Ain’t That Black Enough?

A lingering question about a question from Monday’s YouTube/CNN debate, when Sen. Barack Obama was asked why some voters don’t seem to think he’s “black enough.”

What in the world do people mean when they ask this? Is there some Platonic ideal of perfect Blackness by which we can measure and evaluate someone according to how closely they approach the ideal?

 If so, what/who  is the ideal? Who is a sufficiently authentic black, and how does he/she differ from Obama? I’d love to see a thoughtful African-American writer dissect this matter, but fools rush in where angels fear to tread.

 To this pale Caucasoid, the whole business seems weirdly old-fashioned, refracted through a long-outdated view of blacks. 

Perhaps during the heyday of Jim Crow, before the Civil Rights movement, there might have existed, in the minds of most white people at least, some monolithic idea of the “black” person. Any such simplistic image, of course, would have been possible only because so many white people had such limited experience with black people, and many of the blacks they were likely to meet were poorly educated and in  subservient positions.

Today, with so many avenues of advancement open to African-Americans,  the reality is much more variegated.  There are dozens,  hundreds of black images.   Is Puffy Combs black? Colin Powell? Randall Robinson? Leonard Pitts Jr.? Barry Bonds? Oprah Winfrey? Spike Lee? Ron Kirk? Chris Tucker? Shelby Steele? Seal? Henry Louis Gates? Michael Vick?  Louis Farrakhan? Joe Morgan?

Are they saying Obama is way more educated than most black folks? He is, yes. (He’s also way more educated than most white folks.) Are they saying he’s got much more money than most black folks? (ditto whites). 

I’m guessing here, but I wonder if some of the “black enough?” questioners have a limited and pretty negative idea of the black experience they believe Obama has not shared.  Are they saying he hasn’t suffered enough of what they take to be, even in 2007, the oppressive racial reality of blacks? Obama seemed to pick up on that aspect of the question when he half-jokingly said he’d had trouble hailing cabs in Manhattan–thus establishing solidarity with poor and middle-class blacks who’ve been similarly dissed. 

 Is he being forced, unfairly, to define his essential  life experiences downward (I’ve been racially profiled by cabbies, like you) rather than upward (Uh, yes, I was the first black editor of the Harvard Law Review)?

The next time this question comes up, and it will, I wish Obama would just say, “What are you talking about? Explain. Define this Ideal Black.” Then we could all get in on the discussion.


One thought on “Ain’t That Black Enough?

  1. Obama Ain’t Black Enough

    I am writing this because I am sick and tired of ignorant statements like Obama’s mother is white and therefore he cannot know or represent me as a black or Afro-American man or woman.

    First of all, let me say I have not made up my mind who I will vote for in the presential election so this is not an endorsement, but I do want to speak to those small minded-ignorant folk who keep saying he is not black enough. As a perosn whose mother was white and father was black I make the following statement:

    Stop hating white people who love black or brown people enough to marry them and deal with all the ignorant people both white and black because they love the person they are with. My mother and father met in the 50’s and she was slapped by policemen, called all kinds of names and rejected by her family because she chose to marry a black or Afro-American man.

    Before she died she was a mother to many of our friends (all black or latina) that lived in our neighborhoods and by the way we lived and were raised in LA, Compton and Watts is that black enough for you? I was a member of a nortious gang and a hustler on the streets of LA and Compton and was good at it plus I am still alive does that make me black enough for you?

    I have gotten on elevators and watched white women tuck their purses in as if… is that black enough for you? on two of my jobs I have been denied a promotion because I did not fit the corporate profile is that good enough to be called black or Afro-American. According to Jim Crow laws I was black the day I was born even if my skin happed to be lighter. So please get over yourselves and judge people by the content of their character not how black, brown light or white they may be isnt that all we ever ask for in the first place.

    Many of us have experienced the hardships and reality of life as black people even if lighter thatn some of our other brothers and sisters. Just because our mother or father are of another race does not make us any less black or Afro-American.

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