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Why Obama is African American, Not Biracial

New America Media, Commentary, Earl Ofari Hutchinson Posted: Dec 18, 2008

Heres the What is President-elect Barack Obama black, biracial or multiracial? quiz. If he did not have one of the worlds most recognizable names and faces, he would fume at being turned away from restaurants, bypassed by taxis, racially profiled by police on street corners, refused from viewing an apartment by landlords, followed in stores by security guards, denied a loan for his business or home purchase, confined to living in a segregated neighborhood, or passed over for a corporate management position.

He would not be spared any of these routine petty harassments and annoyances the subtle and outright forms of discrimination because he checked the biracial designation on his census form. Thats a meaningless, feel-good, paper designation that has no validity in the hard world of American race politics.

The deepest part of America's racial fault has always been and still remains the black and white divide. This has spawned legions of vile but durable racial stereotypes, fears and antagonisms. Black males have been the special target of negative typecasting. They've routinely been depicted as crime prone, derelict, sexual menaces and chronic underachievers. University researchers recently found that Obamas win didnt appreciably change these stereotypes.

The roughly six million or 2 percent of Americans who checked the biracial census box may take comfort in trying to be racially precise, but most also tell of their own bitter experience in feeling the sting of racial bigotry in the streets and workplace. Obama can too, and he has related his racial awakening in his best selling bare-the-soul autobiograhy Dreams from My Father.

Despite his occasional references to his white mother and grandmother, Obama has never seen himself as anything other than African American. That worked for and against him during the campaign. In countless polls and surveys, the overwhelming majority of whites said that they would vote for an African American for president, and that competence and qualifications, not color, were the only things that mattered. Many meant it and showed it by enthusiastically cheering him on. More than a few didnt. Despite the real and feigned color-blindness, nearly 60 percent of whites still did not vote for Obama. Most based their opposition to him on Republican political loyalties, ties, regional and personal preferences. But a significant minority of white voters did not for him because he's black, and they did not hide their feelings about that in exit polls in the Democratic primaries and the general election. Tagging him as multiracial or biracial did not soften their color resistance to him, let alone change their perception that he was black.

Yet, the sideshow debate still rages over whether Obama is the black president or the biracial president. The debate is even more nonsensical since science has long since debunked the notion of a pure racial type. In America, race has never been a scientific or genealogical designation, but a political and social designation. Anyone with the faintest trace of African ancestry was and still is considered black and treated accordingly.

Blacks were ecstatic over Obama's candidacy and his presidential win. They were unabashed in saying that they backed him with passion and fervor because he is black. Many would not have cheered him with the same passion if he touted himself as a mixed race candidate.

The thrill and pride for them was that a black man could beat the racial odds and climb to the political top; substituting biracial for black would not have had the same meaning or significance to blacks. The talk about Obama being anything other than black infuriates many blacks. Their anger is legitimate. If Obama doesnt run from his black identity then the biracial card appears as a naked effort to snatch Obamas history-making victory from them. Its also an implicit denial that an African American can have the right stuff the smarts, talent and ability to excel in any arena.

The second Obama announced that he would run for president in February 2007, much of the press and the public fixated on one question, "Is America ready for a black president?" The question was never, "Is America ready for a mixed-race president?" The answer was that Obama, if elected, would be America's first black president. It was almost never said that he would be Americas first mixed-race president.

That didnt change on Election Night. Obamas victory was still hailed as a giant step forward for black and white relations in America, not mixed-race relations. That may or may not be the case. The nagging racial slights and indignities that many African Americans suffer are tormenting reminders that race still does matter, and matters a lot to many Americans.

Calling Obama the first black president is the accurate, and honest, way to fix his place in American political history. Its one that he wouldnt and really couldnt dispute.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His forthcoming book is How Obama Won" (Middle Passage Press, January 2009).

Related Articles:

Obamas Win Didnt End Racial Stereotyping

Why Do We Consider Obama to Be Black?

Not Black President Obama, Just President Obama

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