Monday, December 1, 2008

Is "Oreo" an Offensive Term These Days?

I caught an article in the post today by Maria Arana regarding Barack Obama's biracial origins. She makes what to me sounds like a pre-owned argument, that we should stop referring to Obama as "black" because he's half-white.

In the interest of full-disclosure, the article put me on edge. It sucks when someone vaguely accuses you of being racist to call someone "black" after they call themselves "black".

And let's clear that air right away, I think this article is offensive. Not to me, but to Obama. His identity, racial or otherwise, belongs to nobody but himself, and for anyone anyone to tell him "You're not black" is a slap in the face. If Obama wants to call himself black, let him. If Obama wants to call himself biracial, whatever. Hell, it's even cool if he wants to call himself white. All three of those identities can suit him, but he chose "black" and I believe he chose it for a reason.

Arana is avoiding, what I think, is a simple fact. The word "black" (along with the words "white" "Asian" "Eskimo" whatever) carries two connotations. The first is an extremely, almost hyperbolically small view of the word, meaning "skin color". It's just like saying "My eyes are blue." or "My hair is gray."

Many people don't see it that way though, and the word "black" has a broader meaning, one of culture. You're saying, "This is not just my skin color, it's who I am." This is something I can't really elaborate on, since I'm white. My skin color has very little to do with my cultural heritage.

Anyway, Obama has chosen "black" and he's chosen it for one of two reasons. He's either saying "This is my skin color, and that's all it is. That's all it ever will be." or "This is my skin color and my identity. People look at me and see black, and that's shaped me into the person I am today."

Obama's election is exciting. I don't know how you can think of it any other way, even if you voted for the other guy, Whats-His-Face. Even if he's half-white or half-black or full oreo, he doesn't look like any other president in history. I'd settle for the title of "Most Different-Looking President" but the man has chosen to call himself black, respect that choice.
Post a Comment