The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Back in Town: Barack Obama roundtable

5) Back in town after a successful PATH workshop in Portland, and also an NPR roundtable yesterday morning for the “On Point” show. I’ll post a link later when I find it—anyone who knows one could do me a solid by forwarding it to me…


The roundtable dealt with the subject “Is Barack Obama Black?”which seems to be fluttering around the American psyche these days. This was at least partially triggered by a Salon article which suggested that in America’s social and political reality, no he is not—because he is not descended from West African slaves. My attitude is that, viewed through that specific, narrow lens, I understand the position, even if I don’t agree with it. Before I went on the air, I jotted down a bunch of points I wanted to make, and managed to get most of them in. Thought you might like to see ‘em…
a) If an African immigrant is beaten or shot by white cops, I’ve always thought of him as black. Period. If he’d walked through the wrong Alabama neighborhood in the 50’s, believe me, he’d be black.
b) White racists would LOVE for blacks to splinter themselves like this. They must be licking their chops.
c) Many Africans don’t think American descendants of slaves are “black.” If I’ve rejected that, I also have to reject this.
d) Obama’s father was the product of Colonialization in Kenya—which ended much more recently than slavery, about the same time that Jim Crow and Segregation finally broke down. There is analogous damage.
e) All my life, people have tried to define for me what “black” is. Melanin count? Ability to dance? Speech patterns? Income? Education? I’ve got news for you: there is no Governing Board of Negritude, people. Get over it.
f) We are still living in the shadow of the social reality created by the “one drop” rule in the past.
g) It’s a big tent. There’s room for all kinds of clowns in this circus.

Just thoughts, of varying degrees of value and seriousness.

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