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Monday, June 09, 2008

Barack Obama is a White Man

I don't get it. Obama is seen as a Black man. Why not see him as a White man. He is, if I understand his parentage, 50% White and 50% Black. Moreover, he went to Harvard. This constitutes unimpeachable evidence (sort of) that Obama is a White man. Tiger Woods is 50% Black and 50% Thai. How in hell does that make him into a Black man. His father raised him, it seems, to be White in that he taught him a mostly White sport and sent him to mostly White Standford University (the last is a guess). I suspect that Tiger has more White friends than Black ones. I hereby claim him as a White man.

Back when I was a full time faculty remember I looked over a class I was about to teach Sociolinguistics for the first time and remarked that it was too bad there were no African Americans in the class since we would be talking about issues of interest to them. A girl right in front of me said, "What makes you think that there aren't any Blacks in this room?" I took a good look at her essentially White freckled face and her red hair and said, on observing that her hair was "kinky" in the way the hair of Blacks can be and replied, "If you say so." The next class two relatively clear cases of Black students showed up.

Since that "error" on my part, I have observed all manner of athletes on TV whose race I find it impossible to tell. They could be very light skinned "Black" people or White people. Certainly their skin color is often lighter than that of certain so-called "White" people from Europe.

It seems that there has been a "one drop" rule for distinguishing Whites from Blacks in America. Wikipedia puts it this way;
The one-drop rule is an historical colloquial term in the United States that holds that a person with any trace of African ancestry (however small or invisible) cannot be considered white[1] and so, unless the person has an alternative non-white ancestry that he or she can claim, such as Native American, Asian, Arab, Australian aboriginal, the person must be considered black.
This is asinine. One might as well have a one drop rule for making someone White.

When I was an undergraduate at Rice, I wrote a paper on race in which I cited research that showed that if one abstracted away all of the defining characteristics of race -- hair color and consistency (straight, curly, kinky, etc.), lip shape, nose shape, skin color (taking shades seriously), butt size, etc. and valued them equally, we could come up with some pretty wild racial groupings if we were to take any one of them as the single most important criterion.

Should we take blackness of the hair as most important, we would be inclined to put Orientals and Blacks together. Were we to take the straight/kinky hair characteristic as definitive, we would lump together Blacks and certain Semitic peoples. Should we take straightness of hair as definitive, we might lump certain Whites, Orientals, and some or all of Amerindians together into one race. But we didn't do any of these things. The Black-White distinction was picked and in America and elsewhere, the one drop rule was adopted for racial identification. That is sad.

In fact, the Black/White thing is ethnic more than any other thing. On that ground alone, Barack Obama is more White than Black. I have seen him engage in certain sporting activities. He would be on the outer reaches of the Bell Curve for acquired and native athleticism of Black's based on what I have seen. He and his wife seem to be very different in their ethnicity but I surely have missed something. I would need to see him at, say, a family reunion of his wife's family. This is probably going to sound racist but I don't mean it to be. Michelle Obama acts more Black than Barack does and I suspect that at a reunion of her people, we might find him acting more like she does. Who knows? None of us should really care.

A year or so ago, I saw a film of a family reunion that might look a lot like Barack's parent's family reunions might look like -- lots of Blacks and Whites and In Betweens. They seemed to get along quite well with each other. Indeed they seemed to act quite lovingly toward each other. That should be the model for America. We have a chance with Barack Obama to make it so. We Whites should claim him for ourselves.

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18 Comments:

Blogger Placemats Galore said...

This is a really interesting piece of writing here. I've often wondered at the American tendency to classify anyone with any African ancestry as black, but I'd never heard of the one-drop rule before. I'm part African and part Indian, but more than three-quarters European, so I'd be called black in America. A friend from Botswana, however, tells me I'd be white in Africa. Here in Australia I'm apparently not anything. I don't identify with any racial groups, and when I once identified myself as black (going by the one-drop rule) in front of a friend, she was shocked, but couldn't suggest any alternative.

A few years ago I went through a stage where I found this lack of any racial affiliation very disturbing, but no one else even cared. In my community it's such a non-issue (unless you're Asian), and it's been such a non-issue for my entire upbringing, that all this obsession with Obama's race really surprises me and I wonder how a similar situation would work in Australia. I mean, race - it doesn't even matter!

9:39 AM

 
Blogger untogether said...

"...Orientals..." really? Doesn't 'oriental' refer to objects and 'Asian' refer to human beings?

Aside from that, your observations are quite interesting and, for the most part, I agree with you (as a White, Black and Native American woman.) There were jokes in the Black community for many years about Brian Gumbel being the whitest (acting) black man on earth, so the idea isn't really anything new to the community. Most Black people I know feel the same way about Tiger Woods ('Don't no niggas play golf').

What gets me are people like Perez Hilton, who will actively harass and bagger people openly because of how they identify themselves. Jessica Alba has publicly admitted that she is ethnically part Latin, but that her Latin family has been in the US for several generations, she doesn't speak Spanish and doesn't feel like she is a Latina. Instead, she identifies herself as an American. Hilton attacks her about this every time he gets a chance.

This is another reason (and maybe the biggest) for Obama to be/have himself identified as a Black man; at least no one will nail him to the wall for 'ignoring' his roots. In this country, all joking aside, the one drop rules above all else.

10:13 AM

 
Blogger Ben said...

Oddly enough, though, when it comes to aboriginal ancestry in the US, people have never applied the one-drop rule. I remember a few friends and acquaintances that had worked out what fraction of various tribes they were.

Just for laughs, here's scene from the movie Domino taking mixed race classification and portmanteau to its logical conclusion.

9:02 AM

 
Blogger Thr Language Guy said...

Some interesting comments here. Ben, something akin to the one drop rule applies to Amerindians when some white person decides he wants to be in a tribe. I have visited a cave system in Ohio owned by some tribe of Indians. All of the people there were as White as I am. They claimed some small percentage of Amerindian blood as their qualifications.

12:03 PM

 
Blogger Chimera said...

Good post. You talk about some of the same questions I've asked myself on occasion. Not too many occasions, mind. In my family, trying to figure out which degree of "black" or "red" or "brown" or "white" or "yellow" entitles you to call yourself by what colorful adjective can trigger an intrafamilial marathon of opinionation. It can get very exhausting.

These days, when someone inquires about my racial background, I simply say, "Human," and make them let it go at that.

8:34 PM

 
Blogger SusieQ said...

This is a timely post. AOL news had a piece today with a very similar subject matter regarding Obama and his racial identity. It turns out that DNA testing would reveal that most of us are actually multiracial. When I look at Obama I see someone who is multiracial. This may be one reason why he thinks he would be an effective bridge between the races.

12:30 AM

 
Blogger Thr Language Guy said...

I approve everyone's remarks, including chimera's self-identification as a human.

I had a neighbor in Columbus who had become friends with an African linguistics student and was greatly impressed with him. At a dinner at his house, he asked why this guy could be so superior to American Blacks. I didn't share his assessment either of the African guy or American Blacks and replied that the only possible explanation for this perceived inferiority is the presence of White genes in American Blacks. He looked at me very oddly but couldn't think of anythig to say.

6:59 AM

 
Blogger STALYON made in America said...

What is caucasian? I asked someone where the word came from as everyone who is "white" has heritage from Ireland, Italy, Russia, Israel, and africa. How someone who has roots to africa is considered black when we live in a world that is constantly changing, someone in Lebonon wouldn't call themselves Persian and they would call themselves French either, they are what they are and it is a mix of races coming together through love to create a beautiful people, here in America we always want to put someone in a box, a box to check them off as something or in some circumstances something there not. Tiger Woods has something like 3 or 4 races in his genes, and so many other AMERICANS do as well as they come from a generation of a melting pot, Irish and Italians are not the same and being called White is just ignorant, now just because some "smart guy" thought that the easiest way to put people into categories what would they call a black man that was born albino? He would be white correct? Seriously the whole category system was set up to keep social classes in check and to keep the reins of power and privelages amoungst those who were born into it, but thank god things have changed and we as a society "most of us" understand that it's not the color of skin but really the content of character, and to judge someone on any other grounds is ignorant, however a right as of now here in the U.S.A.

1:46 AM

 
Blogger Thr Language Guy said...

Stalyon, you are right == racial classifications are stupid and scientifically unsupported. In fact, such classifications are done by the powerful so that they may justify treating others badly, as with the English and Dutch in S. Africa or the Japanese in re American prisoners of war and etc.

7:57 AM

 
Blogger Heather said...

How could you overlook how Obama and Tiger Woods see themselves? If they have chosen to identify themselves as Black, who are we to disagree? Obama has never tried to shed the title. (He has never discounted his mother's heritage either.) And maybe I misunderstood your words, but it's hard to believe a PHD about to teach sociolinguistics had never heard of the one-drop rule before. Where are you from? I know that sounds very rude, I'm sorry, it's just that is the reality in America and even if it's not logical, you have to recognize it.

3:42 PM

 
Blogger Thr Language Guy said...

Virtually all of Tiger's friends seem to be white, which is not to say that he does not consort with big time Black athletes. I have never heard Tiger assert his blackness and I doubt he would given the race of his mother. That would be a monumentally hurtful thing to do. I don't know about Obama.

I didn't know the one drop rule and I don't know the KKK secret handshake either. I don't pay much attention to idiots.

After reading the title you might have thought, "I bet this thing is going to be tongue in cheek." Instead, you didn't think at all.

Moreover, I don't teach any longer and would never have taught the one drop rule anyway since it is not a linguistic or sociolinguistic fact. You might educate yourself a little before you make claims like you did.

4:15 PM

 
Blogger Lisa said...

One small correction: Obama is not 50% black. He's one-sixteenth (6.25%) black, 15/16 Arab, and half white. The Kenyan Obamas are listed in the Kenyan census as Arab African, not as Tribal [black] African. His father's great great grandmother was a Tribal African, and it is from her - and only her - that both Obama and his father get their black DNA.

Yet, like Halle Barry, he identifies more with the 1/8 black father who abandoned him than to the white relatives who raised him.

How many people today would be clamoring to put the first Arab-American in the White House?

10:41 PM

 
Blogger Lisa said...

Correction: Obama is 7/16 (43.75%) Arab.

10:42 PM

 
Blogger The Language Guy said...

I suspect that Obama did not choose to be Black but that Blacks chose that for him.

6:10 AM

 
Blogger think said...

Is it just me or did any one else notice the tie "the language guy" made between being black and playing golf, going to an Ivy League college, and having white friends. Am I to believe that being black has anything to do with a person's ability to play "black sports"? Have we forgotten that it wasn't until recent that black people were allowed into white universities, at golf clubs, or even in white neighborhoods? And because of economic reason, and the racially accepted “grandfather” clause, it remains difficult still when it pertains to Ivy League schools. If I were to use your rational to categorize black people, based on what the majority of black people do; could I not then say that in order to be black one must have a tendency to be overweight, become sexually active at an early age, not exercise, drop out of school, and multiple other things associated with the black race. These things, I must add, have little to do with being black and more to do with social economic status. Golf lessons cost money. Ivy League universities cost money. Having the privilege to partake in either does not make you white, it makes you able.

I am deeply offended by your obvious need to associate Barack Obama with the white race based on his family’s ability to provide a privileged life for him, his friends, and his choice of sport. Because he is of multiple ancestry it is his choice to decided, if he even deems it necessary for his own sake, to identify with what ever race he so chooses. I am glad that he chooses to identify with the black race. It gives others who identify themselves as the same, someone to look up to. So that they do not believe as you do. That blacks are to stay in the lower economic situations they grew up in, not live a life of privilege, and certainly not become president of the United States. I mean who do they think they are.. White?

10:46 PM

 
Blogger msday said...

ooh, ooh! Is this still open? I guess so. Well, Mr.Language guy, I am one of those people who is also white, black and Native American. In fact, I could probably pass for Barack Obama's sister. Well, after spending many years being identified as black, I currently live in Italy as a tanned ambiguous other. My husband and I have just added our newest addition to the family. She is a beautiful blond haired blue eyed baby girl.
Why is it that Brazilians, Puerto ricans, Cape Verdeans, are able to identify as such regardless of their looks. Yet, as Americans, we are nothing more than colors.

11:19 AM

 
Blogger The Language Guy said...

think, you misunderstood the post. Sorry. You should check your racism monitors at the door. My credentials are solid.

On the other hand, msday clearly understood it. In the US, we try harder to resolve racial problems than do the Euros generally, especially the Brits, French, and Germans in regard to Muslims. However, we are way to racially conscious, making race a factor of damn near everything. It shows up in "I saw a Black doctor today who said.... He was great." where his being Black is mentioned even though it was irrelevant. We do this with women as well. I hope Obama gets elected and helps to put some of this to rest.

9:23 AM

 
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12:25 AM

 

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