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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
ggalNV January 20, 2009, 9:00 PM

This is why Barack can not be white…”Race relates to a person’s appearance - chiefly the color of their skin. It is determined biologically, with genetic traits such as skin color, eye color, hair color, bone/jaw structure etc.”

Whatthebuzz January 21, 2009, 1:06 AM

President Obama is African (Kenyan father) and American (Caucasian mother). Hence the name African American. What makes him black is Michelle and his girls. He closely identifies with being African American witch he truly is. he is also a son of an immigrant. Shouldn’t we get pass this? Aren’t there more pressing issues in America then what people choose to identify him with?

Liz January 21, 2009, 11:09 AM

I was listening to the radio this morning on this topic and the DJ was going on about “Barack is not the first Black president” he’s biracial yada yada yada.

As a biracial woman (white father & black mother), I was raised with that “one drop” rule and one was forced to acknowledge being black, end of story. If I came out looking like my dad (blond hair with blue eyes), it may have been a different story. It wasn’t until the 90’s when folks started to fully acknowledge and embrace those that are biracial…the bi/multi-racial box for EEO forms didn’t become available until a few years ago.

rugbymom January 21, 2009, 2:38 PM

I like the article. It is a good point. I didn’t really think about it because I don’t vote based on color, so I don’t really care what color he is. I am curious about one thing though, and maybe someone can clarify this until I read the entire book for myself (Dreams from my Father); I have never read his book but have seen excerpts from it about his mother and that he did not identify or embrace his ‘white side’ at all. Real Women Have Curves said, “It seems from all his public appearances (and his book) that Barack has learned to reconcile the two sides of himself.” Is this really true?

This is a quote: “I ceased to advertise my mother’s race at the age of 12 or 13, when I began to suspect that by doing so I was ingratiating myself to whites.”- “I never emulate white men and brown men whose fates didn’t speak to my own. It was into my father’s image, the black man, son of Africa, that I’d packed all the attributes I sought in myself, the attributes of Martin and Malcolm, Dubois and Mandela.”
It does not sound like he reconciled the two sides to me. He chose one, a long time ago. He seems to have made that very clear.






Jenn January 21, 2009, 2:52 PM

First and foremost, I voted for him because of his stance, his ideals, his sincerity and his policies. Him being a minority was simply a bonus, not part of the determining factors whatsoever at all.

Classifying race as I understand it, and as society as a whole view it, the scientifically dominating race/gene is the one that would become the “primary” race. The recessive race/gene is not highlighted. Caucasian/white is a recessive race (as far as skin color goes), and Asians/Hispanics are recessive compared to Blacks. But the tricky part comes when the recessive race becomes prominent as mentioned in a few comments. What is the ‘primary’ race then?!

Can we all disregard the titles and labels that box us all in? We are all human beings working toward a brighter future for all of our children and their children. Let’s get past that and get our work done.

Dan January 21, 2009, 3:12 PM

So I am very similar to Barak. My father was also a black African from Kenya. My mother was a white, Irish-Scottish heritage woman from New England. They met in college.
I am proud of all of my heritages. My parents let me decide early on what I wanted to chose for race questions on standard tests, etc. I always chose ‘other’ unless they had ‘bi-racial’ or another designation that more represented me. It was a small bit of protest, but I felt and still feel that’s how we get past simplistic labels.
The problem with ‘black’ is that it has too many connotations: race, skin color, ethnicity, and/or culture.
For some, black would be appropriate on all 4 dimensions. For those of mixed backgrounds, they might not all apply. So it’s a fairly ineffective term. IMHO, the only ‘label’ that is truly accurate for President Obama is: he’s the nation’s first President with significant African heritage. At the end of the day, though, if he feels like all 4 dimensions above apply and he considers himself black, we can’t really deny him what he feels his identity is. On a separate note, I voted for him because of his compelling platform, his overpowering leadership, and his clear position as the right person for where we are in the history of our country. And it’s for those reasons that I believe he probably would have won if had been on the republican ticket. If his background is different from the past 43 presidents, that’s a bonus. And, sure, some folks voted for him JUST because he’s black. But I challenge anyone to name an elected official in the history of the US (or even democracy) who didn’t get at least of some votes simply because of who they are, and not because of their ideas, positions, or accomplishments.
Food for thought…Sorry for the ramble.

Kat January 21, 2009, 3:26 PM

Interesting. We as American’s do tend to classify people based on looks. It’s human nature. I have trouble convincing people I’m 25% Cherokee because I’m fairly pale, blue eyed, and have dark blonde hair. Most Americans are mutts, some of us don’t even know all the different backgrounds we have.

We are Americans.

Lauren's Mom January 21, 2009, 5:25 PM

Cindy wrote “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.”

He could and wouldn’t ever be able to say that(he was white) based on how he looks.Looks pretty much define if you are black to the world. It’s more about how people see you than you feel.

May people of mixed race have “passed” because they show no outward signs of being black.In this case if they say they are black, people accept they are and view them as such.You can’t do that in reverse if you look black you are and your self understanding and expression are as a black person.

There are people in the black community that have a confusion on this and find their lives a bit confusing to say the least..I didn’t make those rules but I life by them.

NWGA January 21, 2009, 11:46 PM

Now maybe Obama will give us whittes our WHite History Month.

kayla January 24, 2009, 2:41 PM

I get that he is identifying with his culture and I believe that is probably mostly true. He married a black woman his children are mostly black and he surrounds himself in that community ie church, family…etc However if it were the other way around, if he were indulging the “white” half of him people would think he was ashamed of his black side. And maybe they would be correct which is why I as a complete 100% caucasion find it not offensive, but double standard and annoying that he is “The first black president” If he is black because of the 50% percent then he is white to me. I will say he is the first bi-racial president, or white president, but Im sure that would somehow offend people am I right? Are you offended or do you feel warm inside about him just being another whitey like all the other presidents? And as for. And about just living the black culture, so is emenem black? Would we call him the first black rapper? So just because you identify with a culture doesn’t mean you are only that culture. He was raised by white people in Hawaii. I dont think he was outcast by the whites. My son is bi-racial and I’ll let him identify with whatever he wants, but he’ll know that he is BOTH not one or the other, but BOTH!

Anonymous January 24, 2009, 4:20 PM

p.s DAN up there your remarks are some I can sit back and think about and actually agree with. Your 100% right, and it SHOULD be that way, but unfortunately I know if he’d identified as white the black culture would have HATED him. Thats not right nor fair. Your last point about people being voted for simply because they were who they were, I’ve never thought of it at that angle but you are right. About his background being different from the other 43 presidents being a bonus. I have to disagree I dont think its either a bonus or a mark against him. Our early presidents imparticular were true heroes and knew what fighting for real liberty meant because of where they had come from.

Hopeful January 26, 2009, 7:00 PM

Won’t it be a truly great day when no one cares what a person’s skin colour is and simply talks about the person by name and (if pertinent) by accomplishment?!!! Barack Obama strikes me as an intelligent thoughtful and self reflective man. I hope (and will assist him as I personally can) that he will achieve his dreams for this country. I admire his drive, work ethic and intelligence as well as the way he loves his wife and girls.

Jamie March 26, 2009, 5:33 PM

This is a sad reality in todays society. I am 1/2 white and 1/2 puertorrican but with my slightly tanned skin, and extra thick curly dark hair-NOT A SINGLE WHITE PERSON IN MY WHOLE LIFE HAS EVER CONSIDERED ME WHITE. I am proud of both sides but my mothers side(the hispanic side) of the family always accepted me as-is/my fathers side unfortunatly never did with the exception of 1 aunt(out of 6) my grandmother called me the spawn of the devil at the age of 6-the worst part of that is that she never to this day has ever met me. White people at my job continuously call me a mexican evn though i Correct them and say PUERTO RICAN! I work hard(about 50=60 hrs/wk) and dont recieve public assistance(never have) but society still judges me as if i am scum. PEOPLE CLAIM WHAT THEY CAN RELATE TO AND UNFORTUNATLY BY WHAT OTHERS CLASSIFY THEM AS. THAT IS WHY I TELL MY DAUGHTER THAT SHE IS PUERTO RICAN(even though she is 25% white) WHY MENTION IT IF THE REST OF THE WORLD WILL NEVER CARE….SHE WILL ALWAYS JUST BE PUERTO RICAN JUST AS I HAVE ALWAYS BEEN. I JUST HOPE AND PRAY ONE DAY THE WORLD WILL ACCEPT YOU FOR WHO YOU ARE NOT WHAT YOU ARE

whiteafricanamerican May 27, 2009, 9:51 PM

The reason why Obama is black is because black seems to be in these days. I guess when he screws up, then they will celebrate his white side. Thank god I am white and proud of it.

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