Wednesday, 4 June 2008

Does it matter if he's Black or White?

Barack Obama has made history - (well I think technically we all do, each second we live, but that's how the news article put it) he's become the first African-American to run for President of the United States of America.

OK, so he has apparently got enough delegates to put one over Hillary Clinton.

Anyway I was coming back from work today and I heard some lady called Vicky ring up the radio station to talk about the Obama vote and she wanted to know "how black is he?"

I wasn't sure what answer to expect. Maybe the DJ was an interior designer and he was going to say, "Well, darleeeng, the colour we call it is not exactly midnight or jet, but a kind of chocolate mixed with charcoal which gives the overall effect of darkness but has a lovely light overtone for a th casual sunny outlook days and goes beautifully with cream and turquoise shades."

Anyhow the DJ answered that Obama's father was African American but to his knowledge his mother wasn't.

"So he's half black, half white?"

I thought this might lead to a witty comment about greyness. Or maybe stripes, like a zebra.


The DJ went on about how the significant thing was that Obama identified as black and Americans saw him as black "when they look at him they see a black man", and he'd made it to candidate. That was what made it historically significant.

"But he's part white," the woman whinged.

"So what do you see him as?" asked the DJ.

"If he's got any white in him ... he's white!" said Vicky.

I think this is pretty dumb.

I'm all for accuracy, like pointing out that someone might not be completely Asian but "Eurasian" or "half black" or "one-eighth French" or something.

However trying to (it seems) make insignificant that of Obama's candidacy by claiming him "all white" just because he's half white seems pretty daft - especially since the same woman seemed to get so hyped against him being called "black" when he was also half-black!



Lad Litter said...

Shit, all this time I thought he was Bryant Gumble.

TimT said...

Clearly, great minds think alike:

Entertaining as all these anecdotes were, I began to have my doubts about their veracity rather early in the book; they were more or less confirmed by a later tale told by Chesterton, about a debate raging in the letters page of the newspapers over racial purity and the universal brotherhood of man, in which there appears letters by H G Wells, the 'White Man of Bexley', a 'real negro... who signed his letter, "Black Man"', a 'Brown Man', and a termination to the debate being brought, apparently, by a letter for which he remembers 'almost every word; for it was short and simple and touching in its appeal to larger and more tolerant ideals.'

The letter, in part:

Sir, May I express my regret that you should continue a correspondence which causes considerable pain to many innocent persons, who, by no fault of their own, but by the iron laws of nature, inherit a complexion uncommon among their fellow-creatures and attractive only to the elite.... Yours faithfully, Mauve Man with Green Spots.

You are clearly a Chesterton for the 21st century!

Friendless said...

The point is that although Obama is half black and half white, he's consistently described as black. Imagine the situation if he was running for president of Zimbabwe - compared to Robert Mugabe and Morgan Tsangirai, Obama is very pale indeed. So he might become the white president of Zimbabwe, or the black president of the United States. It seems to me that the concept that Obama will (hopefully) become a black POTUS is based on a colour bias inherent in US culture. I'm not saying that's a bad thing, but when colour really doesn't matter it will seem like a silly thing to say.

Maria said...

He's the milk choc President, not the dark chocolate one!

I think the point is, as you pointed out, friendless, race matters now, and because people feel that Americans were habitually anti-anyone who doesn't look white completely, what Obama's done is change people's previous attitudes and habits.

You know, if someone were to run in Australia who was half Aborigine but still people thought of him/her as an Aboriginal, I think that'd be pretty momentous for us considering our political history. And if we had people with, say Asian or "Middle Eastern" appearance, despite the fact that they may speak fluent English and may be several generations in this country and be Australian by birth, considering some of the issues we've had about anti-Middle east and White Australia policy, I think that would be symbolic for us. They might act like every other Anglo person around them but the strong feelings that are associated with the image still mean that it would have changed some people's old attitudes.

I know it seems stupid and race shouldn't matter - for that matter, why should gender, really - unfortunately, realistically at the moment it does, for many, as evidenced by some of the slinging matches and media frenzy going on!

Maria said...

Lad Litter, not all can be so great. One must settle for being Barama - I mean Obama. I've heard his name mispronounced so many times now. Maybe he'll wish he had a different name.