Do we overidentify race?

I was listening to a discussion of race issues yesterday (12/18) on Talk of the Nation. In this discussion there was much discussion of African-American issues/values/culture especially relating to the election of Barack Obama. Some callers were miffed by the fact that Obama claimed African-American heritage when they believe he should be identified as bi-racial.

This got me to thinking, are we identifying the wrong traits? Race had nothing to do with my vote for Obama. I saw him as the more competent candidate. I think this is the missing piece of the race issue. I wouldn’t vote for Jesse Jackson for president, because he has what I view as extreme values and does not appear to be fully informed on a very broad notion of issues. Interestingly these are the same reasons I could never vote for GW Bush.

I think that Obama exhibits a wide spectrum of values. I see him as competent. I hope that others see me as equally competent in my field. I want to be like Obama, not by being African-American but by being smart, well spoken, and genuine.

In short - yes we do.

Obama also identifies himself as “a mutt”. But he apparently has always been pragmatic. Most Black Americans are of mixed ancestry afterall, some more so than he, even if both of their parents had been self-identified as “Black”. But most of America see them and identify them as Black neverheless and most commonly so do they themselves. It is a cultural group identification, not a genetic marker of purebred bloodlines. The longhand has always been that he is the product of many cultural influences and he has never hidden the fact that his mother was White and that he was raised mainly by his White grandparents. But he embraced the fact that the world sees him as Black nevertheless.

He was widely acceptable because so many could identify with his values and admire both his intelligence and his ability to articulate a positive vision of America’s future. Those factors transcended whatever racial identification the world or he himself imposed upon his categorization. At some level his muttness was probably part of the appeal as that storyline is so quintessentially American - the story of America herself: out of many one.

For a United States, we find an awful lot of ways to divide ourselves. Yes, we try and fit people into categories way to much. People will get worked up about anything that you do, so it’s best to just go on and do your thing and please as may people as you can.

Doonesbury, the day following the election.

He has never denied his white family, and I think that is honorable. He jokingly referred to himself as a mutt, and I have seen a few people pointing to that as some kind of evidence that he doesn’t self identify as black. But anyone that has done even a tiny bit of research on him, (like read his books) know that he self identifies as black.

I did a pit thread about this, sort it sort of is a sore subject.

I apologize if I was unclear. I did not mean to imply that he does not self-identify as Black at the same time as he acknowledges that he is biracial. I clearly understand that he embraces that identification. I understand he was joking around with his mutt comment but the edge of most jokes is that they cut into subjects that matter to us. Many of mixed ancestry have had a great deal of discomfort feeling that they have had an identity imposed upon them or accept that as their identity or had to fight a battle that involved some sacrifice in order to not accept an arbitrary categorization of who they are that they felt did not fully describe them.

I haven’t read his books (and really have no intention to) so could you share with us how he came to his identity decision? Being a cynic my guess has always been that he recognized that such would be the identity that the world imposed upon him so he may as well find a way to fit with that identity. That it was a pragmatic choice.

This op’s point seems to be however that that label’s importance is overstated. If my guess as to the why he self-identified as Black is at all accurate it bespeaks to the op’s point. Our world seems to require that we fit one group or another and superficial characteristics are the usual means of making that classification.

As far as I know, most race identification in the US is self-identification, and it’s seldom challenged (how would you challenge it when there is no formal definition?). I’m not sure what you mean by “over-identification.”

Over-obsess? Sure.

Mr Obama’s a nice example of the farces that occur when you over-obsess. Here’s a guy whose personal black ancestry never shared the common experience of the American black, and instead benefitted from this country’s efforts to correct those historical wrongs. His black father gets a teen pregnant and then bails–one of the archetypical problems facing the black community today. His white mother manages to raise him, with most of his growing-up influences provided by non-blacks.

While I understand the black community vesting some interest with Mr Obama, it’s a farce to see him as a product of it except to the extent that any individual–regardless of their personal heritage–can self-identify with a particular community. Mr Obama’s adult life to date has certainly reflected that self-identification. He’s sort of the counter-point to Navin Johnson, writ large.

Race is our national irrationality in the United States. Canada has language, England has class, Ireland has religion. It’s the issue that dominates the national psyche while other countries ask “why are they making such a big deal out of something so unimportant?”

I think you’re on to something. My favorite example of this is Tiger Woods, The Black Golfer.

From wiki:

“This makes Woods himself one-quarter Chinese, one-quarter Thai, one-quarter African American, one-eighth Native American, and one-eighth Dutch.”

I can’t tell you how he came to his identity decision, sorry. I don’t recall him pinpointing exactly how he came to his identity decision. I just assumed he comes to it like all black folks. He just *is. *

I have a lot of mixed race family. The ones that look mixed identify as black. The ones that look black, as Obama does; they never had a chance to identify as anything at all! They are just black! And that will never come into question at all, unless they accomplish something truly great in this society.

I love that he identifies as black, because it gives me a chance to teach the young black kids coming up in the ghettos that we can indeed do what most thought was the impossible. May that sink into their little psyches and be a counterweight to all of the negative feedback they have internalized through the media, the society, and the hardened outlook of their own family and friends.

I am not getting all twisted out of shape with you, DSeid. I think you have posted well worded posts. It is just that I have an agenda on my shoulders, and I am always trying to lay it down.

Tiger Woods is Dutch ? Cool !

Never heard of a professional Dutch golfer before. He’s breaking all kinds of barriers.

I find the fact that there are people who get their nose out of joint because Obama chooses to consider himself “black” rather than “mixed” to be mildly ironic, in that there is a (presumably different) segment of the (black) population that feels strongly that us mutts* should dump this “mixed” bullshit and own up to being black.

  • Like Obama, I’m half-black but raised only by the white half of the family; unlike Obama I never felt that I was clearly either white or black, and I self-identify as “mixed”. I feel a lot of sympathy for my half-German, half-Korean coworker, who doesn’t feel he fits in with either Germans or Koreans. He gets mistaken for Turkish (in Germany), I get mistaken for Hispanic, we both feel a little alienated.


Well, it was the family secret.

People are naturally tribal. America is diverse enough to give people an opportunity to choose their tribe. Most bi-racial people identify with the non white race because there are too many white people to function as a tribe. Obama is an interesting case because he had almost no contact with the black side of his family growing up and he spent so much time overseas. He also spent much of his teen years in Hawaii where the racial calculus is much different than the mainland. In his first book Obama explains why he rejected his white ancestry and chose to identify as black. If you are interested in the subject Steve Sailer wrote a book called “The Half Blood Prince” about it. His thesis is that Obama’s mother, Stanley, had a culturally marxist view of colonialism that was popular at the time. This view saw colonialism as the root problem in the world where dark skinned people were being oppressed by white people. Thus she lionized Barack Sr. as someone who was engaging in a liberation struggle against the white oppressors. Barack Jr internalized this world view so that when it came time for him to sort out his identity as a young man, he embraced his blackness and saw his role as helping black people overcome oppression. It sounds quasi-Freudian but given the zeitgeist of the time Obama grew up, it seems plausible to me.

Another one.

I haven’t read this book “The Half Blood Prince”, but the short description you gave raises some red flags for me right at the gate.

When you mentioned Obama’s ‘first book’, are we talking about ‘Dreams from my Father’?

I was wondering about the description myself. So I tried to find it on Amazon and they don’t sell it. Apparently it can only be purchased via certain websites - websites that seemed to talk a lot about how the white race is not getting enough respect in America if you catch my drift.

The whole whatever-American thing is stupid IMO. I am almost purebred Irish, but since my ancestors have been here for at least three generations, I am “just” an American. (Actually, because I grew up near the Canadian border, I identify myself as from the States or a Statesider.) I have never met an “African”-American who was actually born anywhere but in the US, and of the ones I knew well enough, their parents save one were born here too - that one was born in the Phillipines.

I would never consider calling myself Irish-American because all that does is further divide up the country. Who cares if Barack is “purebred” black? Who cares what color he is at all? I really think the militant black folks need to get over themselves and quit trying to be separate but equal. The only A-A issues are the ones they bring on themselves.

Yeah, I’ve read some stuff from this Sailer character too. He’s a snake oil salesman. His shtick is that he “explains” blacks/Africans in simple terms/stereotypes to those who are either clueless or hateful racists.

His followers consist of an odd mix of racists and right wing race obsessed yes-men, who provide him with a constant stream of positive feedback for every bit of writing he makes. He is literally worshiped by his followers for his “tell it straight, stereotype the blacks” message. It’s very creepy.

If you disagree I would love to open up a pit thread where we can discuss it further?

>Race is our national irrationality in the United States.

Little Nemo, nicely said. This one short line speaks volumes.

Whether we overidentify race depends on why we are talking about race in the first place. I think race is much more significant as a basis for people to discriminate against each other than as anything else. Discussing races as part of discussing the discrimination problem is perhaps the most significant useful application of race. I guess there are some useful applications of race in medical research, for example to help understand the genetic reasons for susceptability versus resistance to certain diseases and other health problems.

The environment a person has experienced so far in life is often partly a reflection of the race others group him into. In the case of Obama, “Dreams of My Father” makes it pretty clear that for most life experience purposes he’s black.

But, other than in dealing with understanding life experiences, it’s hard to see the merit in spending ANY effort identifying somebody’s race (unless, perhaps, you’re a geneticist or medical doctor).