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And another thing: why do they keep calling Obama ‘black’?

While I’m on the subject of the US presidential elections, here’s another thing that has me confounded: why do people keep going on about Barack Obama being ‘black’? Doesn’t he have a white mother? Doesn’t that make him ‘mixed race’? Why is he African-American, and not Caucasian-American?? I mean, he didn’t even grow up with his [black] father, but rather his [white] mother. So the whole hallelujah chorus about him being the first black man to potentially enter office as the Prez of the US kinda has me scratching my head.

I know the whole racial thing is huge in the US. The tension between blacks and whites is nowhere near as explosive anywhere else, except possibly in South Africa and Zimbabwe [correct me if I’m wrong]. In the UK, for example, you don’t experience that kind of tension. I suspect it’s because blacks in the UK were not brought over as slaves as they were in the US, but came of their own free will. Amazing what a powerful charge that history carries.

Anyway, I guess the whole thing is pretty hard to comprehend for us who have not had first-hand experience with it. Except that, well, I kind of HAVE had first-hand experience with it. And I know that if people kept going on about AAH being ‘black’ or ‘African-American’, as if that completely defined who she was, I’d be pissed.

… although a bit cooler than the previous two days. There was a pretty cold wind blowing off the sea when I went out on my bike earlier … exacerbated by the speed of my wheels, yowsa! We’re waiting for a contractor to come fix our roof and he promised he’d do it as soon as the weather started cooperating, but there’s no sign of him and he’s not answering his phone. Grrr. Tradesmen. It’s like reneging on promises is written into their job description. Right now 10°C [50F]. Sunrise was at 6.20, sunset at 8.31.



Comments on this entry are closed.

  • mary September 4, 2008, 3:55 pm

    The ‘race’ thing is mad!
    My son has an English father and an Irish mother, he was born and brought up in the UK but now lives in the west of Ireland.
    He calls himself Welsh, English or Irish depending on which rugby team is playing who!

  • Sirry September 4, 2008, 3:56 pm

    I’ve questioned the whole thing myself too. It’s as if they totally dismiss his mother and her background and struggles as a single mother.
    Perhaps because if you’re 1/16 or more any other race than caucasian in USA you can claim/consider yourself a minority. *shrugs* I thought we were all a part of the human race.
    The other point you bring up is the pain the African American people went through coming over here as slaves. Well Obama’s father was not a slave, so that also kind of debunks that thought. *scratching head*
    I wonder how many Afr.Americans can trace their roots to slaves these days in American and how many are from i.e. The Islands in the Caribbean, Africa and other countries where they weren’t descendants of slaves.
    It’s all very confusing.
    There definitely is tension here. I’ve been called a F..in Wh.. Bi.. and just 3 days ago, my next door neighbour called my neighbour across the street the same. I live in a very nice neighbourhood in one of the most educated cities in the US. It’s still here!
    And we as white people cannot under any circumstance respond because then WE are the racists. *shrugs*
    It’s a country of so many dilemnas

  • Becca September 4, 2008, 4:13 pm

    Obama may be mixed, but people here who do not know his heritage would consider him black, thus the whole first black president deal.

    I actually have a friend who is mixed, her dad is African her mom is white, and whenever she did any standardized test in school, she’s always mark other because she feels she is truly African-American whereas, most black people today are just black, they are Americans who happen to be black. If we go by her way of thinking, she is saying only first generation immigrants should be categorized and everyone else should be American. I think that’s a huge reason as to why we can’t move past race, we like to keep track of statistics too much.

  • alda September 4, 2008, 4:30 pm

    mary – sounds like a good system your son has. :o)

    Sirry – It’s a complex society, that’s for absolute sure!

    Becca – surely by now most people know his heritage – it’s been publicized so much. No?
    What you say about the standardized testing is curious – do you have to mark onto the text which social group you belong to??

  • Becca September 4, 2008, 4:46 pm

    The American media (which I have a degree for, haha) likes to twist stories in whatever way sells them… so they are more intent on selling him as the first black president, regardless of what his mother has brouht him up as.

    You’d be surprised how many people just don’t care what his heritage is.

    When you do the tests, you usually mark what ethnic group you belong to.. I don’t remember what all the options are… but they usually include caucasian, african-american, asian-american, american indian…and it can go on and on.

  • alda September 4, 2008, 5:01 pm

    Becca – Ah. Yes. I get that (about the media). As for people not caring about his heritage – I think that’s a good thing. I guess we get a somewhat different perspective of these things over here … for example, much was made of it recently during the official Democratic nomination that little or no mention was made of race. It was conspicuous by its absence, in other words. Whereas – for example – the issue of Hillary being a woman has been touted endlessly.
    I’m still amazed about those tests – do you know the rationale behind having to mark which ethnic group you belong to??

  • mgb September 4, 2008, 6:28 pm

    I think they say that the ethnic group info on standardized tests is for “statistical purposes”, and I think they always state that they’re optional. Once in a while a study will come out that will claim that the results of the standardized tests are ethnically biased, or gender biased, and I suppose they couldn’t prove they’re not biased unless they ask for the race and gender information to prove that the test is fair to everyone. But then asking for the information probably makes people suspicious.
    So yes, it’s all ridiculous.

  • Keera September 4, 2008, 6:49 pm

    I’ve wondered that myself, and it may be historical (there used to be a rule that you were black even if you had only 1/16 Negro in you) and it may be his looks. What is probably more to the point is that Obama defines himself as (primarily) black: He goes to a church with a black congregation, he married a black woman, and he identifies with blacks.

  • Abby September 4, 2008, 6:54 pm

    For some insight on this issue, read “One Drop” by Bliss Broyard.

  • Jessie September 4, 2008, 7:31 pm

    This has been an issue brought about by the media (but it also reflects our society’s views towards race): to some, he’s black, to others, he’s not black enough.

    I remember in an interview, when he was asked about this issue, Obama said, something to the like of, “I consider myself black. When I walk down the streets in New York trying to hail a taxi, I am a black male.” I think he was answering in the context of that question, and I’ve heard him say that he has struggled with identity issues growing up, but the fact still remains that the majority of the American public seems to perceive him as black male because of his skin color.

  • Cassie September 4, 2008, 7:51 pm

    Yes, (and I won’t repeat the old, racist 1/16 law mentioned several times above), there is an issue here. There are reasons for it, many of them.

    Now, don’t get me started on the Republicans. I started watching their convention and it’s a dizzying train wreck of a blood pressure nightmare for me. (Is that clear enough?)

  • Jon September 4, 2008, 9:05 pm

    Cassie, why would your torture yourself watching such drivel.
    One of my college roommates was from a mixed marriage. His father was Norwegian and his mother Swedish. It is considered to be a volatile mix here in Minnesota.

  • Kate September 4, 2008, 9:35 pm

    I don’t get this racial thing somehow…black or white? What’s the difference? there’s no doubt the problem exists, how can we then say we live in civilised western world with wide access to eduction and media… well, this is the media that undoubtly shape our views…
    I try to avoid televison as much as I can but newspapers headlines are stinging me in the eyes every morning on my way to work !!!
    Remember that those responisble for London bombings were mainly British Muslims? Born and bred here in civilisied western country what of course caused some distraction afterwards…it looks like settling now hopefully not until the next time but I think those who are Muslims will always be a subject to predjudice here… I’m also a forigner in this country by the way, White Caucasian but East European and sometimes people don’t want me to feel good about it (lol! of course I don’t really care as I’m happy living abroad) but I have never experienced a major discrimination. Why the hell colour of your skin matters?
    Alda your daughter is beautiful!!! She can always think it’s an assett to be a little different form pale Icelanders 🙂

  • Valerie in San Diego September 4, 2008, 9:42 pm

    People who judge others by their most visible characteristics will see Obama as black. Hence, in the face of prejudice, his nomination is historic.

    In terms of background and values, his is very similar to a large majority of Americans. Hopefully they’ll wake up and realize this when they get to the voting booth (well, or before).

    My family only arrived in the U.S. in the early part of the 20th century, variously migrating from Turkey, Lithuania and Ukraine. Yet I still harbor guilt over the historic treatment of Native Americans in this land. I’m not sure I can explain, but the spectre of racism looms very large in the U.S.

  • Cama September 4, 2008, 11:28 pm

    Why is there so much racial tension in the USA? Who knows? If you check the history of the USA you will find that every generation that migrated here had racial problems. Chinese, Irish, Italian and so on. Today it is the Mexicans that refuse to become legal and use our health care/welfare system. I think it’s just passed down from generation to generation. At any given period of time in our history a mixed child of any race was considered a minority. Yes Sirry, We can’t say anything even when it’s a valid point or it becomes a racial issue, on either side no matter what the issue in the USA.

  • alda September 5, 2008, 12:01 am

    Interesting input from everyone. I guess if Obama defines himself as black, that’s what matters within this particular context. I totally get his point about trying to hail a taxi as a black man … clearly appearances do matter. At any rate, and just for the record, I’m on Obama’s side and I do think his nomination is hugely significant. He’d definitely get my vote if I had it.

  • Cama September 5, 2008, 3:15 am

    Go to you tube, type in “Obama’s pastor”( J.Wright) and watch what we had to look at for a few weeks on our local news. Obama is a local guy form South Chicago land. Obama attended this church for over 17 years.

  • Rozanne September 5, 2008, 3:54 am

    I have the same question. Obama is just as “white” as he is “black.” Whatever that means.

    I had to laugh at Cassie’s comment about the televised Republican convention being a “dizzying train wreck of a blood pressure nightmare”–that is exactly how I feel about it! I got home from yoga the other night and B was watching it (he likes to keep tabs on the other side) and was immediately wrenched out of my relaxed yogaized state. Hearing a bunch of people cheer as someone spews horrific lies is very, very worrisome.

  • Lucy September 5, 2008, 8:43 am

    Here in Ireland we always said that we weren’t racist, but that’s beacause we never had a lot of immigration. I’m guessing this is pretty similar to Iceland which is why AAH probably doesn’t feel like she’s walking around with a big BLACK stamp on her head.

    Saying that when we did get large numbers of asylum seekers and migrants racism became a huge issue. I can remember how shocking it was to hear my friend called the N word and how upsetting it was. Even though she was a mixed race, middle class kid, she was forced by racism to identify more strongly with her Black roots, I think this is probably the same for Obama.

    To be honest one of the things I like most about him is that he has this international family and upbringing, it does seem unfair to disregard the mother who must have worked hard to raise a man capable of being American president on her own.

  • Mikey September 5, 2008, 8:58 am

    As a young American I’ve often had identity issues as well. I’m white and both sides of my family came to North America in the 1700’s before the U.S. was founded, but I still have trouble with the fact that that we’re not taught (or at least I wasn’t) about the Indian Wars. It was only when I was in a local bookshop that I found local histories and found out that in the very valley that I grew up, only 150 years ago it was populated by two groups of Native Americans who were massacred and the survivors sent on a death-march to a reservation in the north of the state when gold was found in the valley. We didn’t learn about this in school and when I read about stuff like that it’s very difficult to be proud of America. For me this isn’t just about the U.S., though, Canada and Latin America share this heritage of genocide on a grander scale than the Holocaust or the Khmer Rouge regime. This isn’t totally relevant with the modern Black/White debate but when you think about how this entire land was founded on racist genocide, it doesn’t give you a calming sense of identity.

  • Jessica September 5, 2008, 9:53 am

    It’s pretty common for the children of mixed-race (black/white) couples to consider themselves black. Probably because their skin, hair, or facial features have taken on the traits of the black parent and therefore the children experience a lot of the same prejudices and stereotypes. Also, they sometimes feel like they’re disrespecting their ethnic heritage to identify with being White. Obama is just following in the footsteps of other mixed-race people in the media who consider themselves as Black or African-American. Namely: Lenny Kravitz, Lisa Bonet, and Halle Berry to name a few. Remember the media hype when Halle Berry was “the first black woman” to be awarded an Oscar? It’s the same story now with Obama. And it’s not necessarily a bad thing.

  • alda September 5, 2008, 10:31 am

    Thanks everyone – really enjoying getting all your points of view.

    Mikey – you make a very interesting point about the racist genocide. It’s like I said – it’s amazing what a charge history can carry. You think it’s gone, but no – it’s everywhere. I experienced this very intensely when I lived in Germany for five years. You weren’t supposed to mention the war – but it was there, in people’s faces, words and actions.

  • Shannon September 6, 2008, 7:05 pm

    Hi Alda…not sure if anyone responded to your query as to why we mark race on our standardized tests…I believe it partially has to do with funding of public schools. Schools with minorities get more money. It also allows groups of people to be placed into sub-groups and compared. See this below. I’m sure there are lots more reasons that I don’t know about. =)



  • andrea September 7, 2008, 12:01 am

    Then there are Canadians of whatever origin who have a drop or two of indigenous blood being “status Indians”.

  • Sara September 10, 2008, 10:46 am

    About filling in the race on test forms, etc – I think schools and various organizations get more money from the government if the numbers of minority children are higher.

    When I lived in Illinois I was a leader of a Girl Scout troop and approximately 80% of my scouts were mixed. In the beginning of the year I was supposed to fill in one of those forms for the troop to send back to Girl Scout headquarters. I was sitting there scratching my head and saying “where do I even put these kids? … there’s not a brown option.” One of the other scout leaders told me to mark them all as black or latino (depending on the halfs) because then the GSUSA would get more federal funding.

  • Lisa in Toronto September 11, 2008, 2:09 am

    I agree that the US media seems to be taking shortcuts in describing Obama’s background. I was disappointed that he didn’t make more opportunities to discuss mixed families. I feel like almost all of my friends and acquaintances in Toronto are in mixed couples of some sort – Christian/Jewish, German/Chinese, Quebecois/Turkish, Jewish/Thai, Jewish/Nigerian, Somali Muslim/Jamaican Christian, Latin American/Scottish, Tanzanian/Bangladeshi, Ghanaian/German, etc etc –
    and it’s not a big deal for their kids at all (if they decide to have kids) …
    I think Woody Guthrie had a line about when all of the children are brown and women rule the world?

  • M. November 4, 2008, 8:27 am

    The black thing is pissing me off BEYOND BELIEF.
    And almost NO-ONE is mentioning it. This is one of very few places online that actually has the guys to mention it.

    It’s really not helping racism and racial tension and i’m telling you something, if/when he becomes president, they better start calling him by his actual race, which is half of each, because we will go from black people being pissed off and feeling oppressed to white people being pissed off and oppressed, and white people already have 2 very dangerous groups just waiting to gain members.
    The KKK and NeoNazis.

    It could get extremely messy if the media don’t sort out their wording.
    I have to wonder why they are going so out of their way to ignore his white side. Can you imagine if they called him white and ignored everything black about him??

    Calling him black is actually racist, as presumably they are going by the ONE-DROP RULE which means if you have any colour in your skin you are black and that’s it. (!)
    Quite sickening really. The weird thing is, no-one seems to realise what they’re doing when they call him black.

  • M. November 4, 2008, 8:59 am

    oops typo. I meant to say ‘the guts to mention it’

    To clarify, it is understandable why Obama sees himself as black (I am not saying he’s right, but it’s understandable, and even highly intelligent people can be wrong, insecure etc) and I can understand why the public would see him as black, because at first glance, obviously due to his skin colour he DOES look black.
    But when you see him properly you can tell that he is of mixed race.

    Even if you can’t tell, the media and everyone KNOW he is mixed race, so it is outrageous IMO for them to continue to refer to him as black, when they know full well that he is not. It is just reinforcing the bad judgements that people make. Excusing the fact that people will call mixed race people black. Isn’t that what we are trying to stop?
    It is making mixed race people feel worse. How are people supposed to ”find their identity” when they are constantly being told that they can’t be mixed race ?? You must choose either black or white?!!
    IMO it is extremely irresponsible. This kind of behaviour is what led to Obama feeling so alienated in the first place.
    (BUT IMO (and most people’s opinions..) I think it might be political as Obama probably needs to call himself black to win/get the black vote etc.) But I hope he will re-evaluate things and start accepting himself and referring to himself as half black, half white; mixed race. In the future.

    I hope I haven’t offended anyone. It’s kind of hard to explain without rustling any feathers…. I don’t think opressed was the right word to use above, but I couldn’t think. Maybe ‘ignored’ would be sufficient. Or…I don’t know…