Is it correct to call Obama "biracial" or say he is not "African-American"?

There have been arguments here and there about whether Obama is really “black” or “African-American,” based on 1) the fact that he has one ostensibly white parent and 2) the fact that his father was Kenyan and not the descendant of slaves.

Because Obama has one white parent, some have said that he is not really “black,” or that he is “biracial.” In addition, some have said that he is not really “African American” because of this same reason or because of point #2 above.

First, let’s get out of the way that the concept of race is pretty much bullshit. We can agree, I think, that genes affect a wide variety of characteristics and that various genes can be found in some groups more than others, yet “race” is so crude a way of identifying a person likely to carry a certain gene or gene combination that it is practically useless.

First, as regarding whether Obama is “black,” he self-identifies as black, was undoubtedly based on his appearance treated as “black” for most or all of his life (he may or may not have been treated differently, but he certainly looks “black” enough to have been treated differently, if he was in an environment in which he would be), he married a “black” woman, attended a “black” church, etc. Anyone who heard his voice only would identify a tone and cadence characteristic of a “black” person (i.e., he sounds “black”). All this granted, is there anything that makes him not “black”?

Second, as regards whether Obama is “biracial,” I have read that, on average, African-Americans have 80% African heritage, 20% non-African heritage (white, American Indian, etc.). If we assume that Obama’s father was of 100% African heritage and his mother of 100% European heritage, Obama would be of 50% African heritage–similar in percentage, undoubtedly, to many self-identifying African-Americans. I’m not sure that “biracial” or “half-black” have very much meaning when it comes to African-American-ness, but perhaps African-American dopers will have a different take.

My take is based on having reproduced with a Japanese person. Once you know a person as a person, the notion that s/he belongs to any particular “race” becomes almost insulting. I don’t think of my daughter as “half-white” or “half-Japanese”; she just has the heritage she does, and that’s that.

Race does matter in that humans, being ignorant and limited, are eager to use surface appearances to categorize and separate people. And the culture of various groups can definitely matter. In my judgment, Obama is culturally “black” by his own choice and has at least a bare minimum of the genetic content that people require to consider such membership authentic. Whether he is “African-American” or not depends on one’s personal theory of such membership, but to my eye he is based on the experiences and personal culture he has chosen for himself.

By the way, he’s going to crush that idiot McCain–yeah, baby! Um, sorry. Just an outburst.

Thanks for your feedback.

“African American” is a cultural term. It describes a culture. The darkest negro who immigrates to the United States would not be an African American in the cultural sense.

In the sense that his mother is from America and his father is from Africa, by definition I’d say it’s OK to call him African-American. However. Whether he is “biracial” or “black” or “who cares” depends very much on the importance you place on this distinction. Whether he should be identified as a member of the cultural group known as “African American” is similarly subjective, and depends much on how you define the term.

He’s an American with ancestors from Africa, but he’s not an African American. I would call him a Kenyan-American, since last time I checked, Kenya was a country and Africa wasn’t. Like the other posters have said, African American is a cultural group of black people in America who are descendants of slaves, not just people with black skin. Therefore, I think it’s slightly fallacious to say that America will be electing its first “black President” by electing him, since he has more in common with second-generation immigrants and white people.

However, I really don’t think it matters, since in a truly color-blind society, race would not even be considered more than would the first red-headed President. No one should be voting Obama simply because his skin is brown, any more than they should vote Condoleeza Rice for that reason if she were running. (Remember that?) :slight_smile:

IANB (I Am Not Black)

Vox Imperatoris

He had to learn how to speak this way. It took a while, and he still hasn’t fully mastered it. This was part of the problem in his attempt to run for Congress against Bobby Rush in one of Chicago’s majority black congressional districts. Black voters could tell that he wasn’t “one of us”.

When I was teaching, I was very stubborn about not classifying by biracial students as either “black” or “white.” Of course, I suspect that most of us are “biracial” – whatever that means.

As much as I love diversity, I love a blending of ethnicities. It just seems to create more beauty.

If Obama wishes to classify himself as “African-American,” that would seem to be appropriate. I don’t see it as a racial designation anyway.

And it varies so much from individual to individual. It has been a long time since I have seen the very dark-skinned blacks that I knew as a child. The last student that I knew who was very dark was in the 1970s. My experience is purely anecdotal, of course.

I wonder what the “racial” makeup of most white Americans would turn out to be.

I knew a guy at college who tried (unsuccessfully) to get a minority scholarship by claiming he was black (before the term African-American came into vogue) because one of his grandmothers was black…otherwise, all of his relatives were caucasian. If you saw him, you might have thought he was Italian, but that was probably because I think there was actually some Italian ancestry in there as well.

At any rate, it didn’t fly and he didn’t get that scholarship, but it did fuel some debate on our dorm floor as to what constitutes a person as being “black” or “white”. We had a decent mix of black and white students on the floor and it was an interesting discussion.

We came to the conclusion; if you look black, you are black. If you look white, you are white. Didn’t matter what your real ancestry was, or if you grew up in the ghetto or in a wealthy suburb.

This was in about 1972 that we had this discussion, but I think our little dorm debate results still hold true today.

He discusses all of this in great detail in Dreams from my Father. A good chunk of the book is about how he made sense of his racial identity. It’s all a little to complicated to summarize, but rest assured that he’s given this all plenty of thought, too.

That’s pretty much the only definitive answer you’re going to get. “Biracial” and “African American” are cultural constructs without universal definitions. He’s both under some definitions and neither under others. People are going to categorize him by whatever criteria is important to them personally. Why are you asking? Without knowing the context of your question, it’s impossible to make any sort of meaningful debate.

Never heard of “passing”? It gets more complicated than that. I remember an article in Ebony many years ago about passing. One photo showed a light-skinned sister passing as white, working in an office, overhearing co-workers tell a racist joke. She had to stifle any sign of discomfort lest she blow her cover. I can relate from my own experience that who you know yourself to be on the inside is not necessarily how the world will view you and treat you.

White Anglo Saxon American Black Individual.

The Japanese will love him.

For the most part we’re ok letting people proclaim their own identity here in the United States.

If you do some searching, you’ll find that this topic has been debated here several times this year.