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Earnest Harris

Earnest Harris

Posted: August 12, 2009 09:04 PM

Barack Obama is Not Black


In this supposed "Post Racial" age of Obama you would think that the silly concept of race would simply ease its way into obscurity. And I am not even talking about the stupidity of racism that has in some ways gotten worse as so many on the far right have simply lost their minds at seeing an African-American family in The White House.

No, I'm talking about our concept of race itself. The fact is that we have what some see as the first black president (sorry Bill Clinton) and what others rightfully recognize as our first bi-ethnic president, since Obama is undeniably not all or mostly black, he is half. Now I know to some, both blacks and whites, as silly and erroneous as it is to say it, half black simply means all black. This notion is the result of the concept of white ethnic purity which lead to the age-old but still going strong "one drop rule" that states, quite simply, no matter how stupid and wrong, that one drop of black blood makes you black. Frankly, I am still amazed that blacks accept this as much as whites do even though it means our blood is somehow tainted. But then again, I do know that for blacks, the acceptance is rooted in two things, one being the need to keep our numbers up for statistics and the other that any mixed person who does not unequivocally state that they are black is somehow ashamed of being black. So one is based on choosing to be inaccurate and the other based on self-esteem issues.

Ironically, the concept of race, which is a pseudo-scientific concoction anyway, has gotten more muddled of late than it has gotten better. I remember years ago people of mixed background had no choice on what to check off on demographic surveys that forced them to pick sides. Then came the "Other" category. An improvement in a way, but who wants to be "Other?" Well, thanks to a number of groups making sure the U.S. Census made more effort to be accurate in our rapidly changing society, one that is decidedly more mixed than it was just a few years ago, the choices increased. So we made progress. Right?

Well, just a couple of weeks ago I got my middle school kids' registration papers and, of course, there was the obligatory demographic survey for us to fill out. Much to my surprise and chagrin, the form proved that whoever is responsible for determining our governmental concept of that term "race" has gotten even more confused.

The form was simple enough in design, being a simple one pager. The top section asked you to fill out your "Ethnicity," for which you had but two choices. Ethnically, you were either Hispanic or non-Hispanic. That was the extent of all the world's ethnicities. Mind you, our kids go to a school that has over 30 languages spoken in it -- from Russian to Japanese to Armenian to Spanish to English and much more. But ethnically you were simply Hispanic or non-Hispanic.

Now the second and last section was even more interesting. In the infinite wisdom of the powers that be who try to define "race," the second section offered many choices. In this section, you were to pick your "race." Oh, oh, there is that pseudo-scientific word again. So much to my surprise, "race" now was defined by choices like these -- Japanese, Philippino, Chinese, Indian, etc., and of course there was black and white. White was seemingly the catch all for the Persian, Armenian, Iranian and other Middle Eastern kids who did not have categories of boxes for their "race." Why Asian's had countries for race and others didn't I had no idea.

I was flabbergasted. What used to be ethnicities and cultures were now separate races. And if you think I was confused my wife, who is Mexican American, was really thrown off. Of course, on the top of the form she could check 'Hispanic." But on the bottom there were no categories for "Mexican American" or "Mexican" or anything that related to a country of origin, though there was such for many Asian countries. Was she supposed to check "white," which she is certainly not?

And for our kids, who are half Hispanic and half non-Hispanic, which box should they have checked on the top of the form? And on the bottom they only had "black" but nothing to represent their mother.

Oh boy, this sure didn't seem like progress. It was pure unadulterated silliness. Many, many people, and the numbers are growing, cannot simply be defined by these stupid boxes. When will we let go of the concept of "race" that does nothing but continue to entrap us all in believing that that which is not real is way more than it needs to be?

Barack Obama is both black and white and he is neither black nor white, and he is mixed and he is half. He is all of those things and he is none of those things. They are simply labels that we use to make life supposedly simpler even though in the end, they make it much more complicated. It is stupid and I don't choose to participate in the silliness.

By the way we checked both boxes, Hispanic and non-Hispanic and we checked black and added a box for Mexican-American for the bottom.

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