Something is getting under my skin about racial references to Barack Obama. He is being called the “Black” candidate for President.
My question is: is he really black? Why is he called “Black” and not “White”?
He is as much his white mother’s offspring as he is the child of a man from Kenya.
Why one label over the other?
The heritage of racism I suppose.
Our former systems of slavery and segregation depended for their supposed moral legitimacy to a great extent on notions of racial essence – that there were such things as races with powerful and deeply embedded psychological drivers that conditioned those born to parents of the race.
The theory fell apart, of course, whenever there was a mixed racial marriage. One then needed a second theory about which parent’s racial drivers of character would trump the other’s genetic contribution to the offspring.
So in the United States of America , thanks in part to the pseudo-scientific writings of Thomas Jefferson in his Notes on the State of Virginia, we came up with what has been called the “one-drop rule” This rule held that one drop of “Black” blood in one’s ancestry was so powerful that the possessor of the “drop” was to be considered “Black” and not “White”, or “Indian”, or “Italian”, or “Chinese”, etc., etc., etc.
So by this racial calculus, Barack Obama is to be considered “Black”, not “White”. One half of his being is sacrificed to the other half. That to me is really sick.
Why can’t he be both? Why do we still need such racial pigeonholes with all the hurt and evil that they have done over the centuries?
Why can’t he just be an American?
Or simply, a person.
Mixed marriages have long been suspect – they muddy up the solidarity of in-groups and are resisted by defenders of group cultures and identities. Christians marrying Jews; Muslims with Hindus, Tutsis with Hutus, Japanese with Poles; Catholics with Lutherans, Germans with Norwegians, Chinese with Tamils – the list of suspect cross-cultural alliances goes on and on.
And of course, people from different backgrounds don’t look exactly like one side or the other.
But, in this country, to support segregation we had to develop rules on “passing”. A person who looked entirely Caucasian but who actually had some “Black” ancestry was not permitted to “pass” and take advantage of white privileges. Looks here were trumped by the “one” drop rule.
If by some chance Barack Obama had been born looking more Caucasian than he does, would he be any better or worse as a President?
Humanity needs to grow up in this regard and overcome its benighted history of deeply rooted tribalisms.
My take on this issue comes from my own marriage. When learning of my engagement, one grandmother commented “Two thousand years of WASP blood down the drain.”
My children inherit two different cultural traditions: one several hundred years old. The other 4,000 years old. So which are they?
Actually, neither. The facts of their parentage make them special and “none-of-the-above”. They are not American WASPs, though they take from those values and cultural patterns; not are they Vietnamese, though they have some Vietnamese aspects to their personalities.
They don’t fit traditional racist categories for thinking about people and neither does Barack Obama.
Fortunately our Census now recognizes the presence of culturally “multi-dimensional” citizens. You can mark yourself down on the Census as being of a rainbow genetic background if that is your situation and that is how you identify.
This, to me, is progress.
Now it is up to our media in this presidential campaign to strike a big blow for human freedom and find some why to talk about Barach Obama that doesn’t bow in fealty to old prejudices and misconceptions.