NPR reports this morning that support for Obama's presidential bid is lukewarm among African Americans. It seems that for Obama, as for me and ST in her day, his "blackness" is suspect. He is not black enough or not black in the right way.
For one thing, Obama has a "white" parent and a "black" parent. Historically, skin color has been an issue--among "blacks" as well as "whites." Think of the tragic mulatto in films and literature, ostracized and cast out by "pure" blacks. Or, unable to withstand the skin-deep conflict of looking "white" but being "black", finally making the agonizing choice to "pass" in society and live a lie and hold a secret unto death.
And then there's the opposite "problem" -- being too dark. I remember the gangs of milk-chocolate-colored children yelling "Blackie! Blackie! She so black!" as I passed by on my way to and from school. Intriguing, really, to consider: What fueled their exuberant and persistent harassment? (It went on for years...) And what psychology led me to perceive being called "blackie" as a mortifying insult?
I typed "racial identity" into the Google Image search engine and found the picture above and this one, among others. I didn't read the articles accompanying the pics. For now I'm just looking at them through the same lens as the search engine. Racial Identity. What do these pictures have to do with "racial identity"?
The NPR reporters do not question Obama's blackness. They take it for granted. It made me dizzy again this morning listening to the report as it always makes me dizzy when someone makes reference to the "mixed parentage" of a "black" person. Is he "black" or is he "mixed"? The designation rests on the old-time notion that a drop of "black" blood is "enough" to make one black for legal purposes in the U.S. Doesn't matter the ingredients in the mix: black+Asian, black+Indian, black+anything. The result is always black.
I raised my bi-racial son to acknowledge his heritage in total. I wrote in "mixed" or "human" on any forms requiring a choice of "race" for him. In retrospect, I might have done the same for myself. Aren't we all "mixed"? It creeps me out really--the universal acceptance of this queer, unspoken assumption. The way it persists over time despite its obvious illogical premise and possibly slimy underpinnings.
Obama's admirers are mostly white and Sojourner's primary audience was always white. The feminists were also especially fond of her. Her acceptance among blacks was never widespread or numerically significant. My history is similar. Sojourner and Harriet Beecher Stowe were contemporaries and acquaintances so the term "Uncle Tom" probably did not exist in ST's day but perhaps the concept existed under a different name. I've worn the label; I wonder if Obama has ever been called one?
I earned it primarily due to academic prowess. Working hard and excelling academically was almost always grounds for being labelled "Uncle Tom." Obama attended Harvard and was president of the Harvard Law Review. I'll bet he's been called "Uncle Tom."
Education can also result in a horrible condition called "talking White." A linguistic as well as stylistic affliction, the sufferer's racial identity is undetectable on the telephone or through other vocal media. There is an equivalent condition among whites--"Talking Black." With the widespread popularity of rap music, I suspect there's a lot of this going around these days.
There seems to be a good deal of overlap here, in the South, though. Blacks and whites often sound alike to my ear. Why should that be?
Over time, I've lost interest in honoring the expected or socially acceptable speech pattern or style of dress or sexual/religious orientation or set of personal interests or erotic/musical tastes for a "black" woman. I am no longer wounded by ridicule or disapproval of the way I talk or what I talk about or who I sleep with or the obviously high levels of melanin in my skin.
The whole topic of race is tiresome in many respects (hence the preponderance of quotation marks in the opening statements of the current blog). What are "black" and "white"? (I looked up "black people on Wikipedia and found an entry for "black people" that includes a photo of a tribesman of Obama's father.]) And of what value are their meanings at this late date in human development?
Sometimes I know who I am... Sometimes I forget. Sometimes I wonder.