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EXCELLENT follow up post/rebuttal by Gary Kamiya in Salon today 
23rd-Jan-2007 09:01 am
Black vs. "black"
Barack Obama is black -- he just isn't "black." And if his candidacy helps take the quotation marks off race in America, it's a good thing.

I am a mixed-race person, not a "mixed-race person."

What's the difference? People whose race or ethnicity defines their identity, or at least makes up a major part of it, are what I think of as quotation-mark people. They are not only mixed-race, they are "mixed-race." Those whose race or ethnicity has little or nothing to do with their identity, with their sense of themselves, are non-quotation-mark people. They may recognize themselves as black or Latino or Asian, be whatever race or ethnicity they are to the core, and proudly affirm they are such, but they aren't "black" or "Latino" or "Asian."


And if that's the case, they're lucky. Because who wants to go around carrying the burden of being "Asian" or "black" all the time? It's a burden because it's a phantom, an abstract concept, that nonetheless weighs you down. To feel "Asian," for me, would be to embrace an entirely political definition of myself, one simultaneously empty and all-encompassing. I would become a caricature of myself, a spokesman for a "myself" entirely constructed by others. Having no racial self-identification is a utopian state because it allows you to escape this malignant mirror. In America, the white majority is fortunate to enjoy this. But so are many minorities.


Barack Obama simply happens to represent a very public manifestation of this non-quotation-mark approach to race. There are many, many other African-American blacks who exemplify the same approach. Dickerson argues that Obama is not black because he is not the descendant of African slaves. But I would argue that blackness -- or, more accurately, "blackness" -- is determined not by whether one is descended from slaves, but the degree to which one sees one's identity as determined by one's race. Clearly, the fact that Obama's father was African, not American, plays a role in his well-known lack of "blackness," as does the fact that his mother is white. And yet, I believe that none of this is determinative. Someone of Obama's background could be "black" -- and a Ronald Washington from Detroit might not be "black" at all. It depends on how they see themselves; if others see them differently, that's their problem.

Read the full opinion piece here, it's one of the best reads I've seen in a long time on racial identity, racial politics, and how we identify.
23rd-Jan-2007 02:48 pm (UTC)
I'll never understand the American preoccupation with skin color.
23rd-Jan-2007 03:16 pm (UTC)
I'll never understand it either. But some people need to be able to place persons different than themselves in categories that are different.

It's all bullshit.
23rd-Jan-2007 05:22 pm (UTC) - oh.. a novel.. :P sorry in advance..
Hi! *raises hand* mixed person here!

I guess we're lucky. Actually, some study said that Asian hybrids were rated by both full-blooded "Caucasians" and full-blooded Japanese to be the most attractive from a palate of full-white/Caucasian/whateva, 25/75, 50/50, 75/25, full-Japanese faces. We pretty, yo!

The one thing that we halfies seem to think about on occasion, though, due largely to society's insistence on making definitions... goes something like... damn, why do we get discriminated against? Why do my Filipino cousins call me white-washed and why do my white relatives cook rice instead of pasta when I come over? I used to sulk about that all the time, but then slowly realized the advantage of being a blurred line between white and Asian. Or, um, Pacific Islander. Filipinos aren't "boxed" very well in the first place... that's enough to think about already!

(Though, on a totally racist track that has been brought up in such discussions, one of my male cousins - I suspect it's my brother, although he denies it - came up with a term for Filipinos: the Mexicans of Asia. Hard-working, kinda dark, perceived as dirty and working as janitors and maids all the time. But hella good food... I know, terrible! The basis of this naughty way of saying things might contribute to the perspective my brother and I have of being half-Filipino; that being half-Filipino may not be as valued as, say, a half-Chinese or half-Japanese person. Besides that, I've heard from some full-Filipinos such as my cousins that they aren't regarded as being "smart like other Asians." We have jungles and mountains - or at least the non-city people do - and Filipinos known for technology, and oh, did I mention it already? We can't often be described as pasty; a good number of Filipinos are quite brown. So of course people don't immediately consider Filipinos smart. Aside from all of that, I think being Filipino is pretty mixed and non-defined in itself, really.)

Okay, so, I guess if I had a point... yes, I did. My point is that the whole bi-racial thing makes you think harder, especially in this definition-crazy society. (Have you seen this season's first episode of The Office? If put in racial/ethnic terms, defining everyone and having to know what everyone "is" can just be more complicated and unnecessary. The episode dealt with homophobia and "outing" people.) This whole bi-racial debacle has made my brother and I more aware of race/ethnicity and we are often sought out at our schools and in the community for this perspective. I've been on so many multi-racial panels that I can no longer count them on my fingers. I've been asked to help with the people part of political campaigns so they can see my undefined dace. Oh, and I've done my share of bitching about the "box" question (as mentioned in that article; where the hell's the "other" box? Why can't I choose more than one box? Why is there a "box" in the first place??). For a while there, I felt like I was turned into a "mixed-race person" (referencing the article with those quites there), and I don't really like it. I am me, I like me, and I like everyone else just how they are, too. I think that's what separates some of us anymore; remember what T.R. Knight said? I'm sure you've heard it. He does not want his sexual orientation to become the most interesting thing about him; he doesn't want it to define him. It shouldn't. But that's what our society loves to do. Gotta define!

And with all that thinking harder, you give up at some point. You don't try for anyone's ethnic approval, unless you're really hung up on it. You shy away from ethnically-oriented groups (and you find that people who identify as "Asian" aren't too fond of you anyhow). And you forget about definitions.
23rd-Jan-2007 05:24 pm (UTC) - Re: oh.. a novel.. :P sorry in advance..
OH, and if it isn't already implied... someone mentioned the American pre-occupation with skin color. I echo that. And if there's anything else that someone like myself sees - someone who is raised with "the (fill in the color here) side" and "the (fill in the color here)" - is that ALL sides are racist. ALL!
23rd-Jan-2007 05:27 pm (UTC) - Re: oh.. a novel.. :P sorry in advance..
and Filipinos AREN'T known for technology, I mean. ack. I'm really losing the grammar and spelling and such.. that whole thing is riddled with mistakes :-/
24th-Jan-2007 12:40 pm (UTC) - Re: oh.. a novel.. :P sorry in advance..
Bamboo keyboard? :P
24th-Jan-2007 01:34 pm (UTC) - Re: oh.. a novel.. :P sorry in advance..
Actually, coconut keys. How'd ya know? ;)
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