Adventures in AmbiLand

Ambi = Ethnically Ambiguous

Is Barack Obama African American? December 28, 2008

AmbiJawn says: Yes Of Course!

There are many Americans who beg to differ.  During a recent “Talk of the Nation” segment titled  Obama And The Politics Of Being Biracial host Neal Conan asks the audience:  “Does it matter what Barack Obama calls himself?  Why?”

White and Multi-Racial people flood the phone lines,  using like “hurt” and “insulted”  that Barack Obama considers himself African American.  One caller was offended that Obama “doesn’t acknowledge his white ancestry”.  Guest hosts Annette Gordon-Reed and  Dawn Turner Trice address these concerns in a much more graceful and evenhanded way than I could ever dream.  They speak so well! They are so well spoken.

As a person who has lived in ambi-world all of her life, I find it all highly entertaining.  It’s as though some folks feel that mixed people are somehow responsible for the “one drop rule and other uniquely American concepts of race.  The option of those with a black parent or African lineage to call themselves anything other than African American is a relatively recent phenomena (more info on this here).  I am tickled by the degree to which people are either uneducated about this facet of American history, or simply in denial.

There are many people who would rather just forget “that whole slavery thing”.  As Americans, we are all “hurt” and “insulted” by the history of slavery–this goes for those with white ancestry, black ancestry, both and “other”.   I think it’s safe to say  that most people around today give slavery the thumbs down!  It doesn’t mean that we can forget the past–understanding the past is essential to moving forward.  We as a nation must recognize that acknowledging the past is not analogous to condoning it.    While we have powerless to choose our past, we have all the power in the world to effect our future.

Micheal, can you clear this one up for the people??

One that note, I will leave you with an with an excerpt from  the essay  “Illogic of American Racial Catagories” by Paul R. Spickard which explains, well, the illogic of American racial catagories:
More to the point is the question of to which socially defined category people of mixed ancestry belong. The most illogical part of all this racial categorizing is not that we imagine it is about biology. After all, there is a biological component to race, or at least we identify biological referents–physical markers–as a kind of shorthand to stand for what are essentially socially defined groups. What is most illogical is that we imagine these racial categories to be exclusive. The U.S. Census form says, “Check one box.” If a person checks “Other,” his or her identity and connection with any particular group is immediately erased. Yet what is a multiracial person to do?

…The salient point here is that once, before the last third of the twentieth century, multiracial individuals did not generally have the opportunity to choose identities for themselves. In the 1970s and particularly the 1980s, however, individuals began to assert their right to choose their own identities–to claim belonging to more than one group, or to create new identities…. By 1990, Mary Waters could write, “One of the most basic choices we have is whether to apply an ethnic label to ourselves” (p. 52). She was speaking of a choice of ethnic identities from among several White options, such as Italian, Irish, and Polish. Yet the concept of choice began to apply to mixed people of color as well.

…That choice is still available to mixed people, but it is no longer necessary. Today a person of mixed ancestry can choose to embrace all the parts of his or her background.


2 Responses to “Is Barack Obama African American?”

  1. Emily Says:

    I’m really relieved I can check off multiple boxes on the census forms, but I had to check “Other” on a NY online job application database this week, because it only allowed one option. It’s like being invisible! Why is a database trying to dictate who I am and how I define myself?

    I am endlessly fascinated by the debate you’re mentioning here. We (the ambi bi/multiracial folks) are stuck in the middle of what many see as several immovable, completely separate sets of histories. How much of it can we define ourselves, and how much is that choice dictated by our communities? I could never fault people for how they identify themselves.

    And… Wow! Michael Jackson’s morphing dancers… fond memories.

  2. […] media has been focusing so intently on slavery in connection with the election of our first “black” president- but that’s a whole ‘nother conversation.  Just thought I’d […]

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