Saturday, December 13, 2008

Obama's True Colors: Black, White ... or Neither? or Let's Paint the White House Black...or Beige...or Checkered...or Maybe Just Keep It White!

There have been a litany of these Obama as biracial, multiracial and something other than Black since his election. I have not found them worthy of comment because they are just so "meh," who cares? and predictable. However, the newest piece from the AP, Obama's true colors: Black, white...or neither? has peeked my interest. Some choice excerpts:


A perplexing new chapter is unfolding in Barack Obama's racial saga: Many people insist that "the first black president" is actually not black.

Debate over whether to call this son of a white Kansan and a black Kenyan biracial, African-American, mixed-race, half-and-half, multiracial — or, in Obama's own words, a "mutt" — has reached a crescendo since Obama's election shattered assumptions about race.

Obama has said, "I identify as African-American — that's how I'm treated and that's how I'm viewed. I'm proud of it." In other words, the world gave Obama no choice but to be black, and he was happy to oblige.

But the world has changed since the young Obama found his place in it.

Intermarriage and the decline of racism are dissolving ancient definitions. The candidate Obama, in achieving what many thought impossible, was treated differently from previous black generations. And many white and mixed-race people now view President-elect Obama as something other than black...

Rebecca Walker, a 38-year-old writer with light brown skin who is of Russian, African, Irish, Scottish and Native American descent, said she used to identify herself as "human," which upset people of all backgrounds. So she went back to multiracial or biracial, "but only because there has yet to be a way of breaking through the need to racially identify and be identified by the culture at large."

"Of course Obama is black. And he's not black, too," Walker said. "He's white, and he's not white, too. Obama is whatever people project onto him ... he's a lot of things, and neither of them necessarily exclude the other..."

A Doonesbury comic strip that ran the day after the election showed several soldiers celebrating.

"He's half-white, you know," says a white soldier.

"You must be so proud," responds another.

Pride is the center of racial identity, and some white people seem insulted by a perception that Obama is rejecting his white mother (even though her family was a centerpiece of his campaign image-making) or baffled by the notion that someone would choose to be black instead of half-white.

"He can't be African-American. With race, white claims 50 percent of him and black 50 percent of him. Half a loaf is better than no loaf at all," Ron Wilson of Plantation, Fla., wrote in a letter to the Sun-Sentinel newspaper.

the full piece is found here...


The self-identified, tragic mulatto chorus speaks again--folks are always trying to own someone it seems. We have dealt with this tragic mulatto business on this site before. We have concluded that race has messed all folks up and that tragic mulattoes are just messed up differently. Ultimately, the irony of these calls for re-branding Obama are in part rooted in one of the great ironies behind the self-identified multiracial/bi-racial movement. On one hand they want the freedom and agency to identify with whoever and whatever group they see fit, a reasonable premise. But, they want to deny that same agency to someone else (see our post, "Light-skinned Negroes Who Understand the Value in Being Black"). Barack Obama self-identifies as a black man. Simple fact. Now embrace it, celebrate it, and respect him for that choice...

Some other quick questions:

1. On this agency stuff, whose agency gets to trump Obama's agency? Stated differently, Obama has chosen his home team so to speak, why do others feel so compelled to have a racial draft in order to claim him?

2. When Obama and the end of black politics narrative became prominent during the campaign, we respectable negroes and others were very concerned about the creation of a colored class, a buffer race of nominally black leadership in this country. I have to worry, is this effort to claim Obama as something other than black the next step in the creation of a buffer race in America's racial order?

3. Since the tragic mulatto crowd and some white folks are so determined to find and claim Obama's hybridity, perhaps we should move towards a racial classification system akin to Brazil's where one can choose from some fifty or more "categorizations." I wonder which racial identity will remain at the top of the hierarchy?

4. On White folks claiming Barack Obama as "half-white." Can't folks just relax and let Obama be Black? One of the powers of whiteness, and why white supremacy is the greatest White invention, is because it/they can restructure reality to always keep whites as the center of the narrative. How about being proud that in a moment of enlightened self-interest, many White Americans chose a black man to be the next president of the United States--and celebrating this as progress? One doesn't need to throw a temper tantrum and be selfish...sort of like the kid at the birthday party who sulks and throws a fit to get all of the attention even though it is not his or her own birthday.

My White people, let's take one more step forward in our racial maturity and be happy that the best candidate won, and that yes he is a proud, unadulterated, undiluted, black man. Welcome to chocolate city:


Unknown said...

are we going to have 4 / 8 years of this.. these same mulattos and white people will call him out as black should, god forbid, he put a foot wrong... he was attacked on his way to the white house as a black man.. now he has won we hear all this.. my family is all the colurs of the rainbow - my father has 2 black parents yet he is so 'yellow' - growing up was struggle for him and my grandmother who bore him - black people can be really cruel!.. people need to relax.. the man is bi-racial yet to himself and the world he is black - it is what it is.. period.. done.. next..

Anonymous said...

All this biracial/white pride in our boy Barack does certainly reek of joining the bandwagon now that the victory has been won, and his admission to the 'big house' has been secured, although he was in the outhouse (or shall we say for history's sake, the slave quarters?) for most of the campaign... Either way, while I understand and believe it fitting for all Americans to recognize Obama's many cultural/racial roots, I cant help but to have a visceral reaction when a visibly black man makes it this far, and then the next response from white America is to remind us that "he's white too" as if he wouldn't be able to get here without it. (and maybe, just maybe he wouldnt be able to be the president without his white half making him safer to white America than say his all black wife, but that's another post for another time?) But back to my main point, which is that I hate how expected this response is. Cause it brings out my knee jerk reaction that I've had to say time and again in my life: white folks just don't want black folks to have nothin'... A hip hop song we all know and love said it best: "we start keeping pace/they start changing up the tempo." I say its time for a tempo restoration, and let's call a spade a spade. Barack is black. Dammit.

Lady Zora, Chauncey DeVega, and Gordon Gartrelle said...

We concur and well stated.

Folks need to let Obama be Obama.


Werner Herzog's Bear said...

I'm glad you posted on this, because I have had a handful of students on recent tests and papers describe Obama as "bi-racial."

Interestingly, white, brown, and black students have all used this word to describe our president-elect, so I am wary of thinking of the use of this classification as the exclusive purview of whites and "tragic mulattos."

That being said, I agree that the AP article is load of horse crap.