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America's first black president

(18 Posts)
absentgrana Tue 13-Sep-11 15:24:03

This has been annoying me since before I'd even heard of Mr Obama. Obviously he has physical characteristics that derive from his African ancestry, presumably because of dominant genes, but he he has a black parent and a white parent – he is mixed race. Even the idea of defining different races is pretty much absurd and certainly in the twenty-first century, especially in societies such as ours and that of the USA, huge numbers of people have a right old mix of different "races" and nationalities in their make up. So why are mixed black and white race offspring almost invariably described as black? Think about adoption criteria. I think it's important to recognise all our ancestry and acknowledge where we came from because that's a big part of what makes us who we are and of course I am aware that political (in the broad sense as well as the narrow one) and social judgements and opinions come into play. But it seems, that if you have dark skin and curly hair, you're black and, if you live in certain areas in certain cities, you have to be a brother. Who gives the media or anyone else the right to decide who you are and ignore part of where you come from?

Annobel Tue 13-Sep-11 16:18:12

That annoys me too, absent because I have a mixed race GD who, though she has inherited the colouring of the white side of her ancestry, can be defined as 'black'. In New Zealand, my sister's GD, who is one quarter Maori, is defined as Maori. One day, I hope, it will be enough to be just human, but apparently not yet!

Baggy Tue 13-Sep-11 16:18:29

The word black as used for people has always puzzled me. At one time I had a friend who belonged to a Ugandan Asian British refugee family — family originally from western India. She insisted she was black even though, as far as actual skin colour went (especially living in Britain) she thought of herself as yellow. I have yellow skin tones (c/f Colour Me Beautiful by Carole Jackson) and I once managed to make my friend laugh by pointing out that in summer when my forearms were suntanned, that bit of me looked just as 'yellow' as she always did. We had a mutual African Ugandan friend who is the blackest person I've ever known but even he wasn't really black.

I suppose it's no dafter than calling someone white but why is everyone who isn't as pale as a 'white' person called black? Is it unacceptable to say someone is brown or yellow or pink — for descriptive purposes only? It seems to be and I suppose that's because there is still so much garbage attached to skin colour because of racism. We are a 'sad' species.

Re Obama - being any shade of black in the US is a big deal and I think the interest in his 'blackness' stems from a need to prove that much of the population there has moved on from the prevalent and scary racism of not so long ago.

Baggy Tue 13-Sep-11 16:23:35

annobel, the definition of Maori, as stated for your sister's GD, does seem a bit daft, though I suppose it is in recognition of her ancestry on the Maori side because they were the oppressed people. But by the same definition my DD3 would be Irish, and she isn't. There's no way she'd get an Irish passport. Human beings can be very silly for all their supposed intelligence.

absentgrana Tue 13-Sep-11 16:36:06

Hi Annobel three of my four (soon to be four of my five) grandchildren are one-eighth Maori and I totally rejoice in it. Who would have thought? I love the Maori sense of ancestry – where my family came from, how they and I got to where we are now. I love too the value of and respect towards elders and the senior women. Irish, Dutch, English, Maori in the case of my little ones and I love it and value each part. Skin colour, hair colour, eye colour is not defining about who you are, although it may be about how you look. I have met people who have said how obvious it is that I have Dutch ancestry, yet I bear a very striking resemblance, especially as I get older, to my Irish mother. I'm a mix of the two; it just so happens that, in my case, it wasn't black and while.

Baggy Tue 13-Sep-11 16:47:52

Yes, mixed ancestry is something to be proud of and rejoice in, whatever the mix is.

jangly Tue 13-Sep-11 16:50:14

I think this is pathetic. Its just a word. hmm

Think about his policies, not his ethnic origins.

Jacey Tue 13-Sep-11 16:50:47

Baggy ...^"a need to prove that much of the population there has moved on from the prevalent and scary racism of not so long ago."^

Are you sure it isn't the other way round? They 'harp' on about it as proof of what a poor president he is? I've been shocked by USA tourists' comments ...along the lines of 'it's only the Europeans that like him'. Personally, I've found them to be just as racist as ever ...just not so vocal about it.

And the posts seem to be talking about black or white ...wasn't there a move several years ago to talk about 'coloured' too?

Historically ... there has always been a tendency to maintain a 'pure' blood-line as something sacrosanct. Consequently a mixed race marriage was deemed to be 'beyond the pale' ...and unfortunately it still is viewed this way in some communities and countries.

I'm still saddened to see some people's attitudes to seeing a parent with a 'different' skin coloured child walking along with them...or their dismay, when they see a couple from different ethnicity walking along hand in hand.

absentgrana Tue 13-Sep-11 17:04:03

jangly Words are hugely powerful. President Obama is widely talked about as America's first black president – a phrase that is used as a codeword by racist media and is used casually and thoughtlessly by others. It doesmatter that he is viewed through this narrow lens. Of course his policies matter and should matter more than the president's skin colour, religion, number of children or shoe size but look at all the nonsense that has been bandied around in the last couple of years concerning his birth place and so on. The Kennedy family was a bit concerned about being RC but no one ever suggested that JFK wasn't an American. There is a steady drip, drip, drip that Obama is not an American and possibly a Muslim. This is seriously undermining and a load of old rubbish.

Separate from being POTUS, "ordinary" mix-raced people are also pigeon-holed as black. Why? It's not that being half black is somehow wrong, it's that being half white is somehow wrong. How daft is our society?

jangly Tue 13-Sep-11 17:10:36

I really don't think President Obama is going to suffer one iota from whatever colour people decide to label him as. It might fill a few paragraphs in a newspaper but that's about it.

supernana Tue 13-Sep-11 17:18:13

President Obama is a good man. I HOPE with all my heart that he is given a chance to make a difference. Seems to me that people can be far too fickle, especially when their unreasonable expectations cannot be satisfied in the short term.

absentgrana Tue 13-Sep-11 17:18:17

jangly Have you ever listened to Rush Limbaugh or Hannity and whatever the insignificant guy is? Fox News?

But I wasn't talking so much about President Obama – his name was just an easy hook – I was talking about/questioning the lazy assumptions still made about race in our society.

JessM Tue 13-Sep-11 17:23:42

I suppose he is called black because for generations white people have discriminated against mixed race and categorised them as black. I think the negro blood was seen as a kind of contaminant. This has now turned round so that many people are proud to have a black identity. My ex once had an OH who went round trying to convince people she was black (she was about a quarter Indian or something and no browner skin than me) - but I suspect in social work she would get extra points!
Suspect it worked for Obama as well as against him.
There's a whole lot of complex stuff going on with Maori identity - the Maori party seem to hold the balance of power and there are still lots of disputes going back to the Treaty of Waitangi - what it really meant when the representatives of Queen Vic made the treaty with the Maori chiefs and who might now be entitled to all sorts of lucrative land fishing rights etc. My sons best mate married a kiwi who is part maori, but she is an accountant and not at all interested in the Maori identity thing. Their baby is a girl who will have a tough choice as to who to support - Wales or the All Blacks...
Anyway i still look at Obama and go "blow me down, they elected a black man!!!!"

jangly Tue 13-Sep-11 17:25:17

No. I've never listened to Fox news.

I don't know what it is. Or who those people are.

jangly Tue 13-Sep-11 17:26:39

I definitely agree with you supernana. I just wish their political system would let him get some things actually done!

JessM Tue 13-Sep-11 17:29:18

Agreed Jangly - it seems crazy to me, but Americans always tell you that 'checks and balances" are a good thing. It looks like paralysis in the teeth of the gale from over here.

Baggy Tue 13-Sep-11 18:06:03

jacey, I haven't heard the American tourists who "harp on" negatively about Obama. The only Americans I really know are either Obama supporters or say it was god's choice so they accept it. confused

crimson Tue 13-Sep-11 18:42:27

During the Bush years every American I met apologised for him [none of them had voted for him or knew anyone who had!]. I really hoped for a 'Brave New World' when Obama was elected. I'd been told about him years ago by an American I met in Ireland. Just think, if he hadn't been elected Sarah Palin would now be Vice President confused.