Obama’s Election and the Double Standard
December 4, 2008
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While I wish him well and hope that he restores the economic and moral health of our country, I see in Barack Obama’s victory a certain danger to those who oppose forced racial classification and wish to promote the legitimation of multiracial identities and racial ambiguity. Why? Too many of the black-identified members of the political and intellectual elite and their “white” allies will probably be emboldened to try and silence us forever because their Democratic comrades now rule the roost.
On the other hand, I have been struck by the large number of fellow “white” Americans who have openly asked why Obama is “black” when he is half white and was reared by white relatives in a totally non-black environment. “Mixed race” is no longer an abstraction to growing numbers of “whites.” They may not be interracially married themselves, but they are the grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, etc. of mixed-race people. They see their relatives, who are usually white women and often single mothers, pour all of their love and resources into their biracial children (just as Obama’s mother and grandmother did). They are far less afraid to say that there is no logic in claiming that those children are totally “black” or “African American” and not entitled to claim their white parents’ “race” and ethnicity.
I propose that the multiracial movement see the election of Obama as an opportunity to reach out to more ordinary “white” Americans with the question “Why is Obama “black” when he is equally “white”? I propose that we contrast Obama with the late New York Times book critic Anatole Broyard. Obama was born into and reared in a Hawaii-based white-identified family and had no ties of blood or culture to the native “African American” community. Broyard was born in New Orleans to a Creole family falsely labeled as “Negro” by the racist government of Louisiana, which was determined to subject its mixed-race Creole population to a documentary genocide of forced assimilation into the “black” Anglo population/caste. Obama left Hawaii with the intention, according to his autobiography, of finding a “racial community” of people who looked like himself. Broyard, whose family moved to New York City when he was a small child, refused to self-police himself and accept a “Negro” or “colored” classification. In the free environment of New York, he chose to be identified as white. Indeed, his parents had themselves moved back and forth across the color line because they also had European phenotypes. Obama married a woman “blacker” than himself and produced two children who look “black” to most Americans. Broyard married a woman “whiter” than himself (Norwegian-American) and produced two children who look totally white to most Americans. Why is Obama praised for moving toward “blackness” while Broyard is demonized by the black and white liberal intellectual elites for moving toward “whiteness”? How about some equal rights here? I would be far more impressed by an open defense of Broyard’s whiteness than I am by Obama’s election. White racism has always rested on the assumption of white racial purity. Obama claims that he is “black” because he “looks black.” Why wasn’t Broyard “white” because he “looked white”? The Obama/Broyard comparison would require open criticism of Henry Louis Gates, Jr. (foremost advocate of the “one drop rule” in the U.S. who first “outed” Broyard as a so-called “light-skinned black”) and Anatole’s daughter Bliss Broyard (who has openly sided with Gates and denounced her father as “black”). This is a chance to strike at the “one drop rule” and we should not miss it. The fact that Obama, Gates and Bliss Broyard are already all over the media should make the task easier.
No matter how much Obama might call himself “black,” his white ancestry and white upbringing are too well known to be denied. Other “white” Americans are already asking questions. We must encourage them to do so and point out that the denial of freedom of racial/ethnic identity and the abuse of black political power in support of that denial affects their own families, now and/or in the future.