What Is The Real Issue With Obama Choosing Black?

May 4, 2010  |  

by Yvette Carnell

During candidate Obama’s run for Presidency, he said “I self-identify as an African-American. That’s how I am treated and that’s how I am viewed. And I’m proud of it.” Case closed right?  One would think so, but now that President Obama has checked “black” on his Census form, some of his detractors are criticizing him for running away from his heritage. So please allow me to set the record straight….

President Obama checked “black” on his Census form because, well, he is black.

It is a mark of evolution that Americans are allowed to identify themselves as “some other race” on their Census forms, but aren’t most of us multi-racial?  If Obama’s critics have decided that he should adhere to the strictest of rules where his race classification is concerned, then shouldn’t all Americans be held to that same standard?  And if we’re all held to that standard, won’t that make the task of completing the Census form an act in futility for many, if not most, Americans? We are a melting pot, and as such, a significant number of us are an amalgamation of a wide variety of races and are therefore, by definition, multiracial.  The only distinction is that race isn’t as much about definition as it is about identification.

Our race has more to do with how we are perceived than how we self-identify. We all know that President Obama is biracial, but if someone fitting Obama’s description robbed a bank and the police questioned you for a description of the suspect, would you say that you saw a tall ‘biracial’ man hop into a getaway car with two sacks overflowing with cash?  No. You-as would most people-describe to the police the black bank robber with the light brown complexion who exited the bank to make his speedy escape.

Only in the most utopian of worlds would anyone notice the subtleties of the ethnic features which hint to the racial patchwork which defines many American’s multiracial background.  Your high and strong cheekbones may echo your Choctaw grandmother’s strong facial features, while your round hips may be a trait of your African-American mother, and so on. No one knows.  And no one can tell what race you are just by looking at you.

Race is one big generalization.

When we look at each other, we don’t see a portrait of one another’s families.  What we do see, however, are various shades of skin color or hair textures, or  striking features. That is our collective definition of race. We can argue about whether society’s immediate and impulsive classifications are right or wrong, but we can’t argue with the fact that they’re real.

Some observers have even made the case that Obama’s choosing “black” on his Census form was a marginalization of his white mother and grandparents.  It was not. It was, however, an acknowledgment of the visual queues associated with race, and to a larger extent-racism.

What’s more, isn’t it a bit hypocritical for those who’ve fought for the right of multiracial and biracial people to choose a race category which more suitably fits the way in which they self identify, i.e. a choice more ethnically encompassing than purely Black, White, or Asian to now force President Obama into their preferred “multiracial” box?

By adding the “other” race box to the Census form, the Census Bureau provided Americans with the opportunity to redefine themselves.  It also allowed President Obama the opportunity to reiterate what he said during the campaign – that he’s a black man. He’s chosen the “box” which he feels most fits him.  Hopefully, now the case is finally closed.

Yvette Carnell is a former Capitol Hill Staffer turned political blogger. She currently publishes two blogs, Spatterblog.com and GoGirlGuide.com.

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