Sunday, August 12, 2007

Acting White: Is Obama Black Enough?

Everywhere you read, you see the same question, “Is Obama Black Enough?” I thought if I ignored the implied suggestion, that it would go away, but like a bad penny, it just keeps coming back. It seems to be some coded inquiry whose answer will determine if black voters will be able to flip the switch for him in 2008. Unfortunately, the answer also threatens to sink the necessary white support he needs.

In the old days all a Black person required to pass the test of blackness was 1) look black, 2) marry black, 3) aspire to individual and group advancement. But somewhere along the line, the wires were crossed. You can look Black, which Obama does. You can marry Black, which he has. But being a highly-educated, self-responsible, over-achieving leader frankly scares the hell out of a lot of Black folks.

The pathologies of inferiority and under achievement have become so ingrained in Black minds that members are immediately suspect in the event that they break, or aspire to break the pattern, even as a Democrat. The tools of compliance begin with how we look and speak, and end with where we are going, or would profess to lead others. This is Barack’s true political nemesis.

Obama wants black people to feel empowered, not by the guilt their words induce in the behaviors of whites, but rather by the development and exercise of skills and abilities that contribute to our entire betterment. Black vs. white achievement is not a zero-sum game, regardless to what racism has tried to teach us.

The question of Obama’s blackness allows too many people to hide the real questions about themselves which they are afraid to ask, or have answered. Once those questions are addressed, the only thing we will care about, in the voting booth, is if the candidate, man or woman, black or white, can lead us where we truly need to go.

James C. Collier


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Unknown said...

I've come to the conclusion that the question is meant to simply have us disregard the talent of the brother. I was disappointed that National Assoc of Black Journalists decided to use "Is Obama Black Enough?" as a title for one of their plenary sessions. It was a bush league move.

Anyhow, I appreciate your commentary and enjoy your blog.

peace, Villager

Anonymous said...

James, great comments. Villager, your ignoring a key fact, Obama is not black, and he does has not physically or intellectually have the experiences of the black community. So many people are questioning his "authenticity". I for one am not so desparate for a black face in the oval office that I will ignore the experience a person needs to perform in the office. We're doing exactly what we accuse others of; paying more attention to color than to what's inside. These questions come up about Obama because of the very fact that he has not been involved in black issues and the "struggle". He can't act and speak authentically, simply because he is not an authentic african american. This has nothing to do with whites. It has everything to do about our simple giddy need for a black face in office, regardess of his/her politics or experience.

Anonymous said...

First let me say that the level of immaturity and ignorance displayed in American electoral politics is jaw droppingly astonishing.

The question of the "degree of Obama's blackness" go right to the heart of what characteristics are ascribed to "blackness" and "whiteness" in America and is deeply insulting simply because it reinforces the view that black people (unlike any other group of people) are a monolith defined by one rigid and intractable set of ideas and behaviours which of course by implication are the opposite of everything that Obama seems to represent.

On a slightly different note, I know many AA's are excited at the idea of having a black man as President, as many women might be about having a woman, but I think these are such simplistic, misguided and immature reasons for choosing a candidate.

With so many critical issues facing America and Americans: personal and national debt, health care, crime, education and the devastation to self and others resulting from warmongering it is mind boggling to me how silly so many of the discussions around politics are.

Eddie G. Griffin said...

Is Obama black enough? He is what he is... the content of his character. I have black skin but I don't know what being "black enough" means, because it means different things to different people, and really has nothing to do with what I think about myself... Call it the luck of the draw.

When people get caught up in skin color, the cloud of smoke is inside the imagination of the thinker, and has nothing to do with the empirical world of science and sanity.

It's okay for me to say, "I think". But when I say that "I think that somebody else thinks", I have exceeded the limits of my cranium. Being "black enough" is a matter of what goes on inside the head of a person who thinks that there is something special about "blackness"... but no one can say what it is.

Anonymous said...

At least he's seasoned enough to know what it takes to do the job of President without being power-mad or corrupted enough to be yet another same-old candidate.

Irrespective of skin color, isn't that something to focus on? He's black to most of America, but also pronounced as a "son of Illinois" by the mayor of Chicago - the enlightened son of his racist father.

I'm a white guy from Chicago and I can't tell you how excited I am that he is running for the Democratic ticket! Chicago has gone crazy for him, and I wish him all the best and pray that he wins. If he were green, I would vote for him in an instant.

It's time for a major change in American government, and I have faith that he is the person to effect that kind of change

Anonymous said...

Hello James:

You had written: "But being a highly-educated, self-responsible, over-achieving leader frankly scares the hell out of a lot of Black folks."

I would have to disagree. It seems to scare the hell out of the so called "Black Leadership" more than anyone else.

It seems that the Black Leadership has a vested interest in keeping the Black Masses out of the business of being self reliant in favor of keeping a seige mentality in place which allows for the "leadership" to continue with their outdated and ineffective civil rights paradgim.

I saw Juan Willams discuss his book with Michae Eric Dyson, that discussion quantifed this problem as Juans book outlined it.

James C. Collier said...

DJBA: We would seem to be in agreement, if the black leadership you describe are a proxy for the people that put them into office. Thanks.

Anonymous said...


I think we are in general agreement that ultimately it is the responsibility of the individual to see the forest and not just the trees, however I don't think the people being manipulated by this self appointed / media appointed "Black Leadership" are the ones who put them in power. Albeit, the masses they claim to represent are not active in removing them from power and are indolent or complicit by accepting whatever the "Black Leadership" tells them about the world and / or themselves.

For example, this whole thing with Barak being “not Black enough”. Like if him being educated or of mixed heritage could make Black folk not support him. Hardly. In fact, with the whole slave minded – house slave / field slave mentality and the whole brown paper bag society mind set if anything African Americans will trample each other to get to the poles to vote for this guy, regardless of his ability or lack of.

Which goes back to the point of the Democratic party and Black leadership. They will accomplish what they have set out to do in even allowing this political novice to be given the appearance of a chance to get that party’s nomination, that being, get more of the African American portion of their base out to vote.

It’s really sad, this smoke and mirrors business that is being played, Houdini would be amazed.

Anonymous said...

I think you are missing the point. The question of his blackness rests on the fact that he's biracial and his father was African. That makes him very different from the "average" black man. It also does influence greatly how he sees the world. That should give us pause, even if we don't take it so far as to question his "blackness."


chatnoir said...

Tyler this sounds like a double standard to me.

The average african american is "african" looking. I do know that AA will argue the next minute that they too look mixed, so IMO I really do not see what makes him different from us.

The argument on "admixture" is brough up all the times by every single african american who seeks his european roots.

Anonymous said...

I think in the African American community many feel that Obama isn't "black enough" because he is seen as an outsider because he is a child of immigrants and he didn't come out of the typical civil rights movement ranks per se. So if he didn't move through the institution/organization of the African American community one could wonder who is this man truly loyal to...if he doesn't have a history with the community no one will trust him. The reality is no one really trust a man "white" America is so excited about. In most beauty/barber shops people are saying "My God, this man doesn't even know his grandmother. Ooooh,I think that says it all. Obama better work on getting the Hispanic vote...but then again he is not foreign enough to understand there struggle. Good Luck Democrats

Anonymous said...

The idea of Obama being black enough is plain silly. But if this is the way America needs to discuss race and culture, then so be it. At least it isn't "too" harmful of a public discourse.

Garling Gauge has a good take on it:

Anonymous said...

Barack did not even get sworn in as Senator on the Bible. Wrong and no way I'd vote for this boy.

His parents are of mixed race therefore why do people call him black or african american?

He does not even place his hand over his heart @ the playing of the National Anthem. Is he patriotic?

Obama is the absolute wrong wrong wrong choice for America, and so is Hillary.

AllPeople said...


Actually --- this false concept that so many people
have -- that the lighter-complexioned chattel slaves
“had it easier” or “thought they were better” than the
darker-complexioned slaves – and / or “relaxed
in the big house” while the darker-complexioned
slaves “suffered in the fields” -- is very much like
the infamous ‘Willie Lynch Letter’ Hoax) all VERY
MUCH AN URBAN MYTH (and is one which, in
nearly every way that’s possible, completely
defies the true historical recorded account.

The historical record shows that those enslaved
people who were of a lighter-complexion (i.e.
mulatto-lineage) and that were found on the
continental United States during the antebellum
(chattel slavery) era were actually treated MUCH,
MUCH WORSE than were those enslaved
people who were of a darker-complexion.

In fact, record shows that most of the White
people (specially the White women) tended to
look upon the lighter-complexioned slaves as
being mere 'mongrels of miscegenation' (resulting
largely from the rapes caused by overseers); in
their disgust at the sight of these slaves -- insisted
that they be "banished to the fields"; and also
then purposefully reserved most of the 'big house'
positions (ex. mammy, cook, driver, etc) for the
darker-complexioned slaves --- who most of the
White people perceived as being "more loyal,
docile, less competitive" -- and, equally important,
of a skin tone which could never cause them to
be mistaken for 'white' or a possible member
of the plantation owners' own family.

And this maltreatment was generally even much more
so the case if the lighter-complexioned enslaved
person was 'suspected' (by a wife, sister or daughter
-- who ran “the big house”, while a ‘male’ family member
ran “the plantation”) of possibly being the offspring of
a plantation owner (or his son, father or brother).

In addition, the few lighter-complexioned enslaved
people that were actually permitted to do any work
within the house were – as punishment for having the
lowly status of “mongrel” and in order to make sure
they did not become “too uppity” -- kept under much
more severe supervision (by both the White women
who ran the plantation household and also by the
darker-complexioned enslaved people) and under
much more severe work detail than were most of the
(more trusted) darker-complexioned enslaved people.

Books by Deborah Gray White; Paula Giddings; J.
California Cooper; bell hooks’, etc. expose the truth
about the urban-myth and show that the lighter slaves
received NO special treatment and were (as mere
"mongrels of miscegenation") usually treated much
worse than were darker-complexioned slaves.

Hope this information is helpful
& that everyone has a great day. :D

-- AP (

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