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Hollywood & Politics: Then & Now
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Why Is Barak Obama Considered Only African American?Views: 1624
Feb 16, 2007 1:56 amWhy Is Barak Obama Considered Only African American?#

Linda J. Alexander http://www.lindajalexander.net

Here's an article I wrote recently. I thought this might be an interesting place to find out other's opinions to the question posed. It's not actually Hollywood interrelated w/politics, but it's the same concept -- Hollywood-type promotion for a man being prepped for USA's highest office. And I wouldn't be surprised to see the man in question being touted by Hollywood very, very soon.


Why Is Barak Obama Considered African American?
copyright Linda Alexander, 2007


Okay, let’s dispense with the obvious first. Barak Obama's skin is light brown. He most often calls himself African American. His father was black. All these things are clear. Straightforward. Undeniable.

Also undeniable is the fact that his mother was white. He was raised by her and her parents . . . which put him, for a good portion of his developing years, in a white-dominated household. Let’s not talk about the visible for a second, but just the literal. He could as easily be a white man if one bases that determination on background and heritage.

But even this isn’t the full story. He was 2 when his parents divorced. This removed the “black man” influence from his life. He has stated that early knowledge of his father was limited to family stories and photographs. His predominant father figure was his stepfather, an Indonesian man. He had a half-sister from this union. This makes him, literally, half-black and half-white--with a white mother and a black birth father, an Indonesian father figure, a half-white and half-Indonesian sister, raised in, alternately, an Indonesian and a Hawaiian environment—where he was born and, after return from Jakarta, attended school from 5th to 12th grades.

So I repeat my title question: Why is Barak Obama considered African American? Lest anyone say I ignore the truth, reality of a life that must’ve been hard . . . living a childhood and adolescence with a physical appearance different than that of family members, that’s true. That could certainly have been an issue for a maturing young man but he was quoted as saying, “That my father looked nothing like the people around me — that he was black as pitch, my mother white as milk — barely registered in my mind.” This comment from the man himself seems to indicate that his differences weren’t all that different to him, and that his life was, well, his life. Period.

And lest anyone tell me my question is racist, I don’t understand the black experience . . . to that I would respond that, indeed, I really don’t. I can’t. But my question is not racist. It’s an attempt to understand why the “One Drop” rule still literally rules. Why someone who is part black becomes all black, and seems to lose all sense of Caucasian heritage when the world gets hold of him or her. And why someone who may be part black cannot freely claim that heritage because to the world at large looks are everything. If you can’t look the look, you can’t walk the walk, it would seem.

I recently read an article about Obama’s run for president. The person being interviewed was concerned that Obama wasn’t representing the black population well enough. This man, Rev. B. Herbert Martin, was pleased that the candidate could “engender such enthusiasm from a white audience,” but he was concerned about identity issues. "How does he identify himself?" asked Martin, pastor to the late Harold Washington, Chicago's first black mayor. "Will he continue to be an African American, or will he become some kind of new creation?"

This article continued, “The question of how Obama chooses to define and approach race looms large as he moves closer to formally launching his campaign next month . . . it is not clear that his multiracial message can excite black voters hungry for affirmation of their top concerns.” Publisher of the Chicago Standard newspapers, Lorenzo Martin, asked, “Who does he represent? That is what people are worried about.”

Seems we’re going to hear more and more about this. There was just a TV news piece on the very same topic, as I was writing this. The wrap-up question was, “Is America ready for someone like Obama?”

I am. I can only see the discussion as a good thing. Though it’s not been part of my immediate, obvious heritage, I come from a long line of maternally mixed race folks. They were so intermixed that they were their own people. This doesn’t give me a hands-on understanding of how it is to live with dark skin in a world that often caters to white skin but it does indicate that I am able to relate to you stories of family members who understood this sad reality. I don’t and will never disavow that horrors of racism or wrongs committed against blacks in the name of the white man still happen. They do.

But I want to be able embrace my black brothers and sisters, and any others that may show up, for that matter, as my next door neighbor, my daughter-in-law, or my president, and I want to be able to do that without me, or them, being seen as going against any certain group of people . . . just because of skin color.

Barak Obama could be a logical model of cohesion, of healing, of bringing us together rather than continuing to force us apart. He represents the HUMAN RACE, fercryinoutloud! I repeat my question. How is it that he has to “continue to be an African American,” as opposed to being a man of mixed race heritage who is able to cross racial barriers?

Why is that not as important, or more so? This is what could make Barak Obama so valuable a candidate. If truth be told, it’s what created the buzz about him in the first place. He can mix because he is mixed. He knows both sides and can legitimately empathize. What’s so wrong with that? He’s not a smart man because he’s black. He’s not a smart man because he’s white. He’s a smart, gifted individual because of the sum total of his heritage, his education, and his environment.

####


Blessings -- Linda Alexander


Linda J. Alexander, Books For The Thinking Reader
http://www.lindajalexander.net
http://www.authorsden.com/lindajalexander
HOLLYWOOD & POLITICS - http://hollywoodpolitics-network.ryze.com/

Private Reply to Linda J. Alexander http://www.lindajalexander.net

Feb 16, 2007 2:41 amre: Why Is Barak Obama Considered Only African American?#

Debra Shiveley Welch
Linda, you have touched on a subject so dear to my haert. I won't be able to keep this as coherant and well thought out as you have, because right now, I'm shooting from the hip.

First of all, I'm ready for Obama too! Do you know who he reminds me of? Karol Wojtyla, Pope John Paul II.

Why? Because one of the reasons Cardinal Wojtyla was proclaimed Pope was because he had a similar mix...not racially, but socially, environmentally and pshychologically. He spoke, I think it was eight languages, had touched so many different cultures, been part of the Polish Resistance, an actor, finally a priest, and was an incredible conduit to a large range of people. I see Obama in the same light.

I think in another forum I mentioned Mesagination, and the "one drop" theory. It amazes me how this theory bounces back and forth according to convenience.

For instance, I am 1/8 Cherokee, yet many will not recognize that part of my heritage. Still, no one has any problem agreeing that I am about 1/2 Irish. Where do we draw the line? How are these decisions made? And beyond discovering individual ancestry, what does it matter?

So much energy is wasted on "blood." I wish I could find the quote from Michener, one of my favorite authors, regarding this very subject. I do know that it came from the novel "Hawaii," and I'm pretty sure it was in reference to Woo Chow's Auntie's husband...and how he thought he was 100% Japanese, but he had the blood of this invader, and that immigrant, etc., and was really a mix of different ancestries. This summer, I will reward myself with a leisurely read of that book and find that quote.

You know, what really got me was when my husband and I started the adoption process. We were not allowed to adopt a bi-racial child, because they wanted that child to be aware of their African American heritage. I asked "What about their white heritage?"

Much ado about nothing!

Debra-Author of "A Very Special Child"; co-author "Jesus Gandhi Oma Mae Adams"

Private Reply to Debra Shiveley Welch

Feb 17, 2007 1:45 amre: re: Why Is Barak Obama Considered Only African American?#

Paul Mitchell
Linda, I think one short answer to the question posed through your essay is that a lifetime of personal experiences of a Barak Obama - as well as others such as Halle Berry, Alicia Keys, Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, Vin Diesel, Mariah Carey, Derek Jeter, Malcolm Gladwell, to name a few - has formed a personal perspective within these folks that their interests - social, spiritual, intellectual, etc. - are best served if they park themselves squarely under the mantle of being Negro or black. I don't think it is so much a matter of the way the "One Drop" rule is applied to them as how they want to think of themselves based on a lifetime of experience. It's a personal decision (I'm sure) which they have evolved or arrived at after navigating the the subtle and not so subtle pathways of life particularly with regard to being inescapably of Negro ancestry. I think it's also worthwhile to note that they choose to maintain these postures not only up to the point in their lives where they attain the achievement and fame that so few people do, but after that as well. And there are always alternate realities to this as Tiger Woods might be considered a different perspective which is fine indeed. It's an amazing revelation for me that Barak was raised by an Indonesian step-dad. I've always mused how the Indonesian people as an Asian ethnic group so closely resembles African people at least with regard to skin color and features (minus hair and eyes). And this even more so than the dark-skinned Thai people of which Tiger Woods is descended from. Interesting.

Private Reply to Paul Mitchell

Feb 17, 2007 10:17 pmre: re: re: Why Is Barak Obama Considered Only African American?#

Linda J. Alexander http://www.lindajalexander.net

Paul:

A well-thought post. Thx for your perspective. I do understand the concept & agree. It's likely that exact reason that they identify. I guess what gets to me most is that we're a society that still requires folks to pick a group, so to speak. Obama is, literally, as much a white man as he is a black man & while his white heritage is all around him & the society as a whole is still undeniably more geared towards the success of the white than the black, it's a conscious decision to shirk that other part of the heritage.

And I've worked w/younger mixed race folks. They tend, often, to be confused because they are forced into this "pick one" mentality & having to take on a part of their persona while neglecting, or totally obliterating, the other.


Blessings -- Linda

www.lindajalexander.net ** www.authorsden.com/lindajalexander
HOLLYWOOD & POLITICS - http://hollywoodpolitics-network.ryze.com/
http://www.talk2bev.com/valentine/linda_alexander_maryland.htm
Bev Mahone's '07 Valentine's Contest Essay Top 5 Winner!

Private Reply to Linda J. Alexander http://www.lindajalexander.net

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