Monday, December 10, 2007
Barack Obama is White
I was listening to the Ed Schultz show today on WCPT, the local progressive talk radio station, and one of the callers made a point that I found rather interesting. She was a black woman, and she called to talk about Barack Obama. She pointed out the latent racism inherent in the idea of calling Obama a black man. Senator Obama is half black, half white (his mother is white), thus, based on genetics alone, it would be just as accurate to call Obama a white man as it is to call him a black man. However, in our society there is still an unconscious racist assumption that anyone with any amount of black ancestry, however small, is still "black". I hadn't really thought about that before, and I confess that I too had basically thought of Obama as "black". It is intriguing to realize how deeply ingrained some of these thought patterns are. It seems we're still a long way from Dr. King's vision of judging people based on the content of their character and not on the color of their skin.


posted by Mike Clawson at 4:04 PM | Permalink |


At 12/12/2007 09:00:00 PM, Anonymous andrew

Actually, all people are the same color. just different shades. We all have the same pigment , melanin. it's just that some people have more or less than others.


At 12/13/2007 03:36:00 PM, Anonymous Karl

That's even more true of Tiger Woods. His father is half black, half white. His mother is Thai.

So he's 1/2 Thai, 1/4 white and 1/4 black.

But he's a "black golfer."


At 12/16/2007 03:45:00 PM, Blogger Amy Godoy Guerra

Hi Mike,

I sort of stumbled into your blog through some other peoples', very interesting. I knew you from Shine many many years ago...

This is a great point, and I think it above all demonstrates the difficulty of the American public to understand the difference between race and ethnicity.

Obama is bi-racial, making him just as white as he is black, as this post points out.

At the same, he has embraced a lifestyle as an African-American. He married an African-American woman, raises his children as African-Americans, but most importantly, identifies himself as African-American. So, while racially, he is many things, ethnically, he has established himself to be "African-American". Hence the confusion, probably.

It's the same in my family. Racially, my brother and I are on the light-skinned end of the spectrum (Italian-American mother and Guatemalan father). However, that didn't necessarily guarantee our ethnic identity. I chose to embrace my Latin American heritage (as well as the Italian!). I married a Mexican man, I speak and work in Spanish, I cook Mexican (and Italian) food, and actually live in northern Mexico. My brother married a Dutch girl from Holland, Michigan, speaks no Spanish, and lives in Naperville. He embraced his traditional American side. Same blood, same race, but I would identify myself more as Latin American while he would say he is a white American.

This is the beauty of the USA!!! :)

By the way, I'm not sure what skin color/race Andrew was born with, but normally those who deal on a daily basis with the stereotypes associated their race understand that we aren't, in fact, the same color. Unfortunately the public does not see the same color. They see Asian features, African features, Latin American features,etc. and make judgements accordingly. Also, my Italian nose and Guatemalan shortness are definitely not a matter of pigment, they're a matter of my racial genetics. Crazy reality.


At 12/17/2007 04:26:00 PM, Blogger Mike Clawson

Excellent point Amy! You're quite right. There is a big difference between genetics (race) and culture (ethnicity).

And while Obama has embraced an African-American identity, it'd be interesting to know whether that we entirely his own choice, or whether he was either overtly or just implicitly forced into that identity because of the tone of his skin. After all, people are going to treat him as "black" because of how he looks regardless of what he might otherwise desire. So again, it comes back to our latent racial prejudices, judging people by the color of their skin rather than by their actual cultural identity or individual character.

Anyhow, it's good to hear from you! I'm glad you're doing well. :)


At 12/18/2007 10:14:00 PM, Anonymous andrew

I was trying to make the point that on a basic level, we are not as different as many people think we are.

If we start thinking of everyone as simply children of Adam (shared genetics and shared culture), just wearing a different style tent, then we are closer to King's dream and God's reality.


At 12/18/2007 11:46:00 PM, Blogger Mike Clawson

On one hand you're absolutely right andrew. In many ways none of us are that different.

On the other hand, I'm not comfortable reducing all the wonderful diversity of human cultures, ethnicities, and even skin tones to a "color blind" melting pot. Differences and diversity are things to be savored and celebrated, not simply ignored. The fact is we don't all have the same culture (or the same genetics), and that's a great thing! I don't think God's dream is to erase all our differences, but rather to teach us how love each other for our differences.


At 12/31/2007 03:07:00 PM, Anonymous Karl

The pressure of being forced into an identity can come from both directions also.

A young african american woman in my law school class was socially ostracized by her african american peers (also law students). Her father was a doctor, she had grown up in an affluent household and attended private school, spoke better English with less accent and slang than most of her white classmates, etc. Most of her peers had come from different socioeconomic circumstances and in their minds this girl was borderline white (though her skin was darker than many of theirs). Yet she could (and did) speak eloquently and powerfully about how she could understand the OJ jurors' distrust of the police and resulting verdict, told how in their teens and early twenties her brothers were frequently pulled over for DWB - "driving while black" in their father's expensive cars, advocated for affirmative action in classroom debates, etc. She experienced many of the societal prejudices that all african americans do, but wasn't accepted by her african american peers because she didn't act black enough, didn't dress black enough or talk black enough. I wonder if Obama ever experienced that kind of backlash from the black community, in addition to whatever prejudice he received from the white community.


At 1/03/2008 09:31:00 PM, Blogger thechurchgeek

At the same time I can't even begin to imagine how ticked off the African-American community would be if we started calling Obama white. It works both ways.


At 1/04/2008 01:53:00 AM, Blogger Mike Clawson

Well, some in the African-American community are already saying he's not black enough. Maybe that amounts to the same thing.


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