I Am Not Other, Just Black

Not ‘other,’ just black
By Erin Aubry Kaplan, 
February 29, 2008

Los Angeles Times (latimes.com)

The month of February saw one victory after another in the astonishing, historic ascent of Barack Obama as a presidential contender. It seemed like perfect timing to me — Obama marched steadily toward the ultimate political prize week after week during Black History Month. But that’s not an association people seem terribly eager to make.

In fact, the closer Obama gets to representing us all, the more people struggle with the notion of him as a black man — reflecting in growing detail America’s chronic schizophrenia about racial identity.

The question of race that has been raised repeatedly in Obama’s campaign is both straightforward and existential: Is he really black? Isn’t he really biracial? Or maybe post-racial, even nonracial? A writer for Salon.com, analyzing a swing through Kansas during which Obama lauded the relatives on his white mother’s side, delved into why Obama wasn’t playing up that part of his heritage and embracing his "inner diversity"; "Can America elect a zebra?" the piece asked. Another admiring Salon article credited Obama for taking the path to a "post-racial destination" — but also for the bold move of "making himself black."

Such deconstruction speaks less to any new racial enlightenment than it does to old, deep-seated racial prejudice. The core of the resistance to seeing Obama as what he is — a black man — even among his supporters (or perhaps especially among his supporters) is an assumption that he is capable and successful because he is "other." Beneath the post-racial talk and the how-black-is-he speculation lies an antebellum belief that blackness is inherently limiting, while whiteness is inherently transcendent. (Blackness is, however, inherently good for style and "soaring" oratory, qualities the media have been quick to attribute to Obama.)

In the American racial caste system, the more refined and well-spoken a black person is, the more mixed that person is assumed to be. There is some hard historical truth to that: Better-off blacks were often clearly mixed race, the descendants of slave masters and other whites who consorted with black women and gave their children "white" privileges like schooling.

But that privilege only went so far. Modern discussions about race as a matter of personal choice, which have reached new heights with Obama mania, willfully ignore the fact that America has always treated its half-black citizens as simply black — and it still does. That means that although Obama or W.E.B. DuBois or Booker T. Washington may be lighter-skinned than, say, Jesse Jackson or Marcus Garvey, they are no more likely to be accepted as white.

Most African Americans are mixed with whites, thanks to miscegenation that’s been going on for centuries. My family, for instance, is Creole from New Orleans, a racial melange of black, European and American Indian that practically defines "other." But Creoles inspired not a sense of racial liberation but racial anxiety; determined to maintain the color line at all costs, whites enforced the "one-drop" rule and sent people like me to the back of the streetcar. Such has always been the social reality for blacks, whatever their degree of whiteness. If all African Americans declared ourselves multiracial today — 10% white, or 20% or 50% — that reality wouldn’t change one whit.

Some argue that focusing on Obama’s mixture exactly addresses this point — that it’s time to change an outdated paradigm. They say a big part of the hope and change Obama represents is an opportunity to upend the "one-drop" and redefine race altogether, to give America a fresh start. But such redefinition is not the politics of change; it’s the politics of forgetting. Casting Obama as post-black is pure symbolism that conveniently fuzzes the many race-specific problems — incarceration, joblessness — that affect masses of black men, many of whom look a heck of a lot like Obama.

Let’s face it, change is hard. It can be ugly. It’s not about conciliation but confrontation. And what must be confronted is Obama’s blackness, not his whiteness or some notion that he transcends race altogether. America should be able and willing to elect a black man to the White House, which might qualify as the biggest sea change — and no small reason for hope — in our political history.

We should be permanently retiring the one-drop rule, not by trumpeting a new multiculturalism or a new post-racialism but by acknowledging that it is indeed possible for somebody to be both unequivocally black and representative of other fellow Americans.

That’s a lesson that’s taken far too many election cycles to learn. Whatever happens with Obama’s campaign now, let’s hope it’s at least taught us that.

Erin Aubry Kaplan is a contributing editor to The Times’ Opinion pages.

  1. Joseph

    True, blacks can be successful and be representative of an American just as a white person can. I’m not sure how she fits the one-drop rule in with that though, cause it is really a rule for non-blacks, but it was part of a larger law, the Racial Integrity Act which also forbade interracialism.

  2. Chance

    Joseph you know your history of the ODR (one drop rule) and the Racial Integrity Act. She semi applied the ODR to mixed race people when she said that blacks regardless of their white ancestry percentage where seen as black.
    These are mixed race people not just blacks, but mixed race people who had a separate identify from blacks.

  3. proud black man

    You guys are electing a person to be the next president of your country based on his race rather than his distinctions and policies. How stupid are you people.

  4. proud ugly man

    proud black man is really a stupid person — and very likely an UGLY person, as well.

  5. proud black man

    @ proud ugly man

    come on, you can do better than that. Oh off course you can’t because you are a stupid American.

  6. yo


  7. proud black man

    because i like to test the intelligent level of stupid Americans lol

  8. Chance, please...

    Dear Chancellor:

    Won’t you please block “proud black man’s” IP address?

    He’s just eurotrash anyway…

  9. proud ugly man

    Please read “proud/ugly black man’s” last post: “test the intelligent level…”

    It’s hysterical. Where did that thing go to school?

    I think what the idiot is TRYING to write is “test the ‘intelligence’ level”.

    What a disgusting ignorant toothless pig you are, proud black man. Poor thing is so obsessed (and I suspect, jealous) of Americans. That’s why it trolls the American blogs. πŸ˜†

  10. Chance

    @ Proud black man,

    Please stop the needless name calling here at this blog. I tolerate some disrespect at this blog, but you have simply become to negative towards people here. You have gone past on average what is allowed, and I allow people to comment freely on average. You are in (located) the UK England proud black man. So please stop the needless excessive name calling here at my blog this is a formal warning.

  11. proud black man

    @ Chance

    Below are some of the words you used to described the entitle Black race, which can be seen by some as Anti Black. As a Black man reading this, it is very demoralizing to my person and to the several Blacks that have encounter this site. Have you taken the time to look at Yo and others comment?. Have you taken the time to read my previous post?

    I do admit that my behaviour on your site is unjust, but so are the rest of the bloggers ( like the lights of YO). My reaction was due to the ignorant comment from YO, others and yourself. The point of this is to allow to see that you cant not generalise the behaviour of an entitle that you have not met from a small group of people who behave badly. The thing about stereotypes is that are often wrong when dealing with individual, hurtful and create a sense of inferiority. Further more the anti American sentiment I portrayed on your site is to give you and some of your bloggers a sense of how it feels like to be the person at the receiving of such negative stereotypes.

    The anti American sentiment I displayed on your site, is not one I hold, if anything I have a great admiration for Americans in spite of their race.

    You are the owner of this blog, and I will say do as you see fit. It is of a immense detriment that you know that, me writing to explain my behaviour is not to gain access to your site, but rather feeling the need to explain my intensions.

    I hope this explain my behaviour and I assure you that is most likely will be my last comment on your site.

    Ps: A good quote from one of your blogger,
    Being a member of the race regarded as the race with high intelligence gives one a right to superiority and justifies inequality, regardless of one’s individual deficiencies. It also justifies racism, since if inferior people are succeeding they must be cheating the truly superior people out of their just inheritance. It also justifies believing things about oneself that have no objective validity.

    1, Blacks bring too many negative attitudes, poor work ethnics, more negative personal problems, un-cooperative, sexual misconduct, violence, un-controllable anger, hatred of other blacks, black inferiority complex feelings of not been able to compete with whites and other non-white racial groups

    2,The Reasons Why Blacks Are Not Hired

    1. Uncooperative, 2. Bad attitude, 3. Unmotivated , 4. Lack initiative
    5. Rude, 6. Negative , 7. Lazy ,8. Lower Family Values , 9. Lingering racism (racial discrimination)
    10. Illiterate, 11. Uneducated, 12. Dishonesty,13. Psychologically unstable due to being identified with negative thoughts and feelings
    14. Poor role models 15. Unskilled, 16. Involved in Drugs and gangs
    17. No Charm , 18. Short temper , 19. Uncompassionate
    20. Unsympathetic, 21. Sexually harassing co-workers
    22. Intimidating Co-workers, 23. Low Morality level

    3, The major problem with blacks is really not their low or high IQs it is the lower moral standards that they live by

  12. Janise

    @ Proud Black Man:
    Forget them on this site. I’m black British too, and I think our way of thinking about racial identity is far more evolved than many Stateside. Clearly our grip on the language is better, anyhow.

    @ Chance and his cronies:
    I mean, why anyone would be happy to call themselves a “mulatto”, or mule, is anyone’s guess. Is being a donkey really better than being black? Don’t make me laugh. Stop making an ASS of yourselves!! LOL.

  13. Jennifer


    … and yet you still continue to lurk around to see what’s going on with Mixed-Race blogs.

    YOU and that toothless wonder, proud black/ugly man, are the reason why most dark blacks are so disgusting.

    Also, I KNOW what white brits think of you and your “type” — you are not as accepted as you might think! πŸ˜†

    p.s. You really should concentrate more on your spelling, monkey.

  14. Joseph


    If europeans are so socially advanced than they are probably linguistically challenged as a result. Mulatto has more than one meaning as various words in different languages do. For example, in Arabic the word rahman can mean gracious or all-mighty, or the word bayt can mean ankle, base, or cube, the word hajj can mean pilgrimage or debate, the word daraba can mean to strike, set up, seal or draw over, condemn, explain, strike, seperate, give (examples) and like many words, meanings are added and changed, as hadeeth basically meant saying or story and now it means saying of Muhammad in some schools of islam. Or for example the sanskrit word sannyasa which means renunciation has been extended to even include work! So you see, people like you take only one meaning of a word which has more than one meaning, to support his or her cause as if that is the sole meaning of the phrase or word used. There are various multiple meaning words on all languages. I’ll even give you one in english. The word abide can mean follow or abode. I won’t deny that Mulatto means mule, but that is not its only meaning and Mulattoes would not take such a word if that was the case, for why not simply “mutt” if that be the case? So stick it where the sun don’t shine.

  15. VW

    Yay Joseph!! πŸ™‚

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