Jacob Philadelphia touches President Obama's hair.
(Another article written by one of my favorite writers, Denise Oliver Velez. I am re-posting her entire column with nothing other than my usual ending comment. Nothing else is necessary.)
"I happened to run across this item in the Washington Post this week, Is Barack Obama ‘black’? A majority of Americans say no, penned by Chris Cillizza (Jon Perr has described him as a "conventional wisdom regurgitator"). Cillizza links to data in his article from PEW Research (which gets it wrong) and natters on and on about a topic that should be case closed. We discussed it in Black Kos, and we all had the same reaction.
They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and young, black Jacob Philadelphia touching Barack Obama's close-cropped black hair said it for me. As Jonathan Capeheart wrote in Photo speaks volumes about Obama and race:
A black man allowing his head to be touched by a stranger. But not just any stranger. A child seeking a familiar link between himself and the black man, who also happens to be the leader of the free world.
I'm already worn out from the relentless racial obduracy of Jonathan Chait, last seen defending himself again on the Melissa Harris-Perry show on MSNBC after his back-and-forth with Ta-Nehisi Coates—who scored point, game match against Chait.
The rabid racist right-wing in this country already knows that "their" White House has been violated by blackness. The birthers and their ilk still spew venom (see Rand Paul's new pollster). Klan-fueled, white supremacist haters murdered people at a Jewish Center, slayed Sikhs and plot to kill the president. This is familiar news.
That's why the timing of Cillizza's piece is curious.
Could it have anything to do with the recent activities of President Obama and upcoming elections?
Follow me below the fold for more.
Frankly, it's no coincidence that just after he speaks at the LBJ Civil Rights Summit, followed by his address to the National Action Network we get his not-blackness dragged up again. Markos just wrote African Americans hold key to Senate, and he's right. The black community is and has been for a long time a key part of the base of the Democratic Party. I'll be damned if I'm gonna sit here and go through the "we don't really have a black man in the White House" meme, again, and stay silent.
This crap made news in 2010: Asked to Declare His Race, Obama Checks ‘Black’, with the expected response from the right. The New York Times piece opened with,"It is official: Barack Obama is the nation’s first black president."
We already know that the right-wing racists (which includes a very large chunk of those who call themselves Republicans these days) have been unloading truck-loads of racist crap against his "blackness." Michelle Obama—you know, that black woman who is now First Lady of the United States—and daughters Sasha and Malia have come in for their share of racial smears and slime as well.
Before anyone comments "But..but…but…his momma was white…" and starts talking about biracial—and yes, I know race is a social construct (as an anthropologist I write about it often, and teach it)—let me say this:
The howls of outrage when Barack Obama spoke about Trayvon Martin could be his son had nothing to do with Obama's mother being white. He was very clear about his blackness:
"You know, when Trayvon Martin was first shot, I said that this could have been my son. Another way of saying that is Trayvon Martin could have been me, 35 years ago," he said somberly.
The president knows that if he were just a guy walking down the street, in a hoodie and sneaks, he certainly wouldn't get stopped and frisked, or murdered for bein' "half-white," as some folks put it. In his remarks about Trayvon, he was explicit:
"There are very few African-American men in this country who haven't had the experience of being followed when they were shopping in a department store. That includes me," he said.
He said he sometimes heard the clicks of car doors locking when he walked across the street in his younger days.
"There are very few African-Americans who haven't had the experience of getting on an elevator and a woman clutching her purse nervously and holding her breath until she had a chance to get off. That happens often," he said.
Having a white parent does not stop you from being black. Ask me about my dad. Ask Ben Jealous, who just stepped down from his post as head of the NAACP. Ask Melissa Harris-Perry.
Melissa Harris-Perry, a professor of politics and African-American studies at Princeton University, was raised in a racially charged South. Her mother was white and her father was black.
"I was born fewer than 10 years after the 1965 Voting Rights Act," she said. "My mother was from the West and when she first came, she said, 'Why are there two pools?' My father said, 'Jim Crow, Diana, Jim Crow.'"
The term biracial was unheard of then. Today, Americans come in all colors and ethnicities. But the word "biracial" is "meaningless because race and culture and language and identity are all a social construct," said Harris-Perry.
The "most contested" biracial construct is being black and white," she said. "This sounds nuts, but it's impossible to achieve whiteness."
"When people passed at the turn of century, it was because there were real and violent and political consequences to being a person of color," she said. "They passed with great danger and fear and cost. You risked everything—marriage, job and economic security. You can't just tick off white as an identity that has been protected and policed and legislated for hundreds of years. It carries with it a package of privileges and opportunities."
As Jenée Desmond-Harris put it over at The Root, in response to the Pew poll mentioned above:
In fact, for as long as black people have been around, "mixed race" people have called themselves—and have been called—black. Whether you love or hate the legacy of racism and the "one-drop rule" that likely perpetuated this way of thinking, and whether you wish we could all stop talking about color altogether, this is the world we live in. And it's not new at all.
Cue the racial auditors: How can black parent + white parent = mixed-race child = black child? The numbers don't check out.
Because race is a concept created by humans that is not mathematical and not scientific. As a result, the slippery, nonsensical and totally-up-to-the-individual-interpretation nature of it will continue to drive people crazy. But we'll continue to talk about it—in our personal lives, in politics and, apparently, in Pew polls—because the messy categories we use continue to have social significance.
So, although some people with President Obama's same background might adamantly choose "biracial" or "mixed race" or "just human," for many others (this writer included), being mixed race is simply the specific way in which they're black. That's not inside information, and examples from history and popular culture are abundant. If you want to know more, Google "biracial African Americans" or "mixed-race African Americans" and have at it.
I don't take issue with anyone who decides to identify themselves as biracial or mixed race. But frankly, if they look at all phenotypically black—even if light-skinned—they are going to find out that racists ain't gonna embrace their white half.
Flip it this way: What would your response be if Barack Obama had decided to check the box on the census for white? What if I tell you I'm Norwegian? (I have some in my family tree.) Y'all would holla "get the therapist! Chile is in de-nial."
No way can Obama even "pass for white." He knows he is black, he self-identifies as black, and if 500 years from now we have eliminated the concept of race with its accompanying systemic racism, he will still be listed in the history books as our first black president.
I realize that there are critics of President Obama, of all colors and from both ends of the political spectrum, who have carped about the fact that he doesn't talk about race enough and he hasn't been paying attention to black folks. Of course, wingnuts think that that is all he does.
As I said earlier, I think that this recent flurry of articles attempting to remove him from blackness is a direct result of the two speeches mentioned above—especially the one in which he was talking to a crowd of majority black folks.
In Barack Obama's Challenge to American Morality, Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote about this speech:
His address on voter-suppression efforts is one of the most significant and morally grounded speeches of his presidency….
I think we will eventually regard this current effort to suppress the vote through voter-ID laws, ending early voting, restricting voting hours, etc., in the same way we regard literacy tests and poll taxes. (It's worth recalling this piece for the magazine by Mariah Blake which helps historicize voter suppression.)
I believe in judging Barack Obama's rhetoric and policies not as though he were the president of black America, but of the United States of America. On that count his speech soared. There aren't many topics more important than the security of our democracy. The president did not attack that topic gingerly, but forcefully, directly and without hedge.
It's an important speech.
As an aside, I'll add that I still can't get over seeing a black dude, who is the president, standing in front of Garvey's red, black, and green. Strange days, I tell you. Strange days, indeed. No one knows where this is going.
Yeah. A black dude.
The same black man who understands where we've been as a people, where we are today and where we need to go.
Just read this transcript of President Obama's remarks at the LBJ Presidential Library Civil Rights Summit:
Now, if some of this sounds familiar, it’s because today we remain locked in this same great debate about equality and opportunity, and the role of government in ensuring each. As was true 50 years ago, there are those who dismiss the Great Society as a failed experiment and an encroachment on liberty; who argue that government has become the true source of all that ails us, and that poverty is due to the moral failings of those who suffer from it. There are also those who argue, John, that nothing has changed; that racism is so embedded in our DNA that there is no use trying politics — the game is rigged.
But such theories ignore history. Yes, it’s true that, despite laws like the Civil Rights Act, and the Voting Rights Act and Medicare, our society is still racked with division and poverty. Yes, race still colors our political debates, and there have been government programs that have fallen short. In a time when cynicism is too often passed off as wisdom, it’s perhaps easy to conclude that there are limits to change; that we are trapped by our own history; and politics is a fool’s errand, and we’d be better off if we roll back big chunks of LBJ’s legacy, or at least if we don’t put too much of our hope, invest too much of our hope in our government.
I reject such thinking. (Applause.) Not just because Medicare and Medicaid have lifted millions from suffering; not just because the poverty rate in this nation would be far worse without food stamps and Head Start and all the Great Society programs that survive to this day. I reject such cynicism because I have lived out the promise of LBJ’s efforts. Because Michelle has lived out the legacy of those efforts. Because my daughters have lived out the legacy of those efforts. Because I and millions of my generation were in a position to take the baton that he handed to us. (Applause.)
Because of the Civil Rights movement, because of the laws President Johnson signed, new doors of opportunity and education swung open for everybody — not all at once, but they swung open. Not just blacks and whites, but also women and Latinos; and Asians and Native Americans; and gay Americans and Americans with a disability. They swung open for you, and they swung open for me. And that’s why I’m standing here today — because of those efforts, because of that legacy. (Applause.)
This man does not forget that he is black. Yes, he knows he is the President of the United States, and wasn't elected to be a president for black folks only. Yes, it ain't easy trying to talk about race in this country. Just look at what happened to Hank Aaron, for having the bravery to step up to the race plate, again.
Read. My. Black. Lips.
Barack Hussein Obama is a black man. Elected POTUS twice.
Deal with it." by Denise Oliver Velez for Daily Kos on Sun Apr 20, 2014.
The Struggle Continues. RLHSR.