Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Discussions in Black History Month: The Browning of America

I've started my Black History Month posts much earlier than last year, though I fear that the quality will be much diminished. After catching this NYT article I've been thinking about the growing number of young USians describing themselves as multiracial, and the optimism about the future of US race relations - much the same as that attached to the Obama presidential campaign.
I personally think that this optimism reflects a desire for absolution on the cheap. It is nowt but magical thinking to believe that prejudice and bigotry will disappear if we just looked the same. What it will take is the often emotionally and psychologically draining work of calling out bigotry and prejudice where you find it, and fighting for policies for social justice and equality. This is precisely why I share Ta-nehisi Coates', and Jamelle  Bouie's suspicions about what a more multiracial USA might mean.

There was one account in the NYT article that elicited a (gallows humour) grin.
Over dinner with Ms. L√≥pez-Mullins one night, she wondered: “What if Obama had checked white? There would have been an uproar because he’s the first ‘black president,’ even though he’s mixed. I would like to have a conversation with him about why he did that.”
Absent that opportunity, Ms. Wood took her concerns about what Mr. Obama checked to a meeting of the campus chapter of the N.A.A.C.P. last year. Vicky Key, a past president of the Multiracial and Biracial Student Association, who is Greek and black, joined her. The question for discussion was whether Mr. Obama is the first black president or the first multiracial president.
Ms. Key, a senior, remembered someone answering the question without much discussion: “One-drop rule, he’s black.”
“But we were like, ‘Wait!’ ” she said. “That’s offensive to us. We sat there and tried to advocate, but they said, ‘No, he’s black and that’s it.’ Then someone said, ‘Stop taking away our black president.’ I didn’t understand where they were coming from, and they didn’t understand me.”
Black/African Americans are a mixed community. Harold Ford Jr. has two black parents, Obama has one. However if you to stand them next to each other and ask someone who did not know their family background which of the two had one white parent, I'm pretty sure Harold Ford Jr. would be picked almost every time. Therefore, in my experience, some African Americans suspect that the interest Obama's multiracial background is more about distancing him from blacks than it is about having an honest conversation. It's great to aspire for a society where identity can be fluid, but you can't get there unless you understand why identity is treated as though it is immutable. I'm not sure these kids are there yet.

1 comment:

  1. I'd have to agree. I would add that if Harold Ford, Jr. and Obama stood side by side and the viewer were presented with a fact sheet that stated that Obama had had an Ivy league education and Ford had done hard time in a Federal prison the answer would be reversed. Education and Economics are a big part of the race equation.
    Gottta read the NYTimes article.
    Thoughtful piece...maybe I'll do something on BHM too