Today it’s all about race. Again. This time it’s Sinbad jumping into the fray, complaining that a white man has been continuously slotted to portray Barack Obama on Saturday Night Live. ::::cough::: Eddie Murphy :::cough::: Whatever.
However, in his commentary on the subject, Glenn Reynolds adds this point from one of his readers:
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. Rightly or wrongly, a person who has a certain amount of African ancestry has been considered black and, during the slavery and Jim Crow years and many of the the mere forty-plus year beyond that, treated accordingly. The short version? Any child gotten upon a black slave by any white man was still considered black and therefore also a slave. (And when one thinks about this dispassionately, it makes sense financially.) Later on, post-bellum, the driving force for the convention was white supremacy--keeping the race pure. (Some folks refer to this as the ‘one-drop rule.’ However, it would not apply to Obama since he has a great deal more that one drop of black African ancestry. It would be more applicable to someone like my grandmother.)
Now I'm all for ignoring conventions which have white supremacy as progenitor, as I'm sure Glenn is. But some folks act as if this concept originated with black people. And they also act as if no one would have turned a hair had Obama presented himself to the American electorate as white—that is, making no mention of race whatsoever unless asked. (Of course that would mean that Mrs. O. would have to pipe down and that they would have to belong to a different church, but that's beside the point.)
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.
If one wants to break with that tradition, the first step is to be honest about it.
UPDATE: Thanks to Glenn for the link and the comment:
I'm well aware of the one-drop rule. What's changed, though, is who seems most interested in enforcing it.Again, Obama doesn't qualify. Additionally, 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:
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. (I'm told that those of Irish and Italian descent weren't always part of the "club.") Many mixed-raced Americans of African descent--which means darn near every black American including me--aren't subscribing to the new 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. If some 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. But don't pretend as if another rule isn't being made by "whites" that "blacks" have to follow or suffer some sort of censure.
2) That the rules are to be dropped now seems a tad convenient. Why not with Colin Powell or Julian Bond or dozens of other famous visibly mixed-raced Americans of African descent?
More later. Maybe.