“Is Barack Obama black?” – A response to an AP article on this topic.

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Is Barack Obama black?

Anytime you hear a question like this, one thing is absolutely certain:  the person they are talking about must be (or have been) a great success.  In this case, the subject of the question happens to be the next President of the United States of America.  President elect Barack Obama came literally out of no where to defeat Hillary Clinton and the Clinton machine, as well as those “mean old Republicans”, to win the 2008 presidential election in a landslide.

But what if Obama had not won?  What if news had come out that Obama had a secret white mistress who accused him of rape and abuse?  Would white America jump to say he wasn’t black then?  Would Americans from mixed backgrounds leap to say he’s one of them, or he’s raceless?  Would news periodicals and the AP run stories claiming “Many insisting that Obama is not black”?  Or would they run front cover images of him darkening his features?

I wonder what the reaction would be if these same people, who now claim “Barack Obama is not black”, were to have only known the Barack Obama of the 1970s?  What would they have said about him when he had an afro, played high school basketball,  drank, experimented with drugs, and was “casual” about his education and future? (as his mother put it in Dreams from my father)

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He still had a white mother from Kansas, and he was still raised mainly by his white grandparents.  However, something tells me that those same white people and “mixed” people would not be as enthusiastic about claiming him as one of their own.  I can just hear them referring to him as that BLACK burden to an otherwise “good family”.  To some, he might serve as  evidence as to why white women should never ever sleep with black men (because they produce such awful offspring).


No America, President elect Barack Obama is black.  He is an African American, and thankfully he is smart enough and has enough integrity to recognize that.  Black people come in every single shade you can think of, but we are still black.  The KKK has no problem recognizing that.  Nor did most white people when passing on their inheritance.  It would be laughable to believe that the black offspring from rapes/relations between white slave owners/segregationists and black women would gain the same recognition and treatment (when it comes to passing on inheritance) as the white offspring of those men.  Undoubtedly, there are many white people in America who are related to black people and they don’t even know it.  Consider this, it was Barack Obama who brought up his relationship to Dick Cheney, not the other way around.  At the height of his power as Vice President and his dealings with Halliburton, do you think Dick Cheney ever recognized Barack Obama as part of his family?  Ha!

Sadly, there is still a subtle belief in America that being black is a bad thing.  That explains why whenever an African American becomes incredibly successful (like Oprah or Michael Jordan), people are quick to say “they transcend race”.  It is almost as if they are saying “you are so good at what you do, that we will forgive you for being black.  I hardly even notice that (negative) part about you.”

When have you ever heard this type of comment said about a successful white American?  Nobody says Michael Phelps “transcends race”.  Nobody says that about Steve Jobs or Bill Gates, George Clooney or Brad Pitt, Celine Dion or Barbra Streisand, etc.  For them, and many non blacks in general, race is not something to apologize for, nor is it something that is even addressed.

But whether we are talking about Halle Berry or Colin Powell, Tiger Woods or Barack Obama, successful African Americans with mixed backgrounds always seem to draw comments seeking to dilute, belittle, or ignore their black/African roots.  Even for black Americans with two black parents, like Beyonce, efforts seem to be made to diminsh their blackness once they reach a certain success level.

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I recognize that people with this mentality often consider themselves as being “helpful”.  They may also claim they are being “accurate” and “honest” in their assessments.  (that is, when it comes to recognizing the diversity in the ethnic backgrounds of successful African Americans).   But what they are really doing is perpetuating the lie that black people and people of black African descent are inferior.  They are saying that being black is a bad thing, and thus any successes from blacks (especially in terms of intelligence or beauty), comes about because the person is not really black, or the person is unusually gifted enough to overcome their blackness.

In order to truly “perfect our union”, Americans must redefine what it means to be black.  That is, we must change our attitudes towards the word “black”, when speaking about ethnicity.  “Black” can no longer harbor within its definition the lies of inferiority, danger, cultural weakness, criminal intentions, ignorance, foolish and rebellious behaviors, loudness and bad grammar, or any other negative or stereotypical  attributes.  Black must describe one’s ethnic background, physical attributes, and that’s about it.

I am even slow to suggest that culture be added to the definition of “black”, because culture is mainly tied to environment, upbringing, and social structures.  Thus, a “black” person from the suburbs of Minnesota is still “black”, even if he or she does not share all of the cultural preferences or practices of a “black” person from Atlanta.  Too often, African Americans who break from the black stereotypes pedaled by the entertainment industry and the media are subsequently labeled “not black” or “acting white”.  Too often those blacks that dare to speak proper English are accused of “talking white”, despite the fact that some of the greatest orators in our nation’s history (MLK, Federick Douglass, even Malcolm X) were black.  History shows that African Americans built their own towns and universities, even during the brutal years of Jim Crow and segregation, yet the popular stereotype only emphasizes the ghetto, and the projects, and lazy uneducated blacks seeking handouts.

carsonYes, whites and blacks and all Americans must look carefully at their own definitions of the word “black”  if we are ever to truly unite as a country.  Just as whites should not be labeled racist simply for being white, blacks should not be seen as a stereotype simply for being black.  And those blacks that do reach high levels of success are still black.  If they marry outside of their race, they are still black.  Even if they came from mixed marriages, in America, they are still black.

Black is not confined to the jail cells, the hip hop videos, the basketball courts, the stripper poles,  the ghettos and stereotypical images in the media.  Black exists in corporate board rooms, in the upper ranks of the military, in ivy league schools, in high fashion magazines, in law offices, in doctors offices and scientific laboratories, in NASA space programs and architectural/engineering firms, in the police forces and congressional offices, and yes…now…black exists in the White House!

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14 Responses to “Is Barack Obama black?” – A response to an AP article on this topic.

  1. sahar009 says:

    It always shocks me first of all, that racism is still so omnipresent today, in the 21st century, and second, that people (including myself) are so oblivious to it. Thank you for this great post!

  2. Iam Robert says:

    Yes, Barack Obama is black. He is so not only because he defines himself as such, but more so becuase so many people around him do. As you note, many of these same people have an irrationale fear of him and all things of color. If he were not the Presdient-elect, heck, even so, he would have the same problems any black man would have in our society.

  3. Claude says:

    If he’s not black then what is “black”?

    I never liked that term, because it’s not accurate. It’s a contrived term, invented by racists and slave owners. Perpetuated by the racial hysteria of today’s media and consumerism.

    Is black a color? Is black a lifestyle? Is black a culture? Is black an ethnicity? Is black a genetic description?

    Are you black if you listen to black music? Are you not black if you do not listen to black music? If only half your mp3’s are of black music, does that make you half-black?

    Too confusing. Especially with small kids (we have three little boys).

    So, in our house we use more accurate terms like African American, Italian American, Hispanic American, Asian American, and so on. Someone from Africa is African. If they are also American then they are African American.

    I am half African American, half German. My wife is African American. So my kids are mostly African American.

    Thanks for your wonderful post that says perfectly what I was thinking when I first read this stupid, inane AP headline.

  4. betsy says:

    Apparently there is a handful (“Many,” according to the AP is an unknown quantity) of people who believe that the people who are good and smart and responsible and successful are white.

    So when a person elected to be president who appears more than any of his recent predecessors to manifest those qualities, the handful of people conclude, with the kind of reasoning storks use when put their heads under dirt, that this president-elect must surey be white, as well.

    They have forgotten that anly two months ago they were hurling tacial insults his way; saying and doing anything they could to discredit him based on his being black.

    If he’s going to be president, he can’t be black. Don’t you get it?

    I often wondered how many of the lowlifes at Palin rallies were actually even registered to vote. Maybe they won’t breed.

  5. JOHN says:

    Thank you for posting this. I wish you could send it to the AP as a response to their outrageously stupid article.

  6. JC says:

    Thank you for a well-written response to that AP article which left… a bad taste in my mouth. With as much research as they did (even conjuring the one-drop rule), they did little to clear up all the confusion that exists in today’s society.

    I had yet to put the two and two together of success=transcendence to race as a means to dilute a cultural identity. I think the dominant (white) culture/race is beginning to understand that there is much more to living in America than what they see in front of them. These are the growing pains of the majority culture coming to the realization that what THEY know is not the “right way” and everything else is “ethnic” but it just… is.

    I am very happy for Obama for our country as this “figure of change” (seems cheesy to say “change” these days, post election slogan). As the world shrinks and our eyeballs are on every corner of the world, we needed a reminder that our American culture comes in all shapes and sizes but still keeps what the majority of Americans regard as the the core to culture… and that’s family.

  7. […] love the response of the thoughtful and perceptive political/cultural blog Bald Eagle 08, which wrote: Anytime you hear a question like this, one thing is absolutely certain: the person […]

  8. Joe says:

    Is it acceptable to fractionalize the American population, to refer to African-Americans as a sub-set of the American citizenry? No it is not. This is no more acceptable than to refer to Italian-Americans, Russian-Americans, or Jewish-Americans. Such categorization brings with it a constant review of the needs and intent which bring rise to placing oneself into a special “group.”

    To set oneself out as a sub-set of the greater American populace is to ask for attention, and with this comes the responsibility to accept such attention be it good or bad. After setting oneself into a sub-set, does that person have a valid complaint when the label is applied in a way of which they disapprove? Absolutely not, once you label yourself, you accept the good with the bad.

    In my opinion, the only group in our Nation that has any reasonable basis for setting themselves into a separate group are the Native Americans. The reason is that they constitute sovereign entities within our Country and thereby have special standing to differentiate themselves. In fact, they are many and several nations within our Nation. Yet the Native Americans continue to be treated adversely by ordinary Americans.

    Special categories are for special circumstances and such no longer exists for those of African, European, Asian, or other assimilated cultures. For if you do not consider a complete American, having absolutely disbanned of the need to hypenate your affiliation, then you should re-consider whether you are totally committed to such a Great Country as ours which celebrates cultures from every place upon Earth.

    Continuation of categorization is a fight against assimilating into the whole. Instead of setting oneself into a category and then making a case for special treatment, wouldn’t it be better to become part of the body politic and cooperate with the good work that strives to accomplish meaningful and benefical change?

  9. sufiNET says:

    Mr. Obama has represented multi etnies and culture in the world ; White American, African, Hawaiian, Indonesian, Spanish, British, Christian, Jewish, Islam, Arab… (yahoo! answers… Do you agree with this genealogy? Mr. Obama is the 49th descendant of Mohammed ‘The Prophet’).

  10. sahar009 says:

    Excellent point, Claude, re: what is black and that the term isn’t a good one.

    Betsy: I never thought about it that way, they they used to insult him before and now that him being president is inevitable, he therefore can’t ‘be’ black. I guess it’s a form of denial meant to protect racist people from admitting to themselves that they are racist in a world that doesn’t openly accept racism as acceptable anymore, and because they keep denying it, they don’t have to embark on the painful road to recovery.

    Joe: Excellent point about categorizing people. On the one hand, some fields require it – medically, for example, people from different genetic backgrounds do have different sensitivities etc. Also, it does make a difference if you are an American that comes from a Russian background or an African background – you are going to have some (or many) cultural differences. But on the other hand, putting the emphasis on a certain subcategory does underline that this particular subcategory is ‘different’, in a good or a bad way, than other subcategories.

    I wish everyone could just admit to themselves that they are prejudiced – because everyone is. That way we can start working on ourselves as a society.

  11. […] “Is Barack Obama black?” – A response to an AP article on this topic. […]

  12. Joe says:

    sahar009 says

    “I wish everyone could just admit to themselves that they are prejudiced-because everyone is. That way we can start working on ourselves as a society.”

    This is a troubling comment. If we all accept prejudice yet want to working on our society then which society are we working on? Are we working on the society that accepts out prejudices and biases? Or are we working against the society that does not accept oneself?

    In my humble opinion, it is better to become a part of a society than to maintain a belief that separates yourself as part of a group. We all are unique, this is a given. We should join in celebration the appreciation of our varied cultures. People who believe that they are part of a group, with needs that differ than others, has become a separatist. Being part of a group to celebrate positive cultural values has little to do with socio-economic, demographically divisive, fractionalizing policy.

    Society and civility requires that we should all rise to the assistance of another, be willing to accept assistance from any other, and be willing to do as we believe others should be doing. Civility does not rest upon doing for a man/woman that which he/she should be prepared for and supported by a society to do for him/her self.

    I do not admit that I am prejudiced or biased. I view each person as such. I strive for this goal despite my own fraility as a human, and move forward with each interaction with another human being to improve what is the human condition. I refuse to accept group type casting as acceptable. I absolutely reject that acceptance of categorization is required for a forthright society.

    BTW: I accept medical science and that there is an essential need to focus upon specific afflictions that are genetically derived. Medical care should be made available to each and every member of a society, just as education should be a natural right. Those who seek to provide medical care and education to members of a group are the very persons who are fueling this debate. My ears are becomming deaf to their cry.

  13. […] “Is Barack Obama black?” – A response to an AP article on this … […]

  14. izzyinthecity says:

    Very late…

    EXCELLENT response. I am saddened by how desperate people are to denounce his Blackness. I’m also waiting for these same people to acknowledge the “whiteness” in Rev. Wright or Louis Farrakhan. Isn’t it interesting how selective they are in choosing which Blacks to fight over? LMAO

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