Regarding my post “Is Obama Black or White? Yes,” reader Salt Lick has a few questions—the answers of which I think would be useful for all to see. For clarity’s sake, the lines from the original post are block-quoted, Salt Lick’s questions or comments are in bold and my answers/comments are in normal font. Let’s have at it, shall we?
Hello Baldi --
I've been reading and rereading your post for over a half-hour, trying to understand your central point. It seems to me that you are not defending Sinbad's attitude so much as asking his critics to consider the reasons underlying it. You are mostly annoyed that "some" people are saying Obama's race shouldn't matter because it's convenient for them, not because they really want to ignore his race (whatever that is). Am I right?
Yes. I do think that some whites feel slighted because Obama calls himself black--either because they "love" him so much and view the self-ID as exclusionary from them. Or it's another straw for the camel's back, as it were (more about this in the next post). I've seen some say that he's racist for calling himself 'black.' On the contrary, he's merely following tradition--not an obscure seldom-seen one, but one one that's in practice everyday in 2008 among black Americans without any second thought.
I'm still not sure, however, I understand some of your specific points:
Glenn Reynolds adds this point from one of his readers:But a reader could be quite familiar with those conventions and still ask the question, right? Regardless of history, the question can stand by itself.
"Let me see if I've got this straight: a white man is not allowed to portray a half-white man (Barack Obama) on SNL, but a black man is?"
Glenn’s other reader must not have been paying attention to the racial conventions in this country; conventions which have existed since the country has existed.
On the contrary, a question like that cannot be separated from the history of how race is thought of by those who were upset—like Sinbad--that Obama was portrayed by a white man. They were upset because to them, Obama is not a white man, but a black one. (His partial whiteness makes no difference to them because almost all black Americans have some white ancestry.) To see why this is so, the history must be spelled out and considered.
As for question posed by Glenn’s reader, implicit in it is the erroneous assumption that Barack Obama—or others like him--would be considered white just as often as he would be considered black. The fact that he/she makes that assumption says to me that he/she is unfamiliar with how racial conventions have gone in this country for generations (as I said) or is ignoring it. The person can certainly ask the question, however, and I can critique it--which certainly doesn't hinder the former.
The point is that we cannot have it all ways. Either he’s a) black or b) white or c) half-black and half-white or d) an American and who-gives-a-damn about his ethnicity. I’m sure that a lot of us would pick option ‘d’ or even ‘b.’ However, let’s quit pretending that those who would pick option ‘a’ aren’t merely following a well-known American tradition.Who do you see as "those who would pick option 'a'"?
Those who are following the racial conventions as they have been followed up until recently.
Do you think that's OK?
Sure. I did say that later in the post.
Does the acceptability of that choice vary depending on their race?
Probably. I do think that younger white Americans are largely unfamiliar with how it got to be so that persons with half or less African ancestry got to be considered black. Therefore when this group observes these mini-dramas like the SNL controversy and wonders why Obama calls himself black and not something else and why black Americans view this as a given, many of the former chalk it up to black racism--which is understandable if the historical context isn’t provided.
If one wants to break with that tradition, the first step is to be honest about it.I'm not clear whether you think we should break with "that tradition" because you later write "...race rules fast enough for some; but that isn't due to the same white supremacy that gave birth to the rules. It's just the way we've always thought about ourselves and those who are usually members of our family."
So it's OK to see yourself as "black" or "white" as long as it's not because of "the convention?"
I said: “That many white people don't want to follow [the old racial conventions] any more is most definitely progress.” I also said: “If some [mixed-race persons] want to think of themselves in a different manner--like, say, Tiger Woods or one of my nieces or one of Glenn's nephews--I say fantastic; if not, also fantastic.” Therefore, I’m of the who-gives-a-damn school of thought on the matter. It's not a matter of "should."
However, it is here where I probably could have provided more clarity, so I’ll give it a shot. An assumption: Glenn’s reader seemed taken aback that some blacks believe that a person who is in reality, half-black and half-white should be considered black and that, therefore only a black actor should portray him and not a white one. That reader believed the attitude to stem from a black racism that is a mirror image to white supremacy--another assumption on my part. Such racism does exist, of course, but I contended that this isn't an example of it, but “just the way we've always thought about ourselves and those who are usually members of our family” and provided the historical context--about which a lot of young white people seem not to know. This isn’t an OK/not-OK issue; it just is.
All I’m trying to do is to correct a misconception about this subject—a misconception about its origin.
I think that black people have, for the greater part, willingly gone along with the convention. That many white people don't want to follow it any more is most definitely progress. But two things should be kept in mind:That seems to say that the relatively recent notion of doing away with race as important is only a white idea.
1) Until relatively recently, white persons--in America at least--have always decided who was considered 'white'; IOW they made the rules in that area. ...don't pretend as if another rule isn't being made by "whites" that "blacks" have to follow or suffer some sort of censure.
I made no value judgment as to the idea’s importance; rather to the decision of when it’s time to change and to the identity of the *decision-makers.* Yes it’s a bit of pride; not the racial kind per se but the standard issue.
Black Americans have had their societal role defined by whites and other Americans from the beginning. In the bad old days, when a black person stepped out of his fixed role, he was “censured” harshly. Nowadays other Americans want to redefine that role, but if some black persons want to go with the old definitions, they are censured infinitely less harshly, but censured nonetheless--told that they’re being racist and not moving fast enough. I'm saying this: until all racial classifications are repudiated altogether, that a person should decide for herself on the matter of self-ID.
2) That the rules are to be dropped now seems a tad convenient.And the rejoinder from "others" is that it seems a tad convenient that some want to hold on to the old rule, which used to be abhorrent, but is useful now.
Who said anything about any of this abhorrent? Abhorrent to whom? Useful to whom and how? I see inferences not implied by this blogger. I explained to you some things that have always been taken for granted by black people until recently--like the last ten years. Are you calling me a liar?
Isn't this the drag on all social progress -- old grudges and resentments drag it down.
Considering one's self 'black' as one has always done is a grudge now? Some sort of resentment? My mother has lighter skin that Obama and has hazel eyes to boot (Obama's are brown). It’s interesting to know that it’s nursing some sort of “old grudge and resentment” that we consider her black. I've heard it remarked that the concept of black always conjures negatively notions, but you, sir, have taken it to a new level.
Everyone wants "justice." Because anything else is unfair.
I am reminded of a two-year-old post at Wizbang which featured the Conservative Brotherhood—an informal blog alliance composed of black conservative bloggers--in a positive context. Some of the commenters, however, contended that we CB members were “holding ourselves back” by even congregating or that we were asserting that our writing was better because we were black! IOW they were using their own preconceived notions to define the group rather that letting us define ourselves. They were letting their stereotypes about blackness and of what it meant when black Americans chose to form alliances with each other get in the way of what any of us were saying. It was almost as if they weren't even seeing the word 'conservative.'
When I write here, I’m not doing so in a vacuum. Each post may be on a singular subject but, after having written for a bit, I would like to think that regular readers would have at least some sort of idea of how I think; of what is important to me and what isn’t. That you would think that “justice” and “fairness” were somehow a part of this says to me that you’re not taking me as an individual blogger, but are taking my measure using some other standard. With that in mind, let my say this:
I do not give a rat’s hairy backside about “justice” or "fairness” with regard to this topic.
The concepts I’ve put down here exist. Reality exists and all I’m exhorting others to do is to accept it, rather than making up their context-free version of it. If “some” cannot do that without imbuing some less-than-savory motives on my part, then I’ll have to get over it because I've long accepted that life is manifestly unfair. If you don't embrace anything else I say, embrace that.
Your Most Humble and Obedient Servant
I take my not-wig off to you. I can be...harsh..with those who disagree with me--especially when they're putting words in my mouth. Thanks for the opportunity to clarify my points.