Monday, January 14, 2008

Obama: Very African American, Not Very Black

Two articles in last weekend's Washington Post Outlook section caught my eye:

As Obama Rises, Old Guard Civil Rights Leaders Scowl

Why Obamamania? Because He Runs as The Great White Hope

What struck me in both of these articles is that Obama is acting like an outsider because he is one. He's second generation African-American, so this makes him different from American blacks like myself.

Here is how I decide whether a person is black or not: If a significant part of their ancestry were enslaved or subjugated to segregated America, then the person is probably black. Calling such a person "African-American" ignores the complexity of their history and their ties to American history. It also lumps relatively recent immigrants from Africa into a group to which they don't belong culturally. I was born black and I will die black. Please don't call me African-American. My ancestry and culture are too complex for the African-American label. There is a distinctive American black culture (several, really, but let's not pick at nits) and it has precious little to do with Africa.

On the other hand, Obama is half African-American since his father was Kenyan. Obama himself says that his father "...was black as pitch, [his] mother white as milk." His father left when Obama was two, so to a very significant degree, Obama was not raised in an African-American home. His upbringing is complicated, but it certainly contains no connection to the American black culture.

So, the bottom line is that Obama (the African-American politician) is not black enough for the black political establishment. This is hardly surprising since he isn't an American black. He won't kiss their butts to get their blessings and that ticks them off. Actually, if he were to kiss up to them, it would probably hurt him much worse than any possible benefit they could provide. I won't take this time to discuss what is wrong with the black political establishment that is represented by the likes of Sharpton and Jackson. The point here is that I find Obama's outsiderness interesting and am gladdened by how he is handling it so far. It almost makes me wish I were African-American instead of black.

Obama is treading his own path, and that is the right thing for him to do.

The Day
  • Workout: crunches, dumbbells
  • Music: Violent Femmes

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I'm very happy to see someone actually speak up about the whole black vs african american topic. Good for you to have the guts to do it. Sometimes things just need to be said. And I agree with just about every point you made in your entry.