06/12/2008 01:20 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Half Black & Half White -- Obama's Bi-Racial Question

Barack Obama's bi-racial question, "I'm half black - half white, so I checked both boxes. I hope that's ok." The question has finally wafted over to CNN - Is Barack Obama Black or Biracial?

Biologically: white parent and black parent = bi-racial. But culturally, it's a different issue altogether. An issue that plays itself out both within the black and white communities.

Inside the black community I think there's a simultaneous and seemingly illogical embrace and sharp snub of the variety of black skin tones. We see black as black, and yet the African-American community has a profound and deep color complex that dates back to slavery. House slave vs. field slave. African features vs. European features. Or, as Spike Lee so theatrically illustrated in his film School Daze, Good hair vs. Bad hair.

On a personal level, this is something I feel every day especially among black women. And I'm sure I'm not alone. Black women scrutinize other black women, trying to figure them out. It's something black women don't do to white women - it's an inside thing that's also quite intimidating. I think the stare is a manifestation of curiosity, competition, and insecurity - all rolled into one.

Inside the white community, historically, the conversation can be summed up by the -- one drop rule -- again, dating back to slavery. But now - now things are different. I think that white people are beginning to look at blacks with new eyes, trying to figure out each person's diverse potion instead of lumping all black people into one homogeneous group. I mean, the MSM is actually discussing all the threads of Obama's race. That shows progress.

But let's take a step back. We've been talking about the black community. About the white community. Two groups of people working to define the middle.

But really, the biracial community is a group unto itself and should be defined as such -- by those who are biracial and no one else. Because being biracial is filled with unique experiences that shape a complex outlook on life only fully understood by those who share them. Like being Irish or Persian or Russian Jew.


A scene from Danzy Senna's Caucasia in which a very light-skinned little girl and her father are lounging in the Boston Common and they are questioned by the police who don't believe that the man is her dad. That's a biracial experience.

A jaunt to Little Italy on Christmas Eve to feast on the 7 Fishes dinner with family, and then one to Harlem the next day for a Christmas celebration at a Pentecostal church. That's a biracial experience.

A nervous 10-second pause, and then a double-check on every standardized test accompanied by a scribbled write-in within the margin, "I'm half black -- half white, so I checked both boxes. I hope that's ok." That's a biracial experience.

Who defines the life that these experiences create? We do, as a biracial community.

So what's Barack Obama? Black? White? Both? He is exactly what he defines himself as. Pure and simple.