The fact that President Barack Obama is the product of an interracial marriage has led folks of every ethnicity to argue about whether he should be calling himself “Black.” Many people are of the opinion that he should identify himself as “Biracial” to more accurately reflect his ethnic mixture.
It seems to me Obama’s own rationale for referring to himself as a Black man is the opinion that matters most, because what is being identified here are his life and his experiences. It astounds me that so many people have taken it upon themselves to inform the man that he is “not Black.”
It is true that in some places in the world Obama would not be referred to as a Black man because in some cultures the term Black denotes an African phenotype in which European characteristics are not visible–that is, the person does not appear to be mixed with anything that is non-indigenous African.
On this continent, however, “Black” is not a reference to dark skin or “full-bloodedness,” but to membership in a community of Americans of African descent who share similar cultural experiences and are exposed to similar social challenges that cannot be fully mitigated by economic or educational status (or by being mixed with European genes.)
Being Black is membership in one extremely diverse group of people who are daily responding to a supremacist construct in which any measurable deviation from Whiteness can make one socially “cast out” and deny one the many privileges White folks take for granted.
Being wealthy, well-educated and/or lighter-skinned can (and very often does) significantly mitigate racial discrimination, but smart, rich, light-skinned Black Americans will still experience countless instances in their lives where they are viewed (not just by Whites, by the way) through a supremacist lens that labels them LESS __________ (insert positive quality here) than their White counterparts. Driving While Black does not require much pigment, nor does being denied justice, housing or employment. All that is required is for the decision maker in the situation to view you through a lens that tells them you are less trustworthy, less civilized, less attractive, less responsible, less intelligent, less law-abiding, etc.
If the discriminating lens of white supremacy did not exist, ethnic identity would not be such a big deal. Racial labels would not come with such political and social baggage and Obama might actually choose to describe himself as bi-ethnic or multiracial, but so might millions of other “Black” Americans who do not have one white parent.
My Black father was mixed with White, but both of his parents were considered Black. Just how far back in our lineage should we be reaching to rename our black ancestors “Bi-racial” or “Multi-ethnic” when we discover they have some mixture of European, Native American, Asian or Hispanic DNA?
If Obama is not Black, then neither is anyone else who has a non-black ancestor or two. Spend a few hours on Ancestry.com and you’ll quickly recognize that millions of so-called “Black” Americans are actually “Multi-racial.” So, in America, “Black” already means “mixed” most of the time anyway. At some point the insistence on deBlackifying folks just becomes ridiculous and redundant.
How Black is Barack Obama?
He is as Black as it takes to be Black in America.
This is old news, so why am I writing about it today? Because it is reflective of one of the major themes in my novel, Skin Deep, and this blog/fansite is dedicated to all things Skin Deepish! (My novel’s protagonist looks white, but has been raised by her famous Black jazz musician father to identify herself as Black.)