Tuesday, June 10, 2008

White + Black = Black?

Okay - this is a rambly one!

I just read an interesting editorial on cnn.com.

The article questions whether Barak Obama really is a "black" candidate or a "biracial" candidate and what effect, if any, that has on (i) his history-making as the first "black" nominee of a major party (and possibly as President) (i.e. is he REALLY the first black nominee?) and (ii) if his white roots give him more appeal across all races.

I had a couple of initial thoughts when I started reading through this. 1) It is good that we, as Americans - as HUMANS - are having this conversation, this thought process. We are opening up to the effects that race has on us individually and as a society. 2) The fact that we are still debating Obama's color and heritage to this degree, probably means we aren't as advanced and progressive as everyone wants to believe. But admitting we have a problem is the first step right?

Racial issues have taken a new meaning for me over the last year. And although I am still in the infancy stages of parenting my two Ethiopian children, I have come to a few realizations. There are no great and perfect words to talk about race, culture and color. At least not in the mainstream.

Once common, the general public now shies away from the "color" words, at least to some degree. And perhaps with good reason. Black certainly isn't accurate - my children have beautiful brown skin. Yet brown often refers to different cultures. And although I am so fair I am nearly transparent (!) I'm not really "white" - more of a light peach wouldn't you say?

Our country likes to use the PC term African-American. Unfortunately, sometimes this is completely inaccurate (for example, in the case of Haitian-Americans, since they are "black", but not from Africa). Also, although the term is technically accurate for my kids (Ethiopia is in Africa after all), the "African-American" history usually brings to mind images of Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks, not Emperors Menelik II or Haile Selassie I. Both histories are equally important and I want my children - all of my children - to learn about both. Oh, and just a side note - Africa is NOT a country. It is a continent. For some reason this geographic fact has eluded many people for years.

Now biracial is a common term. I typically hear/see it is used in contexts such as Senator Obama, where one parent is "white" and another is "black." But it really can be used for any combination of races. In general, I think this author was correct - Obama may be half white. Just as white as he is black. But in our society today, white + black = black. And all that goes with that.

So what is right? Is there a right answer? Maybe it is all about reality. Because the reality is that my children are Ethiopian. They come from a beautiful, amazing culture. One that I hope they are truly proud of. I am. In a few months when the paperwork is complete, they will also be American citizens. I truly hope they are proud of this as well. Are they also African-American? I think the honest answer is it doesn't matter what I think, or what they think - our society will view them as such. Is this a bad thing? Not necessarily. But as we've seen over and over again through the last few decades through today, there is still a great deal of hate and racism and ignorance and they will be forced to bear that burden.

But I think they will be better people for it. They have the opportunity to draw from very strong history in their many roots. And I can only hope that our world continues to grow and evolve and respect people for who they are inside.


Andrea said...

Really, really great post. As my bio daughters are bi/racial I have learned that people are not so much racist (especially living in the State of WA) but more confused. I think we are going to deal with this for many more years but with Obama around it will hopefully change some views. I think you are already doing a great job teaching your kids who they are. I have learned with my daughters that they are really proud of who they are. It is funny because depending on the environment of people they have been called mixed, bi/racial, Mexican,white, black, oreo, you name it. I have learned too that if you are out with your whole family and show confidence as of who you are as a family (a blended one)things are much better.

Amber said...

I love your post!It's my fist time on your blog. I'm a fellow red letter campaign blogger so I wanted to say Hi!

Morenike said...

Very interesting post. I wanted to chime in because I am an American born daughter of two African immigrants. While I have always felt "bicultural" (African as well as American), I have not always felt "African American" per se because the culture in my household was so different in many respects than that of my African American peers (not that I'm suggesting that the culture of African Americans is homogeneous). However, African American is how I am perceived by the vast majority of people whom often identify others based on appearance, and thus, as a person of color and because they are an integral part of American society/history, I came to find it beneficial to learn more about and in some instances advocate for African Americans--and in doing so I did not have to negate or deny my own unique, African heritage in any way. I hope that your children in time will too find a good balance between interest and pride in their African heritage, interest and pride in the group that they will likely be included in throughout their lives in America (African Americans), interest and pride in being an American citizen, and of course in being a global citizen. It's wonderful that you are thinking about these important issues while they are still young. :)