The definition of “blackness” has come into discussion as some have begun to doubt Barack Obama’s capability to stand up for black issues.
It’s no secret that Obama’s father is Kenyan and his mother is white. However, Obama has made it quite clear that he considers himself a black man.
In Salon magazine, Debra J. Dickerson, author of The End of Blackness and An American Story, said, “Barack Obama would be the great black hope in the next presidential race – if he were actually black.”
Some may find this comment absurd since it is obvious from looking at Obama that he’s black. Nevertheless, Obama’s non-aggressive way of discussing issues has many blacks questioning if he would openly fight for black issues or ignore them to appease the white population.
In other words, because he doesn’t fit the stereotype of the black church-based fighter for civil rights perpetuated by the likes of the Rev. Al Sharpton and the Rev. Jesse Jackson, blacks are hesitant in their support for Obama.
In addition, some insist he is not black because he is not a direct descendent of slaves and hasn’t been subjected to the bona fide “black experience.”
The “black experience” Obama has not faced is coming from a family who has experienced racism in America. Peter B. Hammond, a professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, said, “(Black people) may feel it’s as if he’s taking advantage of being black without paying his dues.”
Hammond went on to say, “Black folks might be saying, ‘Here’s this guy who is presenting himself as a brother, but he was raised in Indonesia.’ … (And) on the other hand, white people may say he’s not a real black person. … You can pat yourself on the back because you voted for a black person, but (think) ‘Thank God he’s not really black.'”
It is silly to think Obama’s authenticity as a black man should be questioned merely because Obama is not the descendent of black slaves. As a black woman who has also had her “blackness” questioned due to my upbringing, the way I talk, what music I listen to, etc. I can say it’s irritating that some feel it necessary to have unwritten criteria for what it is to be black.
I am shocked this has become as big of an issue as it is when there are other things to discuss besides a presidential candidate’s race.
For instance, no one is questioning if Hillary Clinton is woman enough to run the country. Obama’s “blackness” shouldn’t be up for discussion.
This story has gained even more momentum now that polls are showing Clinton with overwhelming support in the black community – more than likely stemming from her husband’s popularity among blacks. Bill Clinton was embraced so widely by the black community that even Toni Morrison, a black author, called Clinton “the first black president.”
Therefore, people believe Obama needs to make his stance on certain black issues clear if he’s going to get the black votes.
Sylvester Monroe, a former correspondent for Time magazine who serves as senior editor of Ebony magazine, said he expects a point to come when black voters will not allow Obama to walk that fine line between the hard line advocacy they want and the talk of consensus that draws non-black voters.
Obama should not have to change who he is or how he does things to please blacks or whites. When it comes down to choosing a president, that decision should be based on if people feel the person is capable of running the country.
It is detrimental for the black community to associate fighting for equality with aggression. Changes can be made in a peaceful, non-confrontational manner (e.g. Martin Luther King Jr.). Just because Obama is not hooting and hollering about affirmative action or racial profiling does not mean he isn’t concerned about such issues that plague the black community.
For the right person to win this election, the country needs to stop viewing the candidates as black or white and focus more on what is important.
Shemir Wiles is a senior majoring in mass communications.