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November 17, 2008


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Er, could this be why the UK is a million years away from electing its first black prime minister????

Rowland Manthorpe

The British press have been embarassing on this the whole way through. This is merely the nadir.

From an excellent John Judis article in TNR, written during the primaries:

In the United States, blackness has always been a social rather than an ethnic category, so that, if someone looks black and has some African blood, he is black, even if one of his parents was white. "If I'm outside your building trying to catch a cab," Obama told interviewer Charlie Rose, "they're not saying, 'Oh, there's a mixed race guy.'"



Being 50/50 bi-racial (mulatto) myself it DOES matter to me that Barack Obama shares my rare genetic structure as well as the lifelong experience of being neither black nor white. I would not feel the same about him and his presidency if he were black.

Claudia Jean

In a similar vein, the comment of the ever-charming Christopher Hitchens on Newsnight last week: "We do not have our first black president. He is not black. He is as black as he is white. He is not full black."


Yes, the Hitch's comments have been particularly disappointing - and bemusing, given that he actually does know a thing a two about the history of slavery and segregation. But then, he's not really one for nuance...


I've known blacks who appeared so white that they had trouble convincing other blacks they were black, and I've known people who were the opposite. Brits, and other societies around the world, grossly oversimplify American culture on many levels. It's too bad they haven't looked more closely at the U.S., or maybe they just can't see how complex our society and culture really are.


THANK YOU for addressing this nonsense! This is not just a sentiment that is going through Britain - there are quite a few Americans who are saying the same thing (they just don't have a platform larger than an internet message board).

The fact that he *is* bi-racial makes his accomplishment even greater. For a long time, people with one black parent and one white parent were considered lower than people with two black parents (who often also didn't accept these bi-racial people).


At my job, I work with mostly black people, although some are directly from Africa and some that grew up in England and consider themselves British. The day after the election, I remember having a conversation about the election and seeing a stark contrast in reaction between the two groups.

Those directly from Africa (maybe because the two that were part of the conversation actually happened to be from Kenya) were ecstatic and were filled with a cool kind of hope for humanity. The British folk, however, held this same sentiment that you are talking about... this idea that it really isn't all that special because he's not fully black and that America hadn't really accomplished much at all.

Bizarre how they held such different opinions on the issue...

Alex Watson

It just seems irrelevant and very petty (and sadly, parts of the the British media do petty very very well) to harp on about precisely how black Obama is. Especially when you're Rod Liddle writing in the Spectator.

For many reasons, including race, Obama's victory was historic - and that's the genuine sense the voters, the people who actually made it happen, had about it - that's why people were there in tens of thousands to see the victory speech in Chicago. There's nothing inauthentic about those people's reactions.


Claudia Jean mentioned Christopher Hitchens -- that reminded me that his brother Peter has written some mind-bogglingly "out there" stuff about Obama and race and the world's response to Obama's victory. I can't remember if it was in the Daily Mail or the Mail on Sunday or whatever and certainly can't be bothered to devote time to chasing down such drivel again. Just please trust me that it was so bad, one couldn't help but think "Is he writing this for a laugh? Is he for real? This is either the most daft treatise on race politics that I've ever read, or it's the most cleverly subversive, Swiftian satire since 'A Modest Proposal'!"

Obama hasn't just broken a racial barrier full-stop. We finally have a president whose origins and experience exemplify the melting pot culture that makes the United States great. Countless people since our young country was "born" have made their way to our shores, many despite grave dangers, in hopes of making better, safer lives for themselves and their children. And countless Americans, of course, descend from those who were brought here against their will, as slaves. Even most of us who look like descendants of the Puritans have mixed, immigrant heritages. For example, I could "pass" as a WASP but am half Russian-Jewish (that side arrived in the early 1900s), one-quarter German (late 1800s), and one-quarter English (early 1800s). Hell, check out that "real American" Joe the Unlicensed Plumber's full name -- Samuel Joseph Wurzelbacher. How long ago did his German or Austrian ancestor leave everything behind to try his luck in the U.S. of A.? (Only Native Americans are "real Americans".) Obama's story and racial identity speak to all of us "mutts", not just the obvious ones, and that's an inspiring thing.


Excellent post; a lot of supposedly intelligent commentators have made themselves look pretty stupid with their barrage of racial generalisations. The pathetically smug Toby Young on HIGNFY was definitely amongst the worst of them.

In addition, there's surely some irony to the amount of media coverage focussing on Obama's race, as if that's all there is to say about him. The US, often derided for anti-intellectualism, has just elected a man whose evidently intelligent and thoughtful personality sets him far apart from some of his predecessors, and yet God-forbid that anyone should judge him on the content of his character rather than the colour of his skin!

Dave Weeden



I think there are two issues here. First of all: Obama's race. Genetically speaking, he's as white as he is black, but he identifies himself as black, and given that whenever a mixed-race person does something bad they are identified as black, it seems churlish that now that a black man has acheived greatness the white folks are queuing up to say: "Ooh! Ooh! Actually he's half white". I don't remember them doing that when mixed-race kids were being jailed for murder. When that happens, they are definitely black.

The second issue is wider and relates more specifically to identity. In the West there are some mixed-race people who identify themselves as mixed-race and some who identify themselves as black. Because for most people in the West, if you're not white and have some black blood then in terms of identity you're black. As races mix further and (hopefully) racial barriers are demolished, this identity may shift. Because ideally, we want people to identify themselves as they see fit, rather than having their identity defined by society. So in the future, if a young mixed-race person wants to say "I'm as white as I am black, both culturally and genetically" then they should be able to do so, without having society shove them into a pigeonhole that isn't of their choosing.

When blackness is no longer the "other" then mixed-race people will no longer feel that simply by not being totally white do they have to choose the identity of black.

NIck P

"you're black if society says you're black" sorry but this is true only in america.. elsewhere in the world, you would indeed call obama a mestizo, metisse, mixed race.. etc..

I don't get the silliness of racism sometimes.. obama is a brilliant man -http://www.spinwhip.com/obama-, how could they (the old white church goers who did not vote for him) not see it too?


"this is true only in america.. elsewhere in the world, you would indeed call obama a mestizo, metisse, mixed race.. etc.."

Perhaps, but Obama was elected in the US, not Mexico, so it is their pattern of racial loyalties that is relevent.

"Like Colin Powell, he hadn't undergone the American slave experience and for a long time didn't quite count."

Powells family come from Jamaica. I'm fairly sure that there was the odd plantation there...


"how could they (the old white church goers who did not vote for him) not see it too?"

You didn't really just say that with a straight face, did you?


Obama might be bi racial too the great and good of the "yasmin ali brown" brigade, but to blacks he is black and nothing else. People like ali brown think that obama being elected would bring ethnic minorities closer to the power of america, but all it will do, especially in the perspective of blacks, is to put blacks into power in an economic and militart superpower that they could not build, pay for or sustain on their own. The black race does not see this as minority empowerment, they see it as black power and nothing else. Witness the idea of "blacks and ethnic minorities", who is the minority? People like ali brown have deluded themselves into thinking that this will bring equality to the masses, but all it will do is display black racism towards the "other", as well as other forms of black bigotry. An example is the large proportion of blacks who voted for proposition 8, and claimed they did not see the as a "civil rights" issue. The election of obama, may not be what you think, as now the demand for equality, has become a question, namely, what does equality mean. And one thing is certain, black idea of equality may not be the same as yours.

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