Thursday, May 15, 2008

On the Road


Hello, it's me, still wandering aimlessly about America. Barack Obama has a black father and a white mother. But they keep saying he's black, why isn't he white? Perhaps my American readers can help. 

29 comments:

  1. A legacy of the one drop rule?

    Ryan Giggs is white though.

    Race is a myth.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Susan B., born of, and student of the SouthMay 15, 2008 1:47 pm

    Ah, that's a no-brainer. In America, in slave days, any black blood at all made you black. There were draconian laws enacted in the South (in an attempt to stop miscegenation) that said the children born of one white, one black parent (usually white father -- slave owner -- and black 'servant,' to use the euphemism for slave) were black and hence slaves.

    There's a whole range of shades you will find mentioned any time you read fiction by black Americans -- from mocha to high yellow to ace-of-spades black -- and similar social hierarchy to go with them. The blacker you are, the more oppression you are likely to suffer: Both from whites and fellow African Americans.

    It's an awful thing, the curse of America, this color line. W.E.B. DuBois was right that it was the problem of the 20th century; it also looks likely to be the problem of the 21st. Far better had first European settlers intermingled freely with races in America, as they did in Brazil. If we were mestizo, it would be so much better -- we might have class problems still, but they would not be based on skin color.

    ReplyDelete
  3. So the American media and the entire political system accepts those old southern laws as based on legitimate insights? Amazing.

    ReplyDelete
  4. While Susan's answer is a good one, it is also true that since his early youth, Obama chose to identify himself as being black, not bi-racial. That was (and is) his choice.

    Aside to Susan: Brazil continues to have significant racial discrimination, as does most of Latin America for that matter. (FWIW, according to Wikipedia, "Mestizos is a Spanish term that was formerly used in the Spanish Empire to designate people of mixed European (Spaniard) and Amerindian ancestry living in the region of Latin America." Mulatto was the term generally used to describe those of mixed European and African ancestry.)

    ReplyDelete
  5. Thanks for that Susan.

    Bryan, I think these things gather cultural momentum do they not. It can start as a legal reality and then get encased in social custom.

    Randy: although Barack Obama has oscillated between the two identities, his running as a post-racial candidate was really an expression of his desire to be considered bi-racial. The temptation to exploit his race by his various political opponents was always going to be too much, so, since South Carolina, and his pastor going viral, he has had no choice but to be the black candidate. It is a complicated dynamic, yes?

    ReplyDelete
  6. When you're a mongrel like Obama or myself, you can choose to be whatever you please. i, for example, am Anglo-Indian but usually tell people i'm Bulgarian and a member of the Order of the Dragon (along with Vlad Dracul and his famous son).

    Then i have tweed days, where i dress in my fine tweeds and tell people 'my name is Roger Scruton - remember it!' before thrashing them with my gentleman's walking stick.

    This is the great advantage to being of mixed blood.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Bryan

    The racial divide is kept alive, but not for the same reasons that applied in the pre-war South. To further confuse things Obama's black father wasn't born in the US. The experience of blacks born outside of the us in majority african countires like Kenya or Jamaica who emigrate to the US is different than it is for native African-Americans. They have not imbibed the psychology of minority status from birth, and generally advance economically much more quickly than their native born American cousins, with less perceived racism.

    The divide is being kept alive more by the Jeremiah Wrights and Al Sharptons than it is by whitey.

    ReplyDelete
  8. "Nor would anyone question the fact that the various light-skinned races seem to be in terminal decline. Indeed, one senses that the global balance of power is beginning to change, that the Caucasian Millennium is all but over, and that Obama Barack’s bid for presidential power is a first - tentative but symbolic - assault upon Caucasian hubris..."



    CAUCASIAN HUBRIS

    ReplyDelete
  9. Chris: I agree that, on the whole, Obama has attempted to run as a post-racial candidate, except when it has suited his campaign, and it often has suited his campaign. In reality, this is not particualrly remarkable, as politicians invariably attempt to have it both ways (or all ways). There is no reason to pretend that it is only his opponents exploiting his racial identity, however. After all, with his short and otherwise unremarkable service in the US Senate, Obama would not have qualified as a second tier candidate were he not a person of color.

    Now that he has the nomination all but wrapped up, it is up to him to reach out to those he has thus far patronized, disdained, or ignored in the process. Some of that was unintentional, but he needs their votes to win. While I do believe he will most likely be the next President of the United States, a lot can happen in six months, and Obama's performance under the intense pressure of a national campaign has been less than impressive.

    ReplyDelete
  10. This phenomenon is not confined to Barack - which makes me wonder whether Barack's blackness was entirely his choice.

    Bob Marley and Lewis Hamilton: two black icons who are, in fact, white.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Moreover, unless my TV is badly tuned, Pastor Jeremiah Wright looks suspiciously whitey to me. Or is he what Southerners call 'high yallah'?

    ReplyDelete
  12. This concept of blackness isn't just (US) American though - nor does it stop at the first generation. I'm quite sure there are 1/4, 1/8, 1/16th 'black' people who think of themselves, and are thought of, as 'black' here i9n the UK. Which is both strange and troubling.

    On a different, but I suspect related tack, I can imagine jokingly saying something like 'typical scouser/taff/jock/ ... ' to a friend but not 'typical Indian/Kenyan/black ...' - even to a good friend.

    Pete

    ReplyDelete
  13. Bob Marley = biracial. I just read an interesting book about cemeteries in America (Marilyn Yalom's "American Resting Places") and it tells a great deal about racism in America. 1) You will have a very hard time finding extant graves of slaves because they were rarely marked or, when they were, with just one name, or "so & so's servant." 2) Later, you'd be hard pressed to find black Americans in white American cemeteries. Those weren't truly integrated until the civil rights movement. 3) To see how racism has infected its victims, there was a cemetery in the South devoted to "Light-Skinned Negroes" -- this was in S.Carolina. The directors of that cemetery decided if folks were light enough to be buried there by giving them a look over. Many notables failed the test.

    Racism against other groups -- Jews, Chinese, and Irish folks, notably -- also has an American history, but it simply did not last as long, is not still a pervasive part of American culture.

    Check out the Yalom. You can visit these cemeteries (to Bryan, who is doubtless near one -- perhaps the one where Gen. Custer died and was once lamented; now it's the Indians who died there who are lamented! Tout ca change....),

    ReplyDelete
  14. His voice sounds black.

    (Actually, I am kind of worried that there is a good chance he will be elected mainly because he has a deep voice.)

    ReplyDelete
  15. In the Celtic areas, black is a reserved word. Blue is the word to describe the African. Obama may be considered white by his dads people. But he is not running there.

    ReplyDelete
  16. Sweetie - no he didn't, that was Barack.

    ReplyDelete
  17. As Larry Wilmore, the excellent black corresondent of Jon Stewart's Daily Show has pointed out, Obama's mixed parentage has distinct advantages. Being black and using cocaine would have got him into a lot of trouble. Fortunately his white side was there to talk to the cops. Also, his white side has been useful in raising lots of money, but should he fall into debt, the black side will be cool with that. The great worry, as Hillary is trying to exploit, is for every three black voters he attracts he scares away five whites. Ebony and ivory, man.

    ReplyDelete
  18. I've studied his image at long length and I can catagorically conclude he is black. White he is definitely not. Why the confusion?

    I remarked on this before on your blog. The real interesting question is why his mother was called Stanley Obama (I know the answer already and no, she didn't drive a bus to the cemetery gates).

    ReplyDelete
  19. also, being the first black US president is more remarkable than being the 44th white one...

    I assume someone said that already and I apologise for what might be regarded as plagiarism of previous comments.

    ReplyDelete
  20. Hi Bryan,

    Tricky situation. If with his brown skin, he is seen as a black person for all the historic and social reasons of supporting slavery and prejudice, then it makes sense that he would organize with other "black" people to "re"-gain power from a group.

    If because of racial prejudice, people with his skin color could not socialize with people of lighter pigmentation, the people with different pigmentations would then hang out with each other, and develop different "sub"-cultures. There became different groups "worthy", with redeeming value for socialization and establishment of identity, that each could select to belong to, and upon visual inspection, would be accepted into with varying status.

    With such history, we have been called black or Negro, and white or Caucasian (and note I am a shade of pink, not white, and none of my ancestors as far back as I can tell ever stepped foot into Caucasia).

    Here is the current IBPC judge, Patricia Smith: Skinhead. She is unmistakably a "black" poet, dealing with prejudice and group divide in her work. In order for the poem to be successful in breaking down prejudice, she must first be recognized as "black" with her brown skin.

    Here is a recent web article about "the wide-ranging coice of African-American" poetry": State of the Art.

    Yours,
    Rus

    ReplyDelete
  21. Your commenters are all far too clever for me sweety!!

    ReplyDelete
  22. I like a man who uses a friendly and affectionate diminutive for an unknown person myself by the way. He can call me sweety any time he likes...

    ReplyDelete
  23. Where would he sit on the Alabama bus?

    ReplyDelete
  24. BTW, Bryan, I'm probably mistaken but that picture leads me to believe that you are (were) in my neck of the woods. Enjoy!

    ReplyDelete
  25. We're all mongrels.

    ReplyDelete
  26. "While Susan's answer is a good one, it is also true that since his early youth, Obama chose to identify himself as being black, not bi-racial. That was (and is) his choice."

    That's a bit simplistic. Whenever anyone sees Obama they think black. Imagine that when he was a kid. Growing up for any black kid would be different, and he would, by default associate himself as black by being made constantly aware of it. (Through the racial bullying of others which i've read happened to him).

    ReplyDelete
  27. at least for them he isn't Brown.

    so, what happened to friday? okay, not another black reference there.

    ReplyDelete
  28. Indeed, and nobody has mentioned Thomas Jefferson yet, either - and to this day you won't find much about his "black" family in his official foundation http://www.monticello.org/ - the opposite, in fact.

    ReplyDelete
  29. I would imagine that the answer is fairly simple... he looks black. We can test that by asking him to try to get a cab in NYC at 1AM.

    ReplyDelete