THE BLOG

Barack Obama: "Black" Or "Biracial"?

06/24/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

At BlackandBrownNews.com we randomly asked our members should Barack Obama now be referred to as "Black" or "Biracial"? This question has touched off spirited and candid responses.

BBN did not invent the question. This is how the question was introduced to us and why we sought a broader-diverse perspective from our members:

Our managing editor was told by a media colleague that there is dialog taking place between mostly white editors and producers in newsrooms on how to identify Senator Barack Obama now that he is the Democratic nominee. Should he be identified as Black or Biracial? The colleagues added that very few blacks or bi-racial voices in the newsrooms were included in the internal discussions. No surprise, but the outcome of those internal exchanges was that whites chose "biracial" and blacks chose "black" as how they would identify Senator Obama.

These seemingly harmless, behind-the-scene dialogs often lead to a change in course, and in this case a change in language, and racial identification of the first Black man who may very well become the next president of the United States. Two months from now we might read in daily newspapers, or hear news readers identify Barack Obama as the "bi-racial" candidate.

Up to now the media has identified Senator Obama the same way he identifies himself, as a black or African-American man. Should news media now decide how it will identify him?

Mainstream publications such as the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times have already published articles related to the topic of racial identity and Senator Obama. (The WSJ even gave it front-page placement last week); and, CNN aired a report.

BBN respondents were not obligated to give their full name. You can read all responses at blackandbrownnews.com. So not to take up too much space in our HP Blog. We just want to share with you how the broader world outside of mainstream news media feels about the question of whether or not Senator Barack Obama should be identified as black/African-American or as bi-racial. Feel free to chime in HPosters.

Monty Ross, 51, Filmmaker
I care not one iota about his ethnic make up. What matters most are his policies. We have some serious issues facing "All Americans." If elected president, history will judge him on his ability to lead, build and forge relationships that foster economic growth, prosperity for all, and restore what's left of the American dream in a global economy.

S.W., African-American Male, Media Producer, NY
Whatever HE considers himself, that is who HE is. Obviously, Obama considers HIMSELF an African-American man, a BLACK man. People whom I have spoken to who have met him say that he truly is a BROTHER. An intelligent, thoughtful, savvy and kind person -- the best that we have to offer. Conclusion -- in my humble opinion, he is a BLACK man.

M.T. Glass
I am an aging Caucasian Jewish male who grew up in white Republican suburbia and considers himself politically Left of the Democratic Party. Having said that, I voted for Obama in my state's primary. It is clear that at least by physical appearance, the Senator is a Black man, and by birth, African as well as African-American. Calling him "bi-racial" is genealogically accurate, whatever his skin tone may be.

The African-Americans I have spoken with who have been beaming non-stop since he
clinched the nomination seem to have answered the question "Is Obama Black enough?" Being Caucasian, it is not a question I feel comfortable answering. I lack the necessary insight and experience to do so. As one co-worker of color put it to me, "we come into your world -- you don't come into ours." How true. But I wonder: is Obama something other than what used to be called a "Race Man?" Can he afford to be as he struggles to capture the votes of White people? Is Clarence Thomas Black enough? Was Booker T. Washington? Sidney Poitier? Oprah Winfrey? How Black is "enough?"

I am reminded of a conversation I once had with a former supervisor at a TV station. We were discussing the imminent departure of the popular weatherman, and I asked whether ratings would suffer as a result. "Don't worry," my boss told me. "I've hired the perfect replacement. He's a non-threatening Black man, and the viewers are going to love him." The new forecaster turned out to be Al Roker, who is just about as popular a television personality as anyone I can think of. Maybe in some sense Roker is a role-model (or, more accurately, a barometer) for Obama?

I believe Obama is as interesting and intelligent a candidate as I can remember. I hope he is elected with a clear mandate to -- dare I say the word? -- change this racist and warmongering country in many positive ways. But sadly, I remain a skeptic.

Anonymous, NY
It's an interesting question especially because biracial does not necessarily mean Black, but we assume it does because so often the only discussion of race that really matters is about who is-is not Black. I would say bi-racial/Black, and White mix or something like that even though it's complicated. The truth is that only a handful of Black people are able to transcend racial identification. Barack is one of those people. But part of the reason he has been able to get past race is because of his claim to being White as well. It's not only about skin, it's also about the numerous cultural identities we hold as individuals. I feel that we as Black people should be more accurate in the way we identify ourselves, and the ways we allow others to identify us. We need to take control of our individual and collective identity, and break through being the victims of the ways others define us, which are so often interconnected with stereotypes and class definitions. For example, even though I am referred to as African-American, my father is West Indian, and my mother's family was mixed to the point they only could be defined as Black due to the one drop rule (whose rule was that?). Through this election cycle, I've really been reflecting on how I allow myself to be identified and the assumptions that come with that and whether it serves me positively or negatively in my life. I can see that I have actually subtly complied with a limited definition of myself. So, my new goal is to strive to embrace the complexities of my racial identity - to define myself and not allow others to define me based on their limited vision which is only skin deep.

B. Hudgins, Sales, NYC, 56
I believe that the classification of race has been used as a way to separate us from the American society that we are a part of. Our skin color makes the choice for us. We don't get to choose. We can call ourselves anything we want to. If Barack Obama is walking down the street and no one knows him what is he called? We are for the most part classified by our color regardless of our completely different experiences and backgrounds.

T.L., 30's, White, Male, NYC, Film Industry (Former Republican turned Democrat)
Barack decides how he wants to be referred to.

sharon d. toomer, founder and managing editor, BlackandBrownNews.com, NY
Only Senator Barack Obama has the right to decide how he will be identified - not members of the news media or anyone else - and the Senator has consistently identified himself as a Black or African American man. Never has he flip-flopped on that issue.

If this question was raised in newsrooms because now that he is the Democratic nominee everyone wants a piece of him, here is the upside of the debate: As a Black man who was born in America to a White mother and African father (and raised by his White family) Senator Barack Obama can be claimed by ALL of us. That is the inherent beauty and many great truths about his candidacy. But to identify him as something other than what he identifies himself as is not our place, and is the height of superiority. It's just not our place - especially those of us in news media.

Feel free to chime in here at HP as well.