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Barack Obama is white!

Ha! Made you look.

Listen, since we've been talking media in the past couple of posts, I had to take this opportunity to declare shenanigans on my industry, at least the part of my industry that keeps us informed on presidential politics. The first time I heard anyone declare shenanigans was on "Cow Days," season 2, episode 213 of South Park. A traveling carnival was in town. The boys scraped together money to buy Terrance and Phillip dolls at the carnival, and after they paid big bucks the dolls immediately fell apart. Well, the boys declared shenanigans, and the rest of the town got together in a mob and beat the carnies with brooms and garden tools.

I don't plan on beating any other journalists like carnies, but I should. Getting ready for work this morning I channel surfed between CNN, Headline News, MSNBC, and FNC, and I heard no fewer than six talking heads refer to Obama as "African American" AKA black, and potentially "the first African American" president. To be fair, I've sipped that Kool-Aid once or twice and not thinking before I spoke or wrote, referred to Obama as a black candidate.

It is short-sighted and disingenuous for my elevated peers to keep referring to Obama as black or African American. He is biracial.

And while his skin color...and Clinton's gender, and McCain's age shouldn't matter in terms of their qualifications, how we address those characteristics should matter to you.

This country has a history of using that whole "one drop" rule that basically stated anyone with a drop of black blood in his system is black. It was used as a means of holding some folks back, back in the day.

We're past that kind of blatant stuff now, I know. But this has psychological implications too. By completely ignoring the fact that Obama is half white, when discussing voters' feelings about his ethnicity, the media is perpetrating a fraud on the news consumer and  buying into to the racial hype that has contributed to people drawing tan lines in the sand this election season.

Let me say this one more time: if Barack Obama is black, then he is white.

He is half of both. So if my better-paid peers insist on continuing to refer to him as the black candidate, instead of a biracial candidate - on those occasions when his appearance is relevant to the conversation - then I am going to have to start referring to him as the white candidate. Why not? Clearly forcing him onto one side or another makes for better TV.

It hasn't been that many years since the media crowned clergymen from New York and Chicago the co-emperors of black people. Are we so desperate to crown someone new that we're gonna force the rectangle that is Obama into the square hole that is the mass media's designated spot for such royalty?

All this talk about making this race about substance and, um, not race, and we can't even use an accurate description of this man's ethnicity. Tsk, tsk.

And remember, when major party candidates finally turn you off for good, you always have this.


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As a biracial woman and a voter - thank you.


Great post. You are absolutely right. My husband and I were talking about nationalities, etc.
He was born in Korea, and he knows his birth Mom who is full Korean but living here now. While she may consider herself to be Korean first because that language/culture is more comfortable to her, he was adopted when he was young and raised here in America. So while his roots are Korean, he considers himself to be American first. It's certainly wonderful to learn of one's heritage and be proud, but living here, working here, raising families here, you are American, or should consider yourself first and foremost to be.

With regard to Obama, as he was born here to a white woman and a man originally from Kenya, he's definitely racially mixed. But he put down his own roots, mainly in Chicago. From what I know of his story, it's interesting, and if he's chosen as the democratic candidate I will have NO problem voting for him. I welcome it actually as hopefully a way out of the current mess.
I guess there are times when I see a person who has dark or black skin, I would call them black. I don't know if most black people want to be considered 'African American' ?
I'm a mixture of Irish, maybe Dutch, definitely some German, but I never lived in any of those places and wouldn't begin to know if there were still any family lingering in those countries. I was born here. I know that I wouldn't move there because some of my ancestors once lived there. My home is here. I am an American first and maybe more people should try to work on that concept. It's appalling the way some people will not even consider Obama for President because they say he's 'black' and 'muslim', etc. and those other ones who use it other ways. Maybe one day we'll figure out a way to make it right and make everyone happy. In my opinion, he's a hardworking family man who cares about people and this country. Shouldn't that be focused on more?

Oh gosh, don't I have some dinner to cook.....
You make people think. Interesting topics, James. Bravo!


I'm confused here; I know he's biracial. But Obama describes himself as black, yes, or African-American?


I'm confused here; I know he's biracial. But Obama describes himself as black, yes, or African-American?

James B.

G, always welcome.

Mary, I'm not even advocating voting for the guy. I've said all along I'm voting for Dave Barry...or myself, but probably Dave. I just want the media to be clear when referring to his ethnicity that they play both sides.

OLM, that is a good question. I've heard him talk in interviews about embracing black and African American culture and getting in touch with that side of his roots when he moved to Chicago, but I don't think I've heard him refer to himself simply as black or African American. Maybe he has. And if someone knows that for sure, let's hear it or see it. And I'll take Obama to task too. He won't get off the hook anymore than my better-coiffed colleauges.

charlie reina

You make a very good point, Mr. Burnett. I suppose the simple retort to your thesis is to state the seemingly obvious: Sen. Obama is dark-skinned, so he is "black." But there is, I believe, a more insidious misconception about race which is ingrained in our national psyche: that anyone with even a fraction of black ancestry is "black," and, therefore, not "white." It is true that the last of our states which legally sanctioned that view have wiped such laws from their books. Even so, it is important for people of racially mixed heritage, while proudly declaring themselves to be black, to acknowledge that they do so as a matter of choice, lest we all forget what was behind those laws, and what many of us may still embrace subconsciously: that to be "white," one must be "pure."

charlie reina

You make a very good point, Mr. Burnett. I suppose the simple retort to your thesis is to state the seemingly obvious: Sen. Obama is dark-skinned, so he is "black." But there is, I believe, a more insidious misconception about race which is ingrained in our national psyche: that anyone with even a fraction of black ancestry is "black," and, therefore, not "white." It is true that the last of our states which legally sanctioned that view have wiped such laws from their books. Even so, it is important for people of racially mixed heritage, while proudly declaring themselves to be black, to acknowledge that they do so as a matter of choice, lest we all forget what was behind those laws, and what many of us may still embrace subconsciously: that to be "white," one must be "pure."


Um... do you suppose you could coax Mr. Barry to run for office, like seriously? Because I'd be forever indebted to you if I could vote for someone whose presence on the ballot didn't make me want to bring a barf bag into the polling place.

Afi Scruggs

Sorry, I don't agree. The term black - African-American -includes folks who have African, European and Native American bloodlines. That's part of what it means to be "black" or African American.

By your logic, you aren't black either, James. As dark as you are, you're at least multi-racial. You're probably multi-ethnic too, because the Africans who were brought here came from various "tribes."

Still, columns like this point to a trend that has gotten very little attention by the MSM. It's the rising ethnic and cultural diversity among African-Americans.

Afi Scruggs

Sorry, I don't agree. The term black - African-American -includes folks who have African, European and Native American bloodlines. That's part of what it means to be "black" or African American.

By your logic, you aren't black either, James. As dark as you are, you're at least multi-racial. You're probably multi-ethnic too, because the Africans who were brought here came from various "tribes."

Still, columns like this point to a trend that has gotten very little attention by the MSM. It's the rising ethnic and cultural diversity among African-Americans.

Say It

hmmm. Is it fair to say African American? Really? What if the black side of him isn't from africa at all? I'm Irish-romanian-italian-scottish-german-russian-american and all anyone sees is white. Actually pale white. But my point is, You are correct, the media needs to stop focusing on color. When they do, others will naturally follow.

Dave Barry for Pres!!


Obama actually is authentically African-American, which is a term that should denote folks of direct African heritage who are in America. Black America, which of which is nearly 10 generations away from Africa, seems not even to fully understand that term (see a good NYT piece below exploring this issue regarding college admissions).


Ned Kruk

I saw on your bio that you worked at a newspaper in Milwaukee.
Which one? I'm guessing it was Shorewood Now. Ned


You're right, James. Lots of people's multi-ethnicity gets ignored and they get shoved into one category or the other.

I like the new digs!


In the Obamas' interview with 60 Minutes (http://mediamatters.org/items/200801160005), Michelle Obama, sitting next to her husband, describes him as "a black man." Presumably he didn't argue with this. Also on 18 March 2008, in a speech in Pennsylvania, Obama said this: "But it has come to my attention that I've been less that forthcoming on the issue of race in this campaign. I'm not sure how to broach the subject gently without just coming out and saying it. America, I am a black man." That seems pretty clear how he identifies himself.


Re Obama's comment (his own, I mean) ... I think I read a spoof site or something, so wish to retract that ... however, his wife's comment is on record ...


Now I found a better source, an interview Obama gave to Essence magazine, in which this quote appears: “I think that racial attitudes have changed sufficiently in this country, that people are willing to vote for me for president,” he responds, “if they think I can help them on health care, on education, on the issues that are important in their lives.” ...“Now, are there going to be people who don’t vote for me because I am Black? Absolutely, but I do not believe those are people who would have voted for me, given my political philosophy, even if I were White.” The transcript and comments are here: http://www.essence.com/essence/lifestyle/voices/0,16109,1660030,00.html

James B.

Charlie, deep comment. Thanks for it.

Steph, if Dave runs I want to be Secretary of Smack Down.

Afi, we're gonna have to agree to disagree. I don't question the ethnic history lesson you give. I've done my homework. I know it's accurate. You're right. My great, great grandmother on my mom's side was Native American, or if you're old school, American Indian. And on my dad's side, there was some mingling with white folks five or six generations back. And if I was going strictly on skin color whenever I saw pro golfer Vijay Singh, I'd call him black, 'cause he's sure as hell darker than me. But he's not "black," not as we in the U.S. use that word. So let's talk in practical, not scientific terms: You and I both know that when my TV comrades say "African American," they're using that term interchangeably with "black." And considering that, then I go back to my original point: they're guilty of omitting, of completely ignoring Obama's white heritage.

Say It, you raise a good, practical point. But in this case, African American is a fair reference to Obama's black half. Obama's dad was African, not the descendent of Africans. But he was African. He came to the U.S. from Africa to attend college and later teach. Still, back to my original point: in spite of the occasional feature pieces on some networks with the soft violin music playing in the background as they talk about Obama's mom's background in Kansas, and the hit pieces on other networks alleging he thinks his white grandmother is a racist, these network & cable TV news folks never refer to his white side.

Jesse, I'll say it again: I don't dispute or question or challenge in anyway Obama's African heritage. I question the broadcast media's almost complete failure to acknowledge the white side of his heritage.

Ha! Ned, I gotta give it to you. I know you're trying to take a dig at me with the Shorewood Now thing, but that was funny. My skin's not so thin that I can't laugh at myself. If you need to vent on me, vent away. But I hate to disappoint you: in Milwaukee I wrote for the Journal Sentinel. Still, you remind me of a reader in Brew City who once wrote me, because he didn't like an article I had written. His dig? He wanted to know what "newsletter" I'd written for before coming to the MJS. I'll just tell you this: before you jump to a conclusion on what you think you now know about my political opinions - 'cause this post really isn't about my politics at all - scroll up, click the link to my old blog and browse some of my other posts. But don't stay there long! The homestead's at this address now.

Grizzbabe, thank you. That's all I was trying to say! I'm getting lectured on ethnicity and history and geography. And I never challenged the ethnic roots behind Obama's dark skin. I just questioned why he doesn't get "credit" for the ethnic half that doesn't show, in a manner of speaking.

BTW, don't forget to change my URL on your blogroll;-)

James B.

OLM, you provided the evidence. Kudos on solid reporting ;-)

Look, I can't tell Obama what to call himself. Maybe he calls himself black, because he feels that's what the general public asssumes he is. Maybe he does it, because his skin is brown and he looks to some "all black," so to speak. Maybe he does it, because it's just easier that way. Maybe he does it, 'cause he's feeling pride in adulthood for the part of his heritage that he really didn't get to know as a child. I don't know his reasons. But I do know that some of my talking head colleagues who call him black or African American when they simply mean black are doing him a disservice and disrespecting the other half of his family by not acknowledging as a matter of routine that he is biracial.


James, let me see if I understand you.
Barack Obama describes himself as African-American. You propose that the man cannot do so and is not what he claims.

What is your agenda?

Who are you that you think you have any say in the matter?

Do you really have nothing better to do with this platform?

Common sense? Not in this column.

News? Certainly not.

I suggest you take this blog more seriously James, before some of us who can do a better job start angling for yours.




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Biracial, but not like me

In search of his identity, Barack Obama took the opposite path that I did. But we arrived at the same place -- and I'm voting for him.

By Gary Kamiya

Feb. 05, 2008 | I've been leaning toward Barack Obama ever since the presidential race began. But until recently, I haven't been ready to make a final decision. I admit that I was initially drawn to him primarily because of his race: As a black man offering racial peace, he promised a kind of national healing, a chance to both symbolically and literally affirm that America can overcome its greatest divide.

But I wasn't going to vote for Obama just because he was black, or because he had the gift of appealing to people across the spectrum. I agreed with his staunchly liberal positions on the issues (if I hadn't, I never would have considered voting for him), but there was a fuzziness about some of them that was a little troubling to me. He seemed stronger on the high intellectual and spiritual themes than on the nuts and bolts of governance. And I had some ambivalent feelings about his political leitmotif, his call for national reconciliation. God knows we need it. But after the devastation wrought by the Bush presidency, it would take a truly extraordinary politician, and person, to bring the country together. Was he that person?

To try to find out, I went out and got Obama's autobiography, "Dreams From My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance." And after reading it, I've made up my mind: I'm voting for him.

Part of the reason, I admit, is that he's a superb writer. Most books written by politicians have titles like "Reclaiming America's Future" or "Return to Greatness" or "Tales of Ordinary Heroism" or "We Are the People" (actually, that one was the campaign slogan in "Taxi Driver"). They are books full of inspiring anecdotes about decent, unassuming Americans, paeans to the core values that make our country a shining experiment in democracy, stories of the author's lifelong commitment to making this great nation even greater, etc., etc. Books composed of 100 percent recycled plastic bromides. Books you'd rather go blind than be forced to read.

"Dreams From My Father" isn't one of these. It may be one of the best books ever written by a politician. It is a real book by a real writer. Its theme is at once intimate and profound. Its sentences move with grace and power, its chapters have an architectural logic, and it builds toward an inspiring conclusion.

Obama's prose alone was almost enough to make me vote for him. But what tipped the scales was the portrait that emerged -- of a man who has been tested and found true, who has proved he's ready to assume the most important job in the world. For the question he answered was the hardest one of all: Who am I?

Of all the qualities a president needs, self-knowledge may be the most important: It's the foundation of everything else. And Obama's self-knowledge is all the more impressive because he had to work so hard to gain it. "Dreams From My Father" is the story of Obama's personal evolution from parochialism to a universal humanism. It's also the story of how a man blessed with a powerful analytical mind developed emotional intelligence along the way. Obama's tortured interior quest forced him to stare down all the demons in his, and America's, racial closet.

It isn't the racial quest that I expected, or one that I can easily relate to. But for me, that makes his achievement even more impressive.

Like Obama, I am biracial. My father is Japanese-American, my mother of Scottish and English descent. I'm nine years older than Obama. Like him, I grew up in a racially relaxed environment (Berkeley, Calif., in my case, Hawaii in his), where as a child I didn't consider my racial identity noteworthy, let alone a problem. And also like him, I am wary of labels, and believe that what unites human beings is much greater than what divides them.

But that's where our similarities end. For we took completely different paths to get to the same post-racial destination. I took the easy road to colorblindness. I regarded all attempts to label me as meaningless, refused to regard myself as either exclusively "white" or "Asian," and never gave my mixed-race identity a second thought. And before reading his book, I foolishly assumed that Obama had done more or less the same thing.

In fact, he did just the reverse. He took the hard road. For whatever reasons -- his absent African father, his relation to his mother, the identity traps and distortions thrown up by America's racist history, his own unique DNA -- he chose to self-consciously affirm his identity as a black man. He agonized over what it meant to be a black American. He feared being seen as a sellout. In an attempt to find out what blackness was, and by extension what he was, he threw himself into the black community, working as a community organizer in Chicago. He was driven by a primordial quest: to find out who he was, and to become that person.

In the end, he succeeded in his goal: To put it crudely, he made himself black. But at the very moment he attained his goal, he also transcended it. Obama had too much integrity to believe that "blackness" in itself meant anything, so he simultaneously became black and something irreducible to color. By so doing, he kept faith both with his fellow American blacks, who have been forced by racism to consider their own color as a constituent part of their identity, and also with people of all races.

The essence of Obama's politics, his call for reconciliation and unity, is thus deeply grounded in the long and painful creation of his own double identity. It is, almost literally, sealed in blood -- the mixed blood, black and white, that flows through his veins. With Obama, the movement is always toward a double affirmative. Not neither black nor white, which is the way I and many mixed-race people identify ourselves, but both black and something larger.

For someone like me, who completely opted out of racial categories, it isn't easy to understand someone who chose to embrace them. When it comes to something as intimate as the construction of our identities, we all reflexively feel that our way is the "right" way -- any other way is profoundly threatening to our sense of ourselves. As someone who has never belonged to any racial or ethnic "community" and has always been averse to identity politics and its accompanying assertions of racial guilt and victimhood, it isn't easy for me to understand or appreciate Obama's choices or his life. And maybe I'll never understand it fully, not least because being half-Japanese is nothing like being half-black.

In fact, there's a scene in "Dreams From My Father" that crystallized the differences between Obama and me. Obama asks a mixed-race student named Joyce if she's going to the Black Students' Association meeting. Joyce replies, "I'm not black, I'm multiracial," and asks why she should have to choose between her two parents. Obama writes, "It sounded real good, until you noticed that [those who said this] avoided black people. It wasn't a matter of conscious choice, necessarily, just a matter of gravitational pull, the way integration always worked, a one-way street ... Only white culture could be nonracial ... And we, the half-breeds and the college degrees, take a survey of the situation and think to ourselves, Why should we get lumped in with the losers if we don't have to?"

As someone who identifies with Joyce, I was troubled by Obama's take on her. His cutting line about "multiracials" not wanting to "get lumped in with the losers" hints that those who reject the label "black" are somehow race traitors (something I've been accused of myself, although the issue with mixed-race Asians is much less fraught than it is with mixed-race blacks, since Asians don't have to contend with the one-drop rule). But who made the rule that people of whatever race or tribe, or fractional portion thereof, are morally required to demonstrate racial or tribal solidarity? That's a dangerous road to go down.

But Obama himself is honest enough to grapple with this same criticism, and ultimately arrives at a much more nuanced and sympathetic take on the different choices mixed-race people make. "I knew I was being too hard on poor Joyce. The truth was I understood her, her and all the other black kids who felt the way she did," he writes. "In their mannerisms, in their speech, in their mixed-up hearts, I kept recognizing pieces of myself. And that's exactly what scared me. Their confusion made me question my racial credentials all over again."

In the end, Obama is able to get beyond his obsession with racial credentials. But the commentator Shelby Steele, who like Obama is the child of a white mother and black father, doesn't think he got far enough beyond them. In his short book "A Bound Man: Why We Are Excited About Obama and Why He Can't Win," he argues that Obama's attempt to have it both ways -- to be at once black and not-black -- is not an act of transcendence, but a double bind. For Steele, Obama hasn't completely moved beyond an orthodox racial essentialism: He's trapped by his need to simultaneously assert black solidarity and a universal identity. This double pose, Steele argues, prevents Obama from realizing who he really is.

Steele's critique raises a central philosophical issue concerning identity -- what the French philospher Jean-Paul Sartre called "bad faith." Sartre defines bad faith as the denial of one's (unknowable) human freedom in order to playact as a known object -- in this case a "black man."

I am mostly an admirer of Steele's writings about race. But his criticism of Obama seems excessively abstract, trapped by theoretical constructs. For black-white relations simply are messy. If consciously adopting a black racial mask is an act of bad faith, it is a bad faith forced upon blacks by the white majority. W.E.B. Du Bois anatomized this in his famous description of the "double consciousness" of black Americans. "This American world ... yields him no true self-consciousness, but only lets him see himself through the revelation of the other world," he wrote in "The Souls of Black Folk." "It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one's self through the eyes of others, of measuring one's soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity. One ever feels his two-ness, -- an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder."

Not everyone can easily get out of this trap. But it can be overcome -- by "dogged strength," by a simple refusal to measure oneself by the "tape of the world." (Colin Powell's parents taught him a wonderful mantra on this: "My race is someone else's problem -- it's not my problem.") And my way, Joyce's way, is not the only way to deal with race. Tribalism need not be completely jettisoned. Tribalism and universalism can jostle together; other-derived and self-derived identities are not mutually exclusive.

Steele's critique misses the forest for the trees. The larger truth is that Obama is carving out a new racial terrain in America. The overall movement of the book is toward colorblindness. He is a living demonstration of how a universalist ethics can coexist with, and be larger than, a particularist one. Obama may not be the absolutely flawless post-racial prophet Steele wants, but he's close enough. Maybe they don't exist anyway.

"Dreams From My Father" made me rethink my own racial-identity choices -- or non-choices. Not in any simple, I-was-wrong or I-was-right way, but in a more complex fashion. It made sense for me to reject the group identity that he embraced -- it wasn't who I was. But Obama's choice made sense for him. His quest allowed him to both discover and create a sense of community as he made his way, first as a half-stranger, then as someone coming home, through the black world. And perhaps it gave him something bigger: empathy. Not just for blacks, but for everyone.

The most moving parts of Obama's book are its transformative scenes -- moments when, at the edge of despair, he manages to humble himself and move forward, into a life larger, more inclusive, more compassionate.

One of those transformative moments comes during Obama's undergraduate days, after he had given a well-received speech urging the university to divest from South Africa. A black friend, Regina, praised his talk, but Obama cynically denied that it had any meaning, saying he just did it for the applause and that it wouldn't change anything. Regina retorted that he was selfish and shallow -- "It's not just about you" -- and angrily left. Left alone, Obama suddenly realized she was right. His mother had told him the same thing, but he had rejected it, putting it down as "white" truths. "Who told you that being honest was a white thing? ... You've lost your way, brother. Your ideas about yourself -- about who you are and who you might become -- have grown stunted and narrow and small.

"How had that happened? I started to ask myself, but before the question had even formed in my mind, I already knew the answer. Fear ... The constant, crippling fear that I didn't belong somehow ... that I would always remain an outsider, with the rest of the world, black and white, always standing in judgment."

Then Obama modulates into something like a vision, at once real and transcendent. He imagines the face of Regina's grandmother, "her back bent, the flesh of her arms shaking as she scrubs an endless floor. Slowly, the old woman lifted her head to look straight at me, and in her sagging face I saw that what bound us together went beyond anger or despair or pity. What was she asking of me, then? Determination, mostly. The determination to push ahead against whatever power kept her stooped instead of standing straight."

And then, an even larger vision. "The old woman's face dissolved from my mind, only to be replaced by a series of others. The copper-skinned face of the Mexican maid, straining as she carries out the garbage. The face of Lolo's mother [Lolo was Obama's Indonesian stepfather] drawn with grief as she watches the Dutch burn down her house. The tight-lipped, chalk-colored face of Toots [Obama's white grandmother] as she boards the six-thirty bus that will take her to work. Only a lack of imagination, a failure of nerve, had made me think that I had to choose between them. They all asked the same thing of me, all these grandmothers of mine."

Finally, the lesson, to be carried forward: "My identity might begin with the fact of my race, but it didn't, couldn't, end there. At least that's what I would choose to believe." Through a long and arduous search for blackness, Obama arrived at humanity.

In a certain way, Obama's odyssey in "Dreams From My Father" mirrors that of the boy hero of the greatest novel America has produced -- a book that is also about race, and the terrible wound that slavery left on this country and all its people. Huck Finn has been abandoned by his father, a bitter, drunken racist, and has to make his way through the world alone. But actually, he is not alone: a fugitive, he drifts down the Mississippi River, the river that runs through America's heart, with Jim, a runaway slave. And in the course of their journey, the wise and kindly Jim becomes Huck's father -- and, by implication, the father of every American. The pathos of Twain's masterpiece is it redeems our nation's dark history by allowing the despised slave to raise, and ultimately teach the meaning of life to, the lost and innocent boy.

Obama's quest is identical, except the colors are reversed. In search of an absent black father, he tries to become authentically black. And it is only when he learns that his father is all too human that he finally comes to understand that he is the child of both black and white, and ultimately of everyone, of all colors. "All these grandmothers of mine."

The man who emerges from this book has the integrity, the wisdom, the "dogged strength," to fight for a reborn America. And he also represents something larger than himself: He embodies hope. But that hope will only become real if the American people make it real. For hope is just a vessel. You have to fill it.

-- By Gary Kamiya

Ken Bilderback

Perfectly served, Mr. Burnett. You cut to the core of our stereotypes and prejudices. I've been blogging about race and my support for Obama, but you just cut me off at the knees ... and I mean that as a compliment.

Ken Bilderback

Perfectly served, Mr. Burnett. You cut to the core of our stereotypes and prejudices. I've been blogging about race and my support for Obama, but you just cut me off at the knees ... and I mean that as a compliment.


It seems to me the premise is based on an obsession with labels and categories. It's bugged me from the start, that Barack Obama was labeled the black candidate. With the greatest respect for his eloquent quest for personal identity, it seems he was searching for a heritage, not a color. Clearly he understands the level of ignorance that he faces, and has the personal power to overcome it.

So why must we be labeled at all? Race is a social construct. It has no basis in science. Scientifically, we are all human. Biracial? Oh, you had two human parents. Let me guess, a male and a female. How utterly common. You see what I mean?

The sooner we stop judging our leaders, not to mention each other, by how we look, or to whom or where we were born, the sooner we will create a more civilized world. I am hoping that's the goal.

I believe we are already in a post-racial era, bolstered by freethinking millennials. Our ugly history of prejudice is in its final throes, to borrow a new cliche. The despicable vandalism and namecalling reported in Indiana, the sarcastic references to Jesse Jackson's campaign in South Carolina, the clawing intonements on white, hard-working people. This is all shameful desperation. Their time has passed. They don't stand a chance.

Michelle | Bleeding Espresso

Bravo. I've often wondered how his white family feels about the characterization; it's a completely different situation, but when I have children with my Italian OH, I don't think I'd be too keen on having them called Italian and that's it...they'll still be American too. I mean, I'll take them to McDonald's and stuff ;)

James B.

Avveroes, you know who I am. My name is at the top of this blog. And before you try snark, read the post...maybe twice, and my comments, and you'll see that I've said - not that my "permission" is needed - that Barack Obama can call himself what he wants. This is about the broadcast media's failure to acknowledge all his ethnic roots.

And my agenda? You watch too many scary reporter movies. I don't have one.

What are you a detective? This blog is not news. It's my take on the news. If you want strict news I can recommend a great site. Hit the back button on your browser and vist MiamiHerald.com. It's full of excellent articles, including a few with my name atop them.

And if you want my job, you need only apply for it, my friend.

Avveroes, I thought you could do a better job than me. That's all you have to sling, other people's articles? C'mon. Seriously though, it was a well-written article, although I think in posting it you again miss my point. This post was not about who you or I or anyone else should vote for. It was about a media characterization that was/is not complete. But thanks for the article. It was interesting.

Ken, thanks for the compliment. I appreciate it, and please keep reading this blog. But like I told Avveroes, I really wasn't writing to urge support for Obama, just to urge my colleagues to call him not just as they "see" him, but as he is.

Ellen, well-said. That's what I'm talking about - an opinion on the characterizations, not on who we should vote for. I'll leave the latter to the political experts out there.

Bleeding Espresso, I hear ya. It's annoying. And hopefully by the time the current crop of young kids enters young adulthood this kind of stuff will be moot.


I've often wondered why people of mixed afro-caribbean/whatever descent are called 'Black'. Particularly when only one of their grandparents was, or even only one of their great-grandparents.

Suppose it's something to do with Slavery, & 'White Superiority' (yeah, right, "we are so 'superior' we'll enslave you cos your skin's a different colour") SHAME at that part of my (white) heritage!

High time we were all past that, rather than using it as a shorthand differential.


Holy cow you've got some blog entries themselves as responses!
Anyhoo...great point. It's not something that people talk about...I suppose it's just not as exciting or controversial is it?

James B.

Sharon, "past all that" is a good place to be.

Claudia, tell me about it. I feel like I've written and read a book since yesterday afternoon.


good post, sugar! thankfully, none of my kids have an interest in running for any office! they ticked almost all the "racial" boxes and so, when it came time for awards at graduation based on ethnicity, up they went...hispanic, asian, black, pacific islander or other, name it and they legitimately claimed it! ;)

James B.

Thanks, Savannah! Nowadays, checking all the boxes shouldn't have surprised the Census folks. I get the feeling they're gonna be seeing more of that in the next 20 years.


I am biracial and I flip flop between calling myself black and biracial on a daily, sometimes hourly, basis. It really depends on the context. White people, for the most part, don't recognize degrees of blackness. They're still firmly entrenched in the one-drop rule, so I use the term "black" for most of them even though it is dishonest and incomplete. Black folks, on the other hand, are often curious to know what the other half is, because from my skin color and hair, it's obvious to them that something else is mixed up in there. So I tell them I'm biracial. It's also a defense mechanism, because it signals (I hope) that militant black nationalists should watch what they say around me. They may think they're safe railing against the white man in front of me, but "the white man" is my father, who has nothing to do with lynchings or conspiracies, so I don't want to hear it. On government forms, I check all that apply, because I'm so thrilled to have the option.

Leigh Ann

I've wondered about this myself. It's nice to see someone coming out and actually addressing it. Thanks for sharing your thoughtful view.

James B.

TwinZebra, very insightful comment. Thanks for sharing your personal experiences. And kudos to you for doing your own thing and not taking direction from any extreme.

Leigh Ann, thank you for the compliment. Please come back for more;-)


James, this is interesting, but I still don't think people will or should start referring to him that way -- it's a double-edged sword -- you're recognizing a distinction but also opening a can of worms if there's the perception you're dividing black people into categories, or diminishing their numbers and clout by removing some who are "not completely" black, or that there's some kind of value in being "more" or "less" black. I think the press has done a good job with this, referring to the historic nature of the campaign, and also referring to his mixed parentage.

James B.

Tim, yours is a very good argument. I don't think I have a rebuttal to it at all. It's making me think. Our only immediate point of disagreement would be on how well the media has handled the references to race with Obama and the campaign in general. And in that case, without details our opinions are subjective. Regardless, this position is deep. Thanks. I'll think it through. Who knows? You may change my mind...eventually.


The attitudes you point out are exactly the ones I fear when I start having children, who will be black and Filipino.

James B.

Keep the faith Darleene. It's getting better. My wife and I are ebony and ivory, respectively. We're trying to have kids. I'm not sweating the knuckleheads. We'll deal with them when the time comes.


oh james, james ;) thanks for the plug, but we have new ones now:


James B.

Judi, thanks for the sticker update.


I'm sorry James but I'm going to have to disagree with you.

(If you check my blog, I just endorsed "the black guy.")

Look, we whites define white. And whites are not a race but an ethnic group within the Caucasian race composed of descendants of the indigenous peoples of Europe, excluding those of the Middle East and northern Africa. Russians, the older generation says, are not white either.

Bottom line: whatever Obama may be, he is NOT white. I'll vote for him but I know white when I see it. And he is NOT white.

And, by the way, I am NOT European American. I am a white American.



But, seriously, I'm voting for the "biracial" candidate b/c we have people here paying 30% interest on loans. If it takes a biracial man to fix that, then it takes a biracial man to fix that. I hope he wins.

James B.

M@, you help me make my point. You say "we whites" do it this way or that. That doesn't make it right. Just like the broadcast media as a group calling Obama black, just black, doesn't make that right either.

Regardless, support who you want for whatever reasons you want. But he is what he is. And there ain't no shame in that! Shouldn't be, anyway.

FakeMichelle Obama

With all of this race card buisness going around I just blogged about this very subject. You are absolutely correct. Barack is bi-racial so which race card did he allegedly play?

FakeMichelle Obama

With all of this race card buisness going around I just blogged about this very subject. You are absolutely correct. Barack is bi-racial so which race card did he allegedly play?

FakeMichelle Obama

With all of this race card buisness going around I just blogged about this very subject. You are absolutely correct. Barack is bi-racial so which race card did he allegedly play?

Captain Obvious

You idiots. Obama is half white, too. Calling him black just shows how stupid and ignorant you are. Go read a dictionary. Or better yet, go read any book at all, since it is obvious you never have.

How to Lose Weight

Hello there, I'm having problems viewing your blog on my iPhone, the comment form isn't showing properly for me. (Just thought you might want to know, I'm typing this from my laptop.)


t-shirt mag

I think obama is as white as michael was 30 years ago. He may have some white opinion but he is still black inside

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