Monday, May 19, 2008

A Peculiar Thing, Race

Why is Barack Obama hardly ever described as "biracial"? We all know he is, but you rarely HEAR or READ that word in stories about him. (Mentioning that his father is black and his mother is white doesn't count because those attributions speak to his parents and not to him.)

And if he's as white as he is black, why is he never called "white"?


dsb said...

Back in the days when pundits puzzled over whether he was "black enough," Obama pointed out that New York cabbies probably wouldn't doubt his blackness if he were trying to wave down a cab.

But you're exactly right that he's rarely referred to as bi-racial--do people somehow find it too complex to grasp? Is it the result of latent racist queasiness? Does Michelle's blackness tip the balance?

charlotte said...

I've actually wondered the same thing.
On a related note, a friend who is bi-racial recently was greeted by a black employee at a new job with the comment "I'm so glad you're black - these white folks are all racists." My friend promptly informed the employee that she is biracial - her dad is white. Why did the employee assume she was black just because her skin is brown? And why did she assume my friend would have the same point of view she has?

urB'n sKoLa said...

I think it's a good thing he isn't referred to as bi-racial. Partly because of the fact that everybody wants to use race as a positive or negative in the campaign.

Furthermore, a great deal of black folks have mixed "race" identities, whether or not we can trace them as easily. Our skin is usually the trump card and signifier of our blackness.

It probably depends on what audience you're trying to reach. If you're talking to black folks generally, to have him IDed as biracial would de-emphasize his blackness and make him less palatable. I know my folks would think "Why can't he just be proud to be black?"

I don't quite see any gains to ID-in him as a bi-racial person to white audiences either. Then it is as if he's trying to get out of being "black."

And well, ID-ing him as white well we all know why that wouldn't work. Well, maybe we all don't. But basically white folks would have a FIT. Whiteness is like "property" for white folks. To have a person who doesn't appear "light-skinned" try to claim that property would be
nothing short of a perceived "abomination" and lie. No matter the fact that race itself is a lie.

But then again I took a class on whiteness, so this feels like common sense.

Good post!

Editor B said...

Yet more evidence of how the "one drop theory" is firmly ingrained in the American consciousness.