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Why Can't Barack Obama Be White?

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Guest blogger Real Moms Have Curves: All this talk about the nation's first black president has me a bit annoyed.

barack obama

On the night Barack Obama won the presidency by a landslide (and all the days before it), everyone was raving about "the nation might have a black president!!" I personally felt like people (myself included) were shouting it from the rooftops, wearing it on T-shirts and screaming it in the national media. But then I had to pause: Why are we calling him black? Isn't he just as much white as he is black?

Don't get me wrong. I classify myself as black (though with my skin tone, most people think I am otherwise) but is saying "he is our nation's first black president" just buying into centuries-old rules about race, namely, that if you have one drop of black blood then that means you're black?

The real question is: What if Barack Obama said he was white? The responses would probably go from initial laughter to outrage -- from both sides of the fence. Unfortunately, the media hasn't been so friendly to celebs who decided to go with their white parent -- in the 80s Mariah Carey was practically crucified for only acknowledging her mother's side of the family.

One of the many things that makes our country beautiful is that all of us are mutts in one way or another -- a big mixture of people from different worlds who have decided to live together. It seems from all his public appearances (and his book) that Barack has learned to reconcile the two sides of himself, embracing both equally. But have we?

As this basketball and chili loving lanky man becomes President, I would hope that we can take a cue from him and accept people without pigeonholes, and without categories, acknowledging that whatever hodgepodge someone comes from, it doesn't make up who they are.

If our prez can be comfortable with being a mutt, then so can I. And so can you.

next: Obamapalooza Is In Full Swing!
36 comments so far | Post a comment now
Kathy B January 20, 2009, 7:19 AM

While Mariah did indeed sadly get crucified for mentioning her mother’s Irish heritage, she did not state that she was White but instead Mixed.
I myself am of mixed race heritage & understand both Mariah’s & Obama’s side. In this country if you are any minority, you are of that minority even in this day & age. My Father is Mexican & my Mother is Irish, Polish & German. I am proud of all sides, but if I have to put down something I have to choose “Hispanic” because over half the time there’s no “Other” option. Also when people look at me they see somebody that’s light complected w/ green eyes & their narrow mindedness can’t comprehend a Mexican producing a child as light as me. Even though I have a half brother who’s Mexican & not mixed w/ the same complexion & eye color.

Erica B. January 20, 2009, 9:18 AM

I’m a biracial woman… black mother/white father. I’ve always categorized myself as Black because when you see me, that’s what you see! It’s the same way with Barack Obama. If he didn’t tell you he was of mixed heritage, you probably wouldn’t even know.

Kimberly/Mom in the City January 20, 2009, 10:12 AM

Obama could have identified primarily with being White if he wanted to. It’s his choice.

(The truth is that most people who identify with being Black are a mixture of ethnic backgrounds anyway.)

The reality is that he decided (by choice or force…who knows…he looks like a light skinned Black person!) to identify primarily with his Black heritage. He also has a Black family (wife and kids).

Having said that, he has never denied the White side of his family. His love for his grandmother, mother, etc. have been obvious throughout this whole campaign!

Obama has said that he is “rooted in” but not “limited to” his Black heritage. I don’t have a problem with that….

single mom seeking January 20, 2009, 5:01 PM

It was my own third grader — who’s biracial — who asked me, “Why does everyone call him black when he’s biracial?”

I think he has done a great job at recognizing all of his “mutt” qualities in his speeches. It’s the media who has really pigeon-holed him.

Dana January 20, 2009, 5:15 PM

I love what you have said here. It is the most profound thing that I have heard all day.

Jai January 20, 2009, 5:20 PM

Please give it a break. President Obama IS a black man. He honors his heritage, but be is a Black man. Deal with it. He is of an African father and an American mother, not the descendant of slaves brought to this land by force for trade. He makes us proud - this Black man, his beautiful Black wife and children, white mother and grandparents, African father and grandparents, Indonesian-American sister, her Asian husband, and so on. He makes us all proud.

He is a Black man! And OUR President!

Cindy January 20, 2009, 5:25 PM

Thank you! What a great perspective. It begs the question- would he have won the presidency if he identified himself as white? or even if he identified himself as HALF-white, half-black instead of being simply labeled a “black man.” Certainly the buzz about the “first black President” would not have given him the momentum he carried throughout the election. Without that buzz, would the media have gone to such great lengths to get him elected? Did we (gasp) perhaps OVERLOOK some of his questionable comrades, practices, and policies simply for the fact that he would be the “first black President”? We’ll never know.
However, I will never understand why his former pastor bashing white people was never labeled as racism. Would have been a different story if McCain’s pastor was bashing blacks.

Ally January 20, 2009, 5:38 PM

Some of you are missing the real deal here altogether. Obama idetifies with Black because that’s the social and cultural circle he moves in. LOOK AT HIS FAMILY- HOW DO YOU THINK HIS CHRISTMAS GOES? WHO DO YOU THINK HE ATTENDS CHURCH WITH? Black is his CULTURE so of COURSE he calls himself black.

My children are biracial. They are tending to self idetify as Mexican as thats the culture, social circle and customs we follow. We eat tamales at Xmas and celebrate Day of the Dead. This is a “duh” concept to me, yet most of you/others/the media seem to miss it.


Theres nothing wrong with that. Who cares?

KnitPurlGurl January 20, 2009, 5:39 PM

I think the reason why they are saying the “First BLACK president” is because we’ve honestly never had a president that wasn’t all white. My niece and nephews are biracial and they typical just say black. -Not because they are not proud of their white heritage and our side of the family, but because the world VIEWS them as black.

To those who are concerned that people voted for him just because he is black: I’m sure just as many people voted for McCain because he is white. Get over it.

I am a white woman who voted for Barack Obama because I believe in him as a politician. And honestly, I don’t think the media has gotten him elected and/or has gotten him elected based on race. Obama has no more control over what his pastor has said than he has over what you say. And honestly, I didn’t elect the man because of his personal life. I hired him to do the job I think he is capable of doing.

I’m so sick of hate-mongers. Get over it. Move on. It’s time to heal our country - not promote an agenda of hate.

Anonymous January 20, 2009, 6:20 PM

Its about being a man of color and accomplishing the highest honor in our country… even if its only half of him. We are celebrating breaking through barriers of our not so pretty side of history called racism, that is why this is important. There were many slaves that were half white but were still considered only black because of skin color. Our country is celebrating the uniting of hearts and hopes and finally putting a person of color in the most important role in America and the world and that is worth noting.

ggalNV January 20, 2009, 6:24 PM

Its about being a man of color and accomplishing the highest honor in our country… even if its only half of him. We are celebrating breaking through barriers of our not so pretty side of history called racism, that is why this is important. There were many slaves that were half white but were still considered only black because of skin color. Our country is celebrating the uniting of hearts and hopes and finally putting a person of color in the most important role in America and the world and that is worth noting.

Jaime January 20, 2009, 6:44 PM

“Why Can’t Barack Obama Be White?”

This whole article has me a bit annoyed.

ggalNV January 20, 2009, 6:54 PM

Because he is a man of “Color”…look at his skin. Being a person of color doesnt mean you are only black or only one side of a race or ethnicity. Why cant we celebrate that a person of color is president? That is a big deal!!! Thousands of people have died in this country fighting for someone to have this opportunity, and to take that away means we havent moved forward as much as we think we have.

Posting with no name January 20, 2009, 7:28 PM

Thank you for voicing a few of my own issues.
First off I am mixed or bi racial but not with black. Normally when you say that people assume that there is a part of me that is black. Nothing of the sort. I am part Indian.
Yes it is a HUGE day because 60 years ago this would not have happened. I do understand very much and respect that. On the other hand I do say that I’m Indian but I also acknowledge that I am so many things but my most predominant are my Irish and Indian. Yet I look white. I am not brown and dark like my native brothers and sisters. I am white as a ghost like my grandmother and her family.
I want this to be about the man and what he can accomplish. I want this to be uniting. I want for him to succeed. I don’t care what nationality he is. I don’t want this to be about race. Race doesn’t define him. Why do we want it to? It is just a part of him.
I think an appropriate title for this could be ..”Why Can’t Barack Be Barack!”. This means just as he is mixed as myself why can’t he just be himself. He himself identifies with both sides of himself. It’s just the rest of the world that doesn’t acknowledge that.

Danielle January 20, 2009, 7:35 PM

This should fall under the “DON’T Say This to Black People!” rule…

ggalNV January 20, 2009, 7:53 PM

…by the way, I am not black, 100% Mexican and no one would ever know, in fact no one ever believes me. They think I am White or maybe Italian. Maybe this should fall under the “DONT say this to people who have suffered at the hands of racist”…

Rita S January 20, 2009, 8:13 PM

This has been bothering me for days. For two generations my extended family has embraced it’s biracial children. Now the media makes us choose? As if being biracial and raised as white is some dirty little secret. What happened to seeing beyond color? What about the issues he stood for folks? I’m sure this whole either/or thing makes a grown man cringe. I feared that we were already re-writing history, but it’s happened. I heard on the radio that somebody from the Washington Post claimed he was the first president without roots in Europe. That negates his maternal origins. Come on folks…accept the man as the whole person he is!

Cass January 20, 2009, 8:15 PM

I heard it from my own mother today the comment of one drop of black blood makes you black.. this has me a little disconcerted about the things that might come out of her mouth around my son (who is of mixed ethnic background).. my whole family is.. I am considered “black” but I always put “other”.. I want my son to recognize all of his ethnic heritage and know and realize that it doesn’t determine who he is as a person…

... January 20, 2009, 8:30 PM

The Answer to the question posed in this article is this: If a person is of any ethnicity of color (black, asian, latino etc…) then it is considered politically correct to claim that with pride. Case in point are the _____ fill in the blank _____(black, latino, native, mexican, asian) Pride/Power T-shirts, bumper stickers & vehicle window stickers that are now found everywhere. Naturally people want to belong to a group and be accepted so if they are even a small fraction of one of those groups they claim it with pride and never let it go. Of course if one were to display caucasian power or white pride on themselves or their vehicle others would automatically assume the worst of that person and he/she would be called racist. This is readily understood among the masses so why would anyone want to claim their white ancestry with pride just to be judged harshly when they can simply claim their non-white ancestry and be accepted and even honored for it? Oh and my ethnicity doesn’t appear on the list of choices on forms either so I choose other and fill in the blank and if there is not an ‘other’ option then I don’t fill out the form.

Jill January 20, 2009, 8:46 PM

@ Rita S - Thank you. You put it better than I could.

I always find it interesting that so many biracial celebrities choose to identify racially solely with the black father who abandoned them rather than with the white mother who raised them (Halle Berry, Alicia Keys, etc). Why have to choose? I’m half my mom’s and half my dad’s. I don’t think that “a drop of blood” either way should tip the scales. I’ve said it before (usually in response to the question, “what are you?”) and I’ll say it again - I am first and foremost a human being.

I think America is more comfortable with the idea of a black president than with the idea of a biracial president. The latter doesn’t sit well with a lot of people because there are a surprisingly large number of old-fashioned Americans who are still uncomfortable with mixed-race couples.

Kudos to the president for never going one way or the other. We should all follow his example.

Okay, stepping off my soapbox now. Thank you.

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