Rants, Raves, and Rhetoric v4

How Do I Get to Be Black Like Obama?

Barack Obama is called a lot of things. Being a candidate for President of the United States means a lot of people apply a lot of different labels, good or bad or indifferent, to categorize you and anticipate your every move.

I find it interesting people use the labels “African American” or “Black” to describe him instead of “Biracial”, “Multiracial”, or “Interracial”. The frustration I dealt with for most of my life was neither being Black or White enough to be accepted as belonging. Is it a case of, “If you have even a drop of a Black blood-line, then you are Black not White?” These musing about Obama did start after a Black homeless guy downtown looked at me and stated that I didn’t understand his point because I am not Black. See, I wasn’t kidding in that not Black enough post. By the two generation ratio of blood-lines, I am just as Black as Obama.

What makes Barack African American and me not African American?

  1. We both have fathers of African descent.
  2. We both have mothers of European descent.
  3. I at least had the influence of my father and his aunts and his cousins and my cousins to show me African culture. Barack had two White grandparents.
  4. Barack’s close friends in high school and college were of African descent. My close friends during those periods were all of European descent.
  5. Barack worked with and for people of African descent at the community level. I’m ecstatic just to have > 10% people of African descent in the cube area. It is new for me. I like it.

This is more important to me than the politics.


11 responses to “How Do I Get to Be Black Like Obama?”

  1. Adrian Avatar

    What good questions. I have been wondering about Obama’s label myself. Is it an attempt to exaggerate? Do the labelers think it makes our society sound twice as good to have a “black” nominee than a “half-black” nominee?

    But then where do you draw the line between the biracial label and the label of one race? A lot of “African-Americans” have some Caucasian ancestors, and lot of “Caucasians” have African or Native American ancestors; we often don’t know about it or don’t talk about it. My family can’t trace our Native American ancestors because they often had “white” names.

  2. […] Adrian: What good questions. I have been wondering about Obama’s label myself. Is it an attempt to exaggerate? Do the labelers think it makes… […]

  3. Ezra F Avatar
    Ezra F

    Responded with a post. See the trackback above.

    I also found this quote interesting:

    Allow me first to define an African-American. Simply put, African-Americans are descendents of slaves brought to America from Africa. These slaves were brought mostly from several West African countries. These people, my people, have experienced many generations and hundreds of years of economic discrimination, social isolation, educational deprivation and all the things the dogs and fire hoses and lynchings and burning crosses symbolize.
    Thomas J. Locke, III, MD

    Kenya was a British colony whose people were treated just a tad better than slaves (as indentured servants). I bet Barack’s father understood. This is the same sort of thing which causes people of European descent to have guilt.

  4. Heather Avatar

    There actually literally used to be laws (absurd ones, of course) in this country that determined what black meant. They were put into place on a state-by-state basis, so one could actually change from being “white” to “black” by crossing a state line. You barely had to have any African ancestry to be black, too. It was often just 1/8 or, in even more absurd cases, 1/16. It’s unbelievably sad, but it makes a lot of sense, with the whole situation in mind, why so many people attempted to ‘pass’.

  5. Ezra F Avatar
    Ezra F

    I think they are collectively referred to as the “One-Drop Rule“. The most absurd case was Louisiana who was 1/32nd. Knew states along the border of the South had these laws as well. Utah and North Dakota were surprising.

    Found an article equivocating these One-Drop laws to Nuremberg laws. I hadn’t previously thought of using that analogy.

  6. John A Arkansawyer Avatar
    John A Arkansawyer

    I was at a local forum on racial and cultural diversity last year, and one of the panelists was a first-generation immigrant from Egypt. After the forum, I was waiting to talk with her about a point she’d made that I had thoughts of my own on. A local black prof had gotten there ahead of me. I wasn’t trying to eavesdrop, but it was a public conversation, so I was fascinated to hear him try to convince her she should identify as African-American.

    On a very narrow point, he was obviously right: She was an American whose ancestry was African. Her cultural experience, however, which she’d talked about during the forum, was not the cultural experience I identify as African-American. She was non-committal to his arguments, and I really wished I knew her well enough to ask her directly what she’d thought–though what I wanted to talk about with her was on point, if obliquely.

  7. Ezra F Avatar
    Ezra F

    African-American is “A person having origins in any of the black racial groups of Africa.” (A US government definition used in Ed, HHS) A “black racial group” is code for descendant of Sub-Saharan African tribes from which the vast majority of slaves bound for America were taken.

    North Africans, like Egyptians, are not part of the “black racial groups” as their backgrounds are heavily influenced by Islam and Roman going back a couple millenniums. These influences made them “cultured” and so not chattel like the Sub-Saharans.

  8. John A Arkansawyer Avatar
    John A Arkansawyer

    Ez, I think the prof was arguing from an American variant of pan-Africanism, or something like it, that takes a more expansive view of what Africa constitutes than the earlier versions.

  9. […] would be a good time to be black. Oh… Wait… I am… Sorta. Related […]

  10. […] started out as a comment to Adrian, but I it got so long it may as well be a post on its […]

  11. livesaneblog Avatar

    Have you ever really WATCHED Obama? I mean really looked at him. Look at some of the older footage with the sound off. Then turn the sound back up. He is a black man. He would be a black man if he were painted and dressed for the Blue Man Group. There is a grace, a carriage, a pride. Couple that with a deep understanding of and concern for the less fortunate and an easy, relaxed, towering intellect. Top it off with a casual self confidence and you have something quite special.

    A LOT of men, regardless of skin tone, would like to be as black as Barack Obama.

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