Sunday, November 30, 2008

Barack isn't black. So it ain't history?

So says Marie Arana, author of American Chica and outgoing Washington Post Bookworld Editor.
Thoughts? Read it here.

20 comments:

biracialandproudtobecalledablackman said...

She's from a south american culture. Like the caribbean they have always made degrees of race mixing an art and science. But this is the US of A and she needs to understand that and shut the hell up.
Unless you are clown like Taimak (The Last Dragon) or Tiger Woods have never thought this way. Yes, because of Barack now it's fashionable again to be black.I bet even Tiger's calling himself black. Maybe after the Inauguration they'll all go back to "multi ethnic."

tchaka owen said...

Biracial...., what the fuck are you talking about?

Chris, this is a very well-written and thought out article and I comment the author. She represents my views quite accurately. I would make one possible modification though: Barack is both "not black" and "part black". "Not black" in the sense that the one drop is adhered to by those who are either ignorant or lack self-esteem and they feel the need to label him black. At the same time, it is important to recognize the black part and "part black" works. To be accurate, in the sense that we are currently speaking, "not fully black" is actually the most appropriate term (though I wouldn't use that because it sounds strange).

I respect the author's input not only because of her multi-cultural makeup but also because of her international background. It provides a fresh insight into an issue that a purely US-centric mindset cannot comprehend/define as a result of the limited view that has been pervasive for generations.

My background is like Barack's, though a bit more international than his in terms of experiences. I am mixed and refer to myself as such. I respect his reasons for referring to himself as black (as I understand he has done), but that's his choice, not ours. In fact, it is the attempt by many to pigeon hole his race that I refer to him as the half-white candidate (now half-white President Elect).

Genetics trump property rights. The ones who don't get that are the ones lacking.

nyc/caribbean ragazza said...

Very interesting article. I don't think things in America will change anytime soon. We are very uncomfortable even talking about this subject.

I met a woman here who was born in Italy. Mother was from Africa, Ethiopia, I think and father from Italy. She says she's Italian. If she had to fill out a census form regarding race instead of ethnicity, she would probably pick black and white.

If she were to move to the U.S. we would say she is black.

In my own Caribbean family no really cares, black, white, mixed, whatever, folks are more concerned about what your last name is.

Christopher Chambers said...

Biracial: I'm certain some of your points will rattle many folks. My view is pretty solidly in your corner re: the first paragraph of your comment. This is America. We don't have metizoes or 18 castes of mulattoes degrees etc as they have everwhere else. Likely it's because white people--whether wealthy or farmer or poor townie--have NEVER been a minority. And perhaps there's something weird about the Anglo-Saxon demeanor. Indeed, in the British Caribbean it was a teeny tiny bit more like the US, e.g. a question of white and then black and degrees/mixtures of African or Indian as TWO groups, rather than the rigid and numerous permutations you saw in every other place from Brazil to Haiti to Venezuela, etc. Accordingly I you're correct that such is a cultural/philosophical basis for Marie's opinion. Should she "shut the hell up?" No. But I agree she needs to at least nod to the fact that this America, with a unique and troubled history (and conditions lasting to this day!) and one which does not match the settlement and racial threads of a South or Central America or Mexico, parts of the Caribbean.

Emily Goulding said...

I think her view is indispensable for 21st century America, which is and should recognize itself as PART and PARCEL of the Americas and indeed the ethnic taxonomy that dictated identity formation in both North and South America.

This country could use a good dose of subtlety. As someone who is half American, she's not denigrating her own history, she's just expanding our horizons to help us see a more inclusive, and accurate, vision. One that she, and Barack Obama, and all of us, can fit into.

For those who "can't see past the past" (or for a reason that escapes me, subconsciously won’t let themselves?) I ask: Isn't that the same line of reasoning that said Barack couldn't win in the first place? We wouldn't even be having this e-conversation if he himself, and the millions dedicated to him, weren't willing to articulate and believe in a new and more hopeful way of being (as noted in his books)...the future is now.

The future is us! :)

Anonymous said...

Notice it's always a handful of biracial folk who want to be self-righteous or wishy washy like Tiger Woods but they get to pick and choose depending on the times. The ones like him who are military brats don't get it that their fathers consciously hooked up with white or Asian women near the bases as a way to attain the manhood or importance that America back home denied them. The cherry on top is that these women unlike sisters or even the average white American girl are passive and so damn grateful to get out of the hellhole near the base for even a Jim Crow lifestyle in the States that they will keep house, cook food and keep their lips shut!!

Listen if you're part white fine, but race IS history, and vice versa (haven't YOU lectured with this quote Mr. Chambers?). Directly or indirectly our history played a role in your parents getting together.
Being "black" only became "fashionable" on November 4th.

Christopher Chambers said...

Anon: are you directing this rant at me? I'm not bi-racial nor am I an Army brat. Just plain ole "light skinded." LOL

Anonymous said...

I realize that being culturally ambiguous is the IN thing these days but this argument doesn't pass the 10pm NY cab hailing test.

Please tell President-Elect Obama that Oprah says not to try this half-white, not really black thing while riding in an elevator with a stranger, traveling on a lonely road, or shopping overseas. It only works for people like Bill Clinton.

Although a nice platitude to think you are free to define your own race it's more about how you are defined by others than how you define yourself.

That's the problem with race. It's not synonymous with culture.

Anonymous said...

...and another thing, why do we act like cultural and ethnic diversity is a NEW thing for blacks in the US? We have always been many people with many shades.

I guess I have a real problem with the underlying suggestion that it matters that his mother was white and his father was African. As IF this somehow makes Obama of a new breed of Exceptionally Shiny and More Desirable Exotic American Negros.

Upgrade!

As if a "normal" American Colored person couldn't possibly have been this successful and inspiring -cough (Michelle Obama) cough, cough!!!

This new race dividing and splicing is as fraudulent as the one drop rule.

Besides, I don't see anyone rushing to claim any multiracial Social Eff-ups as one of their own.

tchaka owen said...

Emily, your writing is music to my ears. Thank you, you do get it!!!

Chris, yes we do have a "unique and troubled" past, but you're going along with it. I'm not. Emily isn't. And there are a lot more of us who aren't either. Do you want to dwell on what messed up people did in the past?

Anon, you don't travel much. Let go of the shackles....try creating history instead of merely living in it.

Anonymous said...

SoCal 82Tiger Says:

Professor at your encouragement I have gone ahead and posted my recent conversation with you.

Chris -

I would love to post my perspective to some of your most recent Blogs. I do detect however, WAY TOO much anger and hostility. My perspective is neither "black" nor "biracial" so I assume (wrongly?) that many if not most of your readers who are posting will dismiss my thoughts as without merit…

That said: I truly believe that anything that moves US away from being either predominately race-centered or race-sensitive in our thinking is a good thing... I think your bloggers dismissive treatment of Obama (before he was elected), Tiger Woods, along with the editorial writer you featured on your Blog fails to recognize that this is OUR future... AND IT WILL BE A GOOD THING!

The banter & posts on your Blog remind me of many first generation American immigrants I’ve heard and spoken with who righteously profess that their American children (and then their children's children) will learn, remember, and never forget the history, language, and culture from where they came from. They will do this through unceasing and relentless “family” education. I smile as I hear them boldly predict that the demands to that their children to "never forget where they came from" will be honored and passed along through the years. It's an admirable though unrealistic goal to hold to as part of the American experience. I think an unrecognized beauty of the American experience is that the further you get away from where you came from the less it matters to you and your future. Truth is - 3rd, 4th, 5th, and later generation Americans from any group are far removed from the land, culture and language from where they came from. As an afterthought the best America does to honor OUR past is create a series a "drinking holidays" (i.e. Columbus Day, St Patrick’s Day, Cinco De Mayo) so as to promote this faint light of historic ethnic and cultural pride.... For bad or good my thought for OUR future has always been to see this same paradigm fully develop and envelop America’s "native" black community.

As non-black or biracial and growing up not seeing or feeling conflict or shame in wanting to date women outside of “my kind” - I often wished that the world I was growing up in 30 years ago felt more the same way. I cannot tell you how often I felt the glares or heard the barbs of those who did not think like me! Yet I am also sad to say that while I occasionally felt the expected prejudice from 'my kind" for my choices; it seemed that more hostility was directed from "across the isle" at me and tragically even more towards the women of color I found smart, interesting, & attractive and I had asked out to date (Hey - where you among them?)... Dealing with that garbage at 20 was as much a reason for ending dating relationships as any of the other multitude of menial things that bring relationships to failure. It is my small opinion the day can't get here soon enough (yesterday!) where the garbage of this mental mind-f’ing is out of ALL our minds.

So blast & rant away if you must because I am not sure I have done my thoughts or feelings in this arena justice! You might & can dismiss my pontifications as a mere fantasy to want for US, BUT I think that when it DOES happen WE will all be better off for it!!!

Nonetheless all the best for you and Diane - Always great to talk & write to you!

Anonymous said...

I'm the Anonymous who wrote about military brats and Tiger Woods. I don't know who the other is. I wasn't directing the comments at you. I was writing about the subgroup of biracial people whose dads are black servicemen and their moms are compliant German or Japanese or Korean, Filipino women. These couples got together for underlying racial reasons and their children try to play this ambiguous game when it suits them. Strange because the dads are often straight bammas.
How about that?

Anonymous said...

the other anon says:

Seems all this noble talk about transcending race is more about escaping black.

Use to be when a black person did good, you carried the burdened badge of being a "credit to your race."

Now people find ways to Explain how you aren't "really black" or completely black as if to justify or excuse your success.

So I'm a bit touchy that this article is based on the premise that black is a thing everyone must want to escape. Especially knowing the multitude of black people who are now -and more who would be- doing great things by foraging the slightest glimpse of pride in themselves.

Obama won't transcend race until people accept him as a black man first. Why is it so hard to say Obama is a black man? As long as being black carries a negative connotation, we will always have racial barriers in America.

Marie Arana states a phony case for making him more than black- a modern day argument for "passing"

the man identifies with black.

let the man be black.

Celebrate the black man that you admire.

Tell yourself that black is okay. not good, not bad, not better, not worse- just black.

maybe then you will be able to see Obama as an individual. nothing more. nothing less.

Knute Rife said...

Aside from the obvious "we're all from a lot of places, so let's acknowledge it" proposition, I think Ms. Arana's argument goes to a dark place she does her best to gloss over.

I grew up in two, very small towns, both of which were about 125% white. Nevertheless, we had minorities, Irish in the first, Czechs and Poles in the second. We were all from Europe north of the Alps and Pyrenees and west of the Orthodox Bloc, but we still found a way to split the tribe and create "us" and "them."

Ms. Arana waxes poetic about the long history of cross-pollination in Latin America, and it is true the Catholic Church (once it decided American Indians were human and had souls) baptized all comers, but the bottom line is that both Spain and Portugal imposed brutal class systems, and the more American Indian you were (or looked), the farther down the system you were. And there were endless gradations on the way down.

Latin America was hardly unique in this. The finely sliced classifications in the Caribbean have already been mentioned here, and the Indian caste system is the same thing "elevated" to a divine imprimatur. And the US has never had quite the monolithic approach alleged here. As a northern white, I grew up not paying much attention to gradations of skin tone, but my southern cousins sure paid attention, because it mattered in their world. Why? Well, contrary to what Chris said, whites have been the minority, at least locally, especially in the South.

And I finally get to my point. These systems of fine race gradations were not created to help the graded members self-identify. They were created to protect the power of ruling minorities. The smaller the ruling minority, the more finely it had to divide the ruled to protect itself.

Given that there is no biological standard for race (Your DNA may tell you that X% of you comes from the Bight of Benin, but it can't tell you if you're black, brown, biracial, or whatever.), where are we supposed to go with all these divisions? Are we to introduce ourselves by percentage? And where exactly does the breakdown stop? "I'm X% French, but it's all Huguenot, so it isn't really French, and I'm Y% German, but it's from two different regions that were arbitrarily cobbled together, and I'm Z% Norwegian, but it's all western, not eastern, and it's been filtered through Iceland and Scotland." By the time you get done, you sound like some complete asshole's order at Starbucks.

e said...

What is the advantage of the Obama and the leftist illuminati calling him black over biracial? I'd think that he'd just be as proud of that.. or he should be

Hathor said...

if that one drop rule didn't apply, then we would all be classified as mixed race and there would be no such thing as "black - not Hispanic."

Jason87 said...

Mr. Obama, through his own actions and his own words, is manifestly self-identified as black.

For Ms. Arana to argue and explain that identity away would be hubris.

tchaka owen said...

Hathor - How about you taking the reins of your life instead of letting someone else classify you?

For everyone else, here's another piece:

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20081213/ap_on_re_us/obama_s_not_black

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