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Comments by YACCS
Thursday, July 29, 2004

Yep., they're colored too

They're black and so are their descendents, no matter who else they come from

Atrios posted the following:

One of the media conversations I'm peripherally aware of (again, in this bubble I don't have the omniscient view of the media borg I usually do) is the "why do people call Obama black?" It's quite fascinating, really, that this is an issue. The same issue was raised when Halle Berry won her Oscar. I'll try to be kind to those raising the it, but they really seem to have a view of race as being genetic or "in the blood," which is, uh, a rather interesting view of race. The "one drop rule" still exists -- not because it's government imposed, but because if you look black people categorize you as black. Now, I look forward to a colorblind society but it doesn't exactly exist right now. Obama is black because people see him as black. The content of "black blood" in him is irrelevant. I highly doubt any of the people saying this didn't think of Obama as a "black man" before they discovered that one of his parents was white.
But, as for why this issue is coming up now specifically, Obama himself says it much better than I ever could:

If I was arrested for armed robbery and my mug shot was on the television screen, people wouldn't be debating if I was African-American or not. I'd be a black man going to jail. Now if that's true when bad things are happening, there's no reason why I shouldn't be proud of being a black man when good things are happening, too.


In America, there are two classes of people, white and not-white. If you are white, then you are white, but if you are not white, you are NOT WHITE. Have you ever heard of anyone described as half-white, unless they were visibly another race? No matter how pretty or how smart, if you are not white in America, you are not white.

But Obama didn't have to use the example of armed robbery, all he had to say is if he got into an elevator, some white woman would clutch her purse. The double Ivy League grad (Columbia, Harvard Law) is not white in America, to what degree doesn't matter, he could be half-Mexican like Bill Richardson or Jeb Bush's kids, and they are not white. It's not the degree of blackness you have, but the lack of whiteness.

In Latin America, any white heritage makes you white. Whiteness is the positive value, because when they were shipping slaves west, there were so few whites that interbreeding wasn't only essential, but encouraged. Of course, when you get to Brazil, which had slavery until 1888, blacks are still the vast majority, but still discriminated against based on skin color. One of my professors said that when he was in Brazil, the family he visited hid their black child.

But because of chattel slavery in the US, and the limited number and expense of slaves, meant that any black blood (later to be expanded to other ethnic groups) meant you were black. Now, my great grandmother was Native American, but no one calls us Indians. Most African-Americans from the Carolinas have some native heritage, but black is the catchall phrase used to describe us all.

Up until the last 10 years, interracial dating, if not taboo, was fraught with social and even personal perils. Now, I am race indifferent when it comes to dating, but I know other people who are not. But it's harder to be so.

My friend owns a bar on Third Avenue in the East Village. One day, we're drinking beer and sitting in the window, and watched all these couples pass by. Tall Asian men were with little blondes, so were the black guys, tall white guys had little Asian girlifriends, black guys were with Puerto Ricans. Meanwhile, my friends were sleeping with all manner of European Au Pairs, most of whom were defintely not black. Now, most of my friends date interracially, without even considering it as an issue. Women are pretty and sleeping with them a positive goal. Who cares what color they are?

When some of Thomas Jefferson's black descendents were found, most of who looked as white as any other white person, some of their neighbors began to treat them differently, of course, this was on Staten Island, where racism is a local sport, but still. Any black heritage was seen to make them black, even though Sally Hemmings was only half-black to begin with. She was Jefferson's sister-in-law. It took decades for the white Jefferson descendents to allow their black relatives to be part of the family.

I was watching the Super Bowl with my friends and someone said something about being black. My friend said, well, I'm not all black. I said, "well, 25 percent makes you a member of the club and 50 percent gets you a seat at the table."

Italians love to insult Sicilians by saying they're part black. It's one of the most common jokes heard.

Barack Obama is black because he looks black. His actual heritage is not relevant. His upbringing is not relative. All you have to do in America is look black to be black. Because that is how people will treat you.

posted by Steve @ 11:25:00 PM

11:25:00 PM

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