Back in 2008, there was a lot of talk about the end of racial discrimination. Disappointed white people, whose stereotypical, corporate white candidate, Mitt Romney, had just lost, could at least say the election of Barack Obama proved that America is color-blind, and we could once-and-for-all claim that we don’t have any racism left. Nope, none.
An article in Forbes proclaimed it.
Of course, nothing magically changed when Obama was declared president-elect. However, our proper concern is not whether racism still exists, but whether it remains a serious problem. The election of Obama proved, as nothing else could have, that it no longer does.
However, the election was marred by racist tropes, some veiled, some not. Chief among them was the “Birther” movement, despite the fact that both candidates who ran against Obama in 2008 (John McCain) and 2012 (Mitt Romney) did not fit the “native-born” definition of the Founders.
No Person except a natural born Citizen, or a Citizen of the United States, at the time of the Adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the Office of President; neither shall any person be eligible to that Office who shall not have attained to the Age of thirty five Years, and been fourteen Years a Resident within the United States.
But let’s set that issue aside for a moment. Let’s look at our headline. The point of this discussion is not whether Barack Obama is a citizen. It’s about whether he is “African-American.” Shocking question? For the purposes of this article, we’re talking about the way most people would describe an “African-American,” that is, one whose family rose up from American slavery. If you have not a hint of slavery in your background, can you really relate to those who do?
Obama is not even fully “Black.” His mother, Stanley Ann Dunham, was white. So at best, he’s what we used to call a “Mulatto.” That is, a person with mixed-race parentage. And when he was born, in much of the country, the marriage of his parents would have been illegal.
OK, so you could say Obama is “half-black.” That’s true, but he’s not “African-American” with a long heritage of slavery, Jim Crow, red-lining, poll taxes, etc., etc., etc. Even if one is not schooled in their own history, your history shapes you. It gives you your view of the world, and your place in it.
Obama has none of that. Not only was his father, Barack Obama, Sr., selected to go to college in the U.S., and therefore, honored and respected, but he was not an American. He had no sense of slavery, or even of Jim Crow. And, of course, any “Blackness” Barack’s father might have given him was lost when the couple divorced three years after young Barack was born. He says he only really remembers one month with his father, when he was ten.
This is not meant to take away from the accomplishments of President Barack Obama. It’s just to point out that he’s not like any other Black man in America—and he’s not like all of them. He’s not an “African-American,” he’s a “Kenyan/American.” His skin is dark, but he was brought up by his white mother, his Indonesian (not Black) step-father, Lolo Soetoro;
and mostly, his white grandmother, Madelyn Dunham.
While Obama became a “community organizer,” and worked for the betterment of the Black community in Chicago, it’s not like he grew up in “the projects.” He had a varied, international upbringing. And that’s the point.
When Obama ran for president, no one could suggest that he was a drug pusher or gang banger. He was a professor, and his influences were more White than Black. Politicians and voters never really considered him an “African-American.” He was special. None of the negative stereotypes applied.
Opponents, of course, tried to use that against him. More than anything else, the “Birther” issue was more about the fact that he’s “not like us,” not any serious point of the vagaries of the Constitution. Colin Powell, the hero of the Gulf War, has said that “Birtherism is racism.”
In recently leaked emails, Colin Powell, former secretary of state, National Security advisor and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff wrote: “the whole birther movement was racist. That’s what the 99% believe. When Trump couldn’t keep that up he said he also wanted to see if the certificate (Obama’s birth certificate) noted that he was a Muslim.” Powell went on to describe Donald Trump as “a national disgrace and international pariah.”. . .
Trump should state unequivocally that he was wrong for the entire Obama presidency in refusing to accept the president’s American birth and apologize to the president and the nation about being so wrong about a matter so fundamental.
Yes, there was racism against Barack Obama. He faced 30 death threats per day. Yet, he was elected, and it was probably because he did not carry the added burden of centuries of abuse and subjugation. It may be many years before a true “African-American” can be elected to the White House.
And that brings us to Kamala Harris. She, too, is only half-Black. Her mother, Shyamala Gopalan, is from India. Her father, Donald J. Harris, is dark-skinned, but again, he did not grow up as an American. He emigrated from Jamaica.
While none of her background is “African-American,” Kamala is proud to describe her experience of being bussed to kindergarten, as she described during the debate when she slammed Biden. Yet, her parents divorced when she was seven. So, like Obama, she also had no Black parental influence in her life, much less, African-American.
Harris has an impressive life as a district attorney and attorney general. As a U.S. Senator, Harris was known to be tough in her questioning during hearings. But she is not an “African-American.” She’s an “Indian/Jamaican/American.” Part of her appeal is her varied background.
However, the point of this article is that neither Obama nor Harris is a “Homey.” It may be decades before the American public is ready to elect a person who has a genuine African-American background. It will happen eventually, but not until the middle of the century, when white people become the minority.