing. he's saying that there's light at the end of this dark tunnel all of us americans have been walking down. giving us hope.

it's downright discusting how people have to be put on the spot because of their race. BIG DEAL. HE'S DARKER SKINNED THAN THE REST OF THE PRESIDENTS OUT THERE. AND I'M SO SORRY TO THE AFRICAN AMERICANS THAT ARE OFFENDED BY HIM CALLING HIMSELF AN AFRICAN AMERICAN BECAUSE HE HAS WHITE IN HIM!!!! TWO PEOPLE OF DIFFERENT RACES CAN'T FALL IN LOVE BECAUSE THEY'LL BE CRUCIFIED BY YOU??? MY BOYFRIEND'S BLACK. THINGS LIKE THIS MAKE ME NERVOUS ABOUT HAVING A CHILD WITH HIM. WHO KNOWS WHAT MY CHILD WILL GO THROUGH JUST BECAUSE HE'LL BE HALF WHITE AND HALF BLACK. i hope obama wins this election. maybe he can change this. my great great grandfather was african american. he was actually a slave. my great great grandmother was white and she fell in love with him. that was over a hundred years ago. i can't believe this is still going on now.