Exactly 8 years ago, Barack Obama became the 44th president of the United States of America, at the age of 47. Different media outlets declared him as the first BLACK president of America, not just the next president of America like his predecessors. I remember watching one such broadcast on November 4 2008, and shouting at my TV that Barack Obama IS NOT the FIRST BLACK president of America.
I have since read and heard the statement repeated again and again over the last 8 years, and I really can’t keep shtum any more. This is a post I’ve meant to write for a very long time, and one I’ve hesitated over for a range of reasons.
I mean, who I’m I to challenge what seems like the belief of the majority; especially one that is considered to be positive, and one that is held by people from all walks of life. Yah, a Western country has a black president!
Better not to rock the boat, hey … but not after I heard that statement again on CNN this evening (4 Nov).
Yes, Barack Obama’s dad is from Kenya and he is definitely black … black in complexion and black because he originates from Sub-Saharan Africa. I get it … so, what’s my problem?
Well, what about his mother? You know, the one who contributed 50% of his DNA, as well as carrying and nourishing him in her womb for the best part of a year. What about his maternal grandfather and grandmother who brought him up from the age of 10?1
They are white … you know that, right? Does their contribution to his existence and development count for anything, especially when it comes to the ethnic and cultural labelling of Obama at the top of his game?
Does it matter that his black Kenyan father left him pretty much when he was still a baby? Does it count that after his parent’s divorce when he was 2, he only saw his father before his death one more time, when he was 10?
Seriously, does all the loving and personal white influence in his life matter, in the way his heritage is classified?
Interestingly, I can’t remember ever hearing other presidents of America so formally identified based on their ethnicity. I mean, I have no recollection of George Bush before him, being called the 43rd white president of America; do you?
I like to think that the content of one’s character is of much more value than the colour of one’s skin, or one’s ancestral heritage.
I cringe when I hear Obama’s blackness being pronounced over and over again. Why does his African heritage, with its ‘little’ impact in terms of his upbringing, override his European background?
I mean, who cares about his maternal largely English heritage, and their significant contribution to his life.2
If his father was of … say … Swedish origin, or Chinese origin, or Asian origin … would his whiteness be so discounted?
Good job, I’m not his mum or maternal grandparents; I’ll be fuming at his declaration as the FIRST BLACK PRESIDENT of AMERICA. This is not because I want the acknowledgement of my influence, but because it’s unfair and it perpetuates the long-held American racist ideology of the ‘one-drop rule’.
It’s unfair because DNA wise, Barack is as white as he is black. It is unfair because the really nasty and costly centuries-old one-drop rule is steeped in injustice.
The one-drop rule basically assigns the minority ethnic status to children of multiple heritage parents. And guess what? It only applies when the minority ethnic status is black – how unfair is that … one black ancestor and you’re excluded from the privilege of white classification.
Thankfully, the ramifications of this stupid rule in modern America is not the same as when it was instituted in the 1600s. Even then, it’s somewhat shocking that Americans of African / Caribbean descent historically embraced this rule, and many continue to do so today.3 But you know what, it’s not shocking considering the horrible discrimination their ancestors were historically subjected to and indeed the forms in which this continues today.
The black parents of dual heritage children from forced and chosen relations historically knew better than to encourage their children to acknowledge the white bit of their ancestry … oh yes, they knew that their children’s lives depended on it … you’ll do the same if you were on the wrong side of the KKK in those days.
I don’t think Barack Obama worried about being lynched by the KKK, but like other mixed heritage people, he sure suffered from being treated differently. You can’t even imagine how this messes with your perception and conception of yourself, except you’ve gone through it.
His 50% whiteness didn’t save him from wondering what was wrong with him, and struggling to find his place, given how some treated him … the price minority ethnic groups continue to pay.
It’s definitely no surprise that Barack Obama identifies as African-American, the one-drop rule continues to win the day, like it has done for centuries. Whilst the resulting hostility and brutality of this rule is expressed differently in modern times, it’s such a shame that its ugly head is still there at all. Check it out in Halle Berry’s custody battle and life. The same rule makes Colin Powell, another person of mixed heritage, the first ‘African-American Secretary of State’ … on and on and on the examples continue.
Obama’s 1995 book, Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance, will be very interesting to read.
I wonder how he would have identified, if he was treated without reference to his ethnicity. I wonder how his peers would have treated him during his presidency if he was 100% white.
In my view, Barack Obama is not the first black president of America … Barack Obama is not the first African-American president of the United States … Barack Obama is the first mixed-heritage president of American …
I think Morgan Freeman agrees with me, and a few others perhaps.
You know what? Actually, Barack Obama is simply the 44th president of America, like George Bush was the 43rd president of America, and Bill Clinton the 42nd.
I wish I didn’t have to wonder what his presidency would have been like without the dark cloud of the one-drop rule … with regard and respect for his humanity despite his blackness and whiteness … I wonder … I will never know … but I wonder still. 🙁
So, what do you think?
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