06 November 2008

Obama - The Black & White Of It!

What a journey. What an amazing event. Barack Obama, a black man elected as President of the United States. But, you know what. Even that is a complicated thing, because Obama is mixed race. What ever that really means. After all, he is also half white, so why is it that the black half is now president, but the white half unmentioned? His white "experience" certainly shaped him in as many ways as did his black "experience".

I think the answer is tremendously complex and in some ways not worthy of discussion except for the fact that this is truly a historic moment and that Obama did position himself as a black man. There was an advantage to that for him...without the unprecedented mobilization and turn-out of the African American vote, he would have become a footnote to the 2008 primary.

One wonders a bit at that. There were some reasons that the African American community could have rejected him.

While a beneficiary of the black experience, he, at some levels, hardly shared in it. There is a term of derision, which originated in the African-American community, for people such as Obama. Oreo! Black on the outside and white on the inside.

He was raised by a white mother and grandparents and he barely knew his African father. As a child his expectations and aspirations were framed by a middle-class white ethic. He is not descended from slaves, he is not the beneficiary of programs aimed at elevating black youth from the clutches of poverty, and he was a mere lad during the civil rights struggles.

However, that oversimplifies things.

Because he identifies himself as African-American, which in obvious ways is more descriptive of his genealogy than for the American blacks, descended from slaves, who now, as a matter of political correctness, call themselves African Americans, he had to make choices. He belonged to a black church, married a black woman, cultivated black leadership, and paid his dues, and got his ticket punched as an organizer and community activist in the black community.

But all that does not completely explain the almost total acceptance and support of this mixed race man by the African-American community. And therein lies part of the complexity of which I spoke. For, you see, under Jim Crow, anyone with "Negro blood" was by law, a "Negro".

I think that the African-American community understands this, and because of it, looks beyond the "whiteness" and sees a black man, who has shared with them what is a significant part of the post civil rights era "black experience".

What does all this mean? Well, I think it means that the historic moment is not that we have elected a "black man" as president, but that the "blackness" for the majority of America, became irrelevant and barely worth mentioning.

And, that my friends, is progress!

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