Maria Arana wishes to alert you to this fact. Before we proceed, let us note that one of the unfortunate things about this campaign is that a slur that is universally condemned when used by poor black kid, is now acceptable for everyone else. Where are all the anti-nationalists, now? Where are all the ones who told us that the biggest threat to black America, was our penchant for telling people they weren't black? What? Nothing? Meh, I should have known. Moving right along, here's Arana:
To me, as to increasing numbers of mixed-race people, Barack Obama is not our first black president. He is our first biracial, bicultural president. He is more than the personification of African American achievement. He is a bridge between races, a living symbol of tolerance, a signal that strict racial categories must go.
The logic here being that there are no black people who are biracial or bicultural. Whenever I read these jingoistic biracial arguments I wonder whether they're little more than attempts to take credit. Somehow, if, say, the Beltway sniper's mother was white, I don't think there'd be a throng of non-black people yelling, "But he's not really black!!"
I wish to highlight the authors parentage as "the child of a white Kansan mother and a foreign father." I mean no disrespect to her or her roots. I simply suspect this sort of thinking is most common among people who aren't likely to have been erroneously stopped by cops, endured fried chicken jokes, done the whop, been embarrassed by group of black kids acting a fool on the train, or snapped on someone's played-out Chuck Purcells--among other things. But you can judge that for yourself.
Look, the thing is this--or rather, the things are this. To be black is not simply to be the opposite of white. Black is a racial/ethnic/cultural/historical marker. Sometimes it's better to think of black people like you think of the Irish. Sometimes it's better to think of us like you think of the Jews. And still other times it's better to think of us as Southern. But mostly it's best to think of us as, you know. humans.
But nationalism--be it monoracial, biracial, or multiracial--has no respect for actual individual humans. And nationalism is really Arana's point--she simply seeks to substitute the strictures of one group (a charmed, rainbow of genes and cultures) and for another (a presumably, pure strain from straight out the Congo). But asserting that Obama isn't black but biracial, is really no better than asserting that he's black, but not biracial.
The arrogance of both arguments are quite stunning. As an African-American, I'd think myself far, far out of place to tell a dude whose mother was a Russian Jew, and father was a Muslim Arab, that he had no right to call himself a Jew or a Muslim or an Arab or even a Russiuan. What the fuck do I know about his life?
Everything flows from respect. Tiger Woods calls himself multiracial. The moral thing to do is not to launch into all sorts of diatribes about shame and blackness, but accept him as he accepts himself. But that cuts both ways. Barack Obama calls himself a biracial black man. The human thing to do, is nod your head and say "Got it." The human thing is to respect these dudes. Respect our own ignorance of their lives. And most of all, respect their humanity.