Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Obama is NOT black!

Maybe just semantics but this view is interesting nevertheless...

"Barack Obama is not black. He is the first mixed-race politician ever to get this far in the onerous and arduously testing American electoral process. In the US, under an over-arching American patriotism, separate ethnic categories are clearly labelled and race ghettoes (real or imagined) are commonplace. In such a severely organised society, Obama's achievements are all the more astounding since he fits neatly nowhere.

A caveat. Only in one important sense can Obama be legitimately termed "black". In the US and the UK too, until fairly recently, "black" was a political identification, shorthand for "not white" in the long game of power held almost entirely in white, male hands.

So his win does represent, as with Colin Powell and Condi Rice, an historical shift as some top jobs finally get into the hands of non-white Americans. But the adjective has become an identity and racial marker for the Democratic nominee, and used that way, "black" is disingenuous, and in my view, iniquitous.

Successful mixed-race Americans are pushed to call themselves "black" as a badge of honour, evidence that they are not ashamed of that background. And that too is wrong. When the legendary golfer Tiger Woods said that he was African, Caucasian, Native American and Asian, he was denounced by African Americans for denying his "true" heritage.

During the times of transatlantic slavery, biracial children (most born out of rape by the master or overseer) were branded black so as to deny them white paternity and concomitant rights. Now the descendents of that history demand that same denial, because many of them, too, despise amalgamation.

Maria Root, an American clinical psychologist, writes: "The existence of racially mixed persons challenges long-held notions about the biological, moral and social meaning of race." Such conservatism surely needs to be thrown off in the 21st century.

Woods and now Obama are heroic examples to, and of, that wilful wedge (growing and alarming many nations) of individuals and families made up of many parts, who cannot be held in man-made reservoirs of biological and cultural purity. They leave the gene pools of sterilized waters, swim out instead into the saltier, messier, yes dirtier, unpredictable seas full of unknown creatures and perils – but also freedom.

Obama's parents – an African man and white American woman – didn't make it together. Their son, though, came through stronger and wiser, because he had to. Some with the same stories do, but never forgive, like Malcolm X; others do and self destruct. I agree with the British psychologist Professor Ann Phoenix ,who said nearly 10 years ago that we need "a separate history of people of mixed race ... [otherwise] they have no past, no heroes or heroines with whom to identify."

And an honest history would have to acknowledge the white men and women who are rubbed out by the label "black", erased ruthlessly. Obama would be nobody – he wouldn't exist – without his mum. She wasn't perfect, and made mistakes, but it took a brave lass to defy the social order, as we read in his autobiography. It is only by calling himself "biracial" loudly and proudly that Obama can integrate his mum into his success story.

He should remember how many white parents feel when they are systematically demeaned, diminished and sometimes removed altogether from the biographies of mixed-race children, even when they have been the ones doing the parenting. Darcus Howe, the father of several children brought up by white mothers, once memorably asserted that all the sprogs were "black" and absolutely had to be.

My daughter has my colouring, and could pass as Asian, but I would never, ever want her to. Her wonderful English father made her past and will her future. In this country, we have thankfully moved on from the views expressed by Howe. Assertive mixed-race couples and children have ensured that progress, away from just another kind of bigotry. The US lags far behind.

Many more biracial Americans than Britons, for example, feel obliged to marry black ( the darker the better) in order to re-purify their biology and group belonging. I wonder how many African-Americans would have supported Obama if his wife was Anglo-Saxon or Hispanic? Here, politicians like Bernie Grant or David Lammy happily chose white partners without such hang-ups.

I have had several emails from mixed-race readers and contacts – some interviewed in Mixed Feelings, my book on miscegenation. They seethe that yet again, one of "theirs" has opted for a fraudulent brand. One suggests that expediency, if not honour, should persuade him to come out: "Maybe," says one, "he should calculate how many votes he would gain if he embraces his whiteness as much as his blackness. Some of those backward Appalachians need to hear about his mum and gran, their consistency when his dad buggered off."

Maybe that argument may just move the first multiracial President of the USA."

By Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, The Independent.