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January 23, 2009

But He's Only Half-Black...

We started this draft a few days after Election Day. We decided not to post it, because we figured it would take only about two days for people to move on from this topic. But shortly after the Inauguration on Tuesday, we started to hear similar sentiments (from different people)...

The original content came from a "discussion" on an online message forum. (Yes, we know that arguing on the internet is stupid). I've quoted the original poster's comments only, as she was the only person on the forum who seemed to hold that opinion. Everything else is a combination of responses we made at the time, additional commentary made after the fact during the process of writing the blog, and paraphrasing of other people's comments. It would be too long and tedious (for you to read and for us to edit) if we gave everyone's comments as direct quotes - we all shared relatively the same point of view anyway - but we wanted to clarify that in case anyone from *over there* happens to stumble across the blog entry and thinks we were trying to steal their ideas.

So here it is...

When Barack Obama won the election, we were really happy over here at Evil Slutopia. Not just because we like the Obama/Biden platform and not just because we really really really hated the McCain/Palin platform... but also because it was a huge, momentous occasion. It was amazing to see how many people were touched and moved by his election. The first black President of the United States. No matter who you voted for, everyone had to admit that was a big deal right?

Or not.

Shortly after Obama's landslide win, we saw this on a message board somewhere:
There's one thing that really rubs me the wrong way, and that is how much emphasis they're putting on the fact that he's "black", when he's not really black, he's half black, and that really isn't something to take into consideration, unfortunately, it seems like too many people voted for him just because the color of his skin and that really pisses me off.
Um, what!? We weren't really sure we even wanted to address this subject on the blog, mainly because we weren't exactly sure how to address it. But here goes...

Now I'm sure there's a small percentage of voters out there who used his race as a motivating factor to vote him. A small percentage. I'm also sure that there was an equal or greater percentage of voters who did not vote for him because of his race. (Or because they thought he was Muslim, which was just another form of prejudice). For the most part, I think people voted the way they did because they felt that their candidate was the best one for the job. Or because their candidate was less horrible than the opposing candidates.

Even though I don't think we should have voted for him because he's black (or as the original poster put it, "half black"), I do think it merits celebration of the milestone that this is. Yes, Barack Obama is not 100% African American; he is biracial. Should that somehow make his accomplishment any less powerful?
...the news keep showing people crying and saying how historic this is just because he's a little tan. He's definitely different than Bush, but he doesn't seem that special to me to call this historic. I think it's very racist to make him seem more special just because he is HALF black.
Now I don't know anyone who suggested that Obama was "more special" because he was black (or half-black). He isn't necessarily special. But this is an extremely historic event. We celebrate or pay homage to a lot of "firsts" and this is a huge one. No one is suggesting that he will be any better as a president because of it, but it's still huge. America has come from a point where black people used to be property to a point where a black man has been elected president. Whatever your politics, that is still significant.

It is historic, because our children will grow up knowing (not hoping or dreaming) that someone besides a white man can be president. When a woman finally becomes president (which please let it happen in my lifetime!!!) it will be just as historic because of how hard women in our country fought to get there. When our children are adults, they will not even remember a time when it was a dream or crazy to think of a "minority" President.
Americans really do give too much importance to race.
Well, considering America's vast history of oppression against people based on race, can you really blame us? But I also think that celebrating our differences is a beautiful thing. Hating what makes others different from us is the problem. Race should not be the most important thing, but we should not underestimate its importance either.
There were slaves in Peru too, not just black, but chinese and indian too. Still, they're not as bitter as the formerly-opressed ones here.
Note: In case you didn't realize yet, the poster is originally from Peru. This isn't really that significant, but perhaps some cultural differences might explain for the lack of understanding of race issues in the U.S. Anyway, moving on...

Hm. Bitter? I agree that American do put a lot of importance on race (and yes, that can be a bad thing at times) but I don't agree that people are necessarily "bitter". Regardless, there is very little bitterness this week. People are celebrating! I also disagree with the term "formerly oppressed". Oppression didn't end when slavery did. I don't think that race should be that important, but for a lot of people - who have been defined by their race in a negative way for so long - that's not something that's so easy to just shake off. This is a really big step and it's a shame that it took so long!
I thought he was black at first until I saw a commercial where they showed pictures of his mother, she's white right? so, he's half black technically. I make that distinction because people keep calling him black but he's not, it's not really important what color he is, but if you're going to call him something, at least be accurate.
I do get her point. Sort of. Yes, he's actually biracial, but the media went crazy over him being black. He personally has said he doesn't think of himself as black or white or mixed race or anything. He thinks of himself as... Barack Obama. Period. And I think that's a great thing. He never made his campaign about race (although a lot of other people may have). But on the other hand, it is still monumentally historically HUGE that we have an "openly black" President in the United States finally. (I say "openly" because I was recently informed that several past presidents - Jefferson, Jackson, Lincoln, Harding and Coolidge - were "part black").

When a black person is discriminated against, there is only one factor that determines his or her status as "black" - the color of his or her skin. Nobody checks to see if you have African blood in you; if you look black, they consider you to be a black person. It sucks that we feel the need to categorize people based on that, but the sad fact of the matter is that that's the way our society perceives race.

Even though though he's not 100% black, even though he doesn't necessarily feel "black", even though he was mostly raised by his white side of the family... he looks black, so for the purposes of undeserved oppression he is black. He has had just as much opportunity to experience racial discrimination as anyone who is 100% black.

Whether he is 100% or 50% or 25% or even 1%... people can visibly identify him as not being "an old white guy" and that does mean something in our society. (There were people yelling "kill him" at his opponent's rallies - how much racial hatred do you want to see before you think this is significant?) "Only half black" was enough to get you sold on an auction block in the 1860's. "Only half black" was enough to keep you on the back of the bus in the 1960s or hung in your front yard.
It's 2008 not 1860. Those ideas are just being perpetuated by overcompensating.
What I mean is that Americans overcompensate when it comes to black people, making everything they do more special just because they're black, and this, in my opinion, only perpetuates the idea of racism. That's why people in other countries think americans are extremely racist, it's not just the "white man" that hates "blacks", it's how touchy the subject has become in this country, when in the end, we're all PEOPLE.
A clear misunderstanding of why this is a monumental occasion. This is not a case of overcompensation or affirmative action. His presidency will not be "more special" simply because he is black. No one is suggesting that Barack Obama is more special because he's black. But he's not less special because he's black either - and that's where this comes from in some ways. For a long time black people were considered to be second-class citizens (and before that, property!) Even now, in the 21st century, black people are still oppressed in a lot of ways. No one is suggesting that to be black makes you better. We're suggesting that to be black doesn't make you any worse either! (Still an outrageous concept for some).

It's horrible that it took this long for there to be, not just a black president, but a black major party candidate or even any black candidate with a remote chance. (Alan Keyes does not count). After this election, hopefully race will have nothing to do with anything, because we will have set a precedent that anyone can be president. (Well, okay, any man can be president, but we're hopeful that we'll see a woman in office soon enough). It's not racism to get excited about that. It's because of racism that it took so long for that to be possible.
I am aware that there were slaves in other countries too, like I mentioned previously, we had slaves in Peru too (African, Chinese, Peruvian Indians), but Americans do seem to overcompensate in my opinion, and to me it's just horrible to see sometimes black people abusing that even when they're not opressed anymore. I'm from Peru, there were slaves there but we don't have bitter black or Chinese people still complaining of how the "white man" is "keeping them down".

Sometimes even if in a particular occasion nobody is oppressing them they still take advantage of that.

What I mean is how ridiculous it's become when minorities are treated with equality and they still complain that they're being discriminated against, it happens, maybe because they're so used to being discriminated that they think everybody will try to opress them all the time, when that's not the case.
People are still oppressed. Racism still exists. Are black people not allowed to be bitter about ongoing racism? Sexism still exists too and at times I certainly am bitter about that. I'm angry about how long it took us to get to where we are today and I'm angry about how far we still have to go. I'm not only angry about it... I have hope, but I refuse to give up and a certain level of anger motivates that.
"Complacency is not staying still - complacency is moving backwards."
There is just as much danger in complacency for anyone as there is for me. Anything that makes you "different" can make you a possible target for discrimination. We should all work to further our rights and the rights of others, and sometimes anger can inspire this. Why should we shut our mouths or pretend that oppression doesn't exist just because it isn't actually blatantly occurring every single minute of every single day?

And who is to say that it isn't occurring every single minute of every single day? Oppressed people are constantly oppressed. Oppression is not necessarily an "act", it is a state of being. If you are from an oppressed group/minority in the U.S., that oppression exists constantly. It's not just like "when you _____, you are oppressing me"... it is "because I am ______, I cannot ________". You may not always feel it or you may not always see it, but it is still there.

I think the further and further we get towards all people being equal and no one being oppressed based on race, gender, religion, anything... is good. A black president is good. Not because a black president will be a better president, but because it's one step further towards black people becoming... just people. A female president? One step towards "female people" becoming... people.

But of course, the whole premise that oppressed people are "taking advantage" of their oppression is ridiculous. What exactly are they using this advantage for? And really, what does that have to do with Barack Obama anyway? I really don't think he "took advantage" of being black in order to get elected. Honestly, to suggest that anyone uses their oppression to "take advantage" of something... well that sounds a hell of a lot more "racist" than celebrating a "half black" president. Often when I hear someone speak this way, it sounds like they are trying to rationalize their own racism. "Oh, they think they're always being oppressed, when they're totally not!" It's the same as when some people don't understand why we still need to have Black History Month or Women's History Month, etc.

*Also on a side note: upon some further investigation, Peru is not the super awesome "color blind" country she painted it to be. Perhaps racial relations are in fact different than they are in the U.S., but she's definitely being misleading to suggest that the minorities of Peru are totally and completely free from feelings of oppression.
I don't think I'm a racist, I don't believe in "races", I believe we're all people and no one is better or worse because of the color of their skin or their physical features. I do believe though that there's a lot of racism in the US, not only from whites that don't like blacks or Hispanics or Asians/etc, but also from minorities that think all whites/or all men are against them, when that's not the case. Why can't people in such a developed country just realize we're all the same?

I don't care what color Obama is or what his religion is, if he's a man or a transgender or whatever, I never said I thought he used his skin color or background in his favor, what pisses me off is the reaction of some people making a big deal of only the fact that he's not white.

As Americans, we have a long and ugly history with racism, prejudice and inequality. The fact that we have a black man as a president is monumental because it means that some of the wounds of our history are beginning to heal. It means that old barriers are being dropped and people are looking at a person's platform and not simply the color of their skin.

Even though slavery is over a hundred years in the past and the Civil Rights Movement was forty years ago, it's been a long hard road to this moment. Maybe the focus on his race does seem to trivialize his victory (making it seem race-based instead of issue-based) but I think that the majority of people did vote for his platform and for his ideas of change. At the same time, there's really no way to not celebrate Obama's racial victory as we celebrate his presidential victory. It's a breakthrough moment in our culture.

I would have been really really really upset if McCain and Palin had won, but I would at least have recognized the historical moment that it would have been to have the first female Vice President. (I think she'd have SUCKED at the job and I'd be seriously pissed, but it would still be something monumental, even if bittersweet). You don't need to support Obama to realize why it's a big deal that he won. I definitely don't think he should have won because of his race, but I don't believe that he did.
I don't think he won because of his race, and I'm glad that his race wasn't really an issue during the campaign. It just doesn't make sense to ME to put so much emphasis on his race now that he won. Same thing if McCain and Palin would have won, I don't think it's a big deal to have a female vice president.
It is a big deal because it's never happened before. And it's a big deal because of the reasons why it's never happened before.
"If a one-legged man won the Boston Marathon, people would say it was a big deal. He overcame immense obstacles to achieve that. There are similar obstacles to minorities in this country."
Even two years ago, nobody thought that a black man would be able to overcome the (subconscious but substantial) racism in our society. Pundits were even saying that even people who said they'd vote for Obama would not be able to bring themselves to vote for a black man when they were in the privacy of the polling booth. (The Bradley Effect). Now that a minority has achieved the highest office in the U.S., it will provide the most compellingly positive example to minority children everywhere that if they study hard, and work to improve their lives and overcome the obstacles in their lives, that they may someday be successful.

When John F. Kennedy was elected it was also huge, because he was the first Catholic President. No one thought he'd be a better president because he was Catholic... but no one believed that America would actually let a Catholic man be President. When he was elected, not only Catholic children realized "hey, that could be me someday", but so did black children, Latino children, female children. They realized "hey, someone different really can do this if they work hard enough... maybe I can!"

Now JFK didn't "take advantage" of his Catholicism to win and Obama didn't "take advantage" of his race to win. They won in spite of it. And I hate to even use the phrase "in spite of" because it implies that they are flaws, which they're not. So I'll say that they won in spite of the country's prejudices and fear. It's not a big deal to have a black President. It's a big deal that America is changing and while racism most definitely still exists hardcore... this is proof that it's changing and it's a big step towards helping it continue to change.

We are all collectively celebrating victory over a major shortcoming of our entire nation. We're one step closer to the Presidency not being out of reach for any group of people.

It would be great if someday we could have two candidates for President and no one even cared or noticed what their race or gender was and they were completely on an even playing ground. That's a really awesome dream, but it's not reality yet. Barack Obama was at a disadvantage being "the black candidate" against the status quo. I know plenty of people who outright said they weren't voting for him because of his race/his alleged religion/his "too ethnic" name. (I can't even imagine the amount of people who also felt that way but didn't admit it). The fact that he still beat McCain in a LANDSLIDE victory, despite those people... that is an accomplishment. And to pretend it doesn't matter if he's black or "half black", is downplaying that accomplishment.
Unfortunately, discrimination is still huge in this world, but hopefully, with time, people will realize that anyone can do anything regardless of their race/sex/age/etc, I guess I still have a hard time with all the different types of discrimination in the US considering I believe THIS is a country where people have all kinds of opportunities that they may not have in their own country.
I really want it to be reality, where people just accept that we're all equal and don't care about race or anything like that. But at the same time, to ignore our differences also does us a disservice. Pretending there are no differences between our races and cultures is almost as bad as racism. I think you should be proud of your sexuality, heritage, gender, race, etc. I think these should be celebrated. Pretending we're all the same diminishes some of the things that make us the most beautiful. The important thing to remember though is that we're are all different, but none of those differences mean that we are better or worse than anyone else.

The ESC is very happy to welcome our new president to office.

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Dutch said...

Yes, but what if when we elect the first woman President she's only half woman, would it still be historic? Seriously though it is ironic that he was too black during the Wright affair?

Anonymous said...

I love this blog, and find the political and social commentary insightful and entertaining. Just a question about this article; you say "Yes, Barack Obama is not 100% African American; he is biracial..." Maybe I'm not understanding the terminology correctly - but since Obama has one American (from Kansas) parent and one African (from Kenya) parent, doesn't that make him exactly (or, 100%, if you will) African-American?? Whereas a person with two african parents would be african, two american parents would be american, and so Obama exactly fits the description of African-American? Just wondering how others see this.

Anonymous said...

Wait til we have our first transgendered president. ;-)

But anonymous, that's an interesting point... but no. Barack Obama is 100% American.

Technically if both of his parents were African but he was born here, he wouldn't be "African". He would be "African-American" because he's an American. (He wouldn't be "African" unless he was a citizen of Africa). He's no less of an American than his mother was - they were both born in America and were both U.S. citizens.

"African-American" is typically used as a description of race, not ethnicity. (Charlize Theron would technically be African-American too, seeing as she's from South Africa - but you wouldn't necessarily call her that). It's actually a pretty tricky term, because not all people who are black are actually descendants of Africa. It's become the more P.C. term to use, but it's not the term universally preferred by everyone.

If we wanted to get very specific, you could say that Barack Obama was half Black/African-American and half White/Caucasian... or you could say that his background/heritage is a mix of Kenyan, English, Irish, Dutch, French and German.

Or you could just call him "President Obama".

Anonymous said...

Ahh, that makes sense. Thanks for explaining!

ceirdwenfc said...

I actually sat with friends before the election - I was the only one planning on voting for Obama. The three of them (all White as am I) were upset because he never "said" he was part white. My question was 'have you never looked at the man?' If his mother wasn't white, someone was. They argued about his church. My response was that he did what most men do - he lived in his wife's neighborhood, went to his wife's church, which was in a Black neighborhood.

For the original poster, it IS a big deal. I went to school during bussing. I cried. I cried when I voted in the primary. I cried when I voted in the general. I cried on Tuesday when he took the oath. It is a big deal.

I would also like to say - Inauguration in DC - 2 million people, no arrests. That is just awesome.

Anonymous said...

Now I didn't vote for the man since I have major doubts about his economic and political leanings. Plus he doesn't believe that guns are a legitimate means of self defense! Eek! But...

The only half back comment is interesting because there are just so few 'African' Americans (along with a good chunk of the 'Caucasian' Americans) who are not in some way multi-racial.