I recently watched a video of a young Barack Obama dating back to 1995, giving a lecture at a Cambridge Public Library, about his newly published memoir, “Dreams from My Father.”
In the book, Obama recounted a time when his maternal grandmother, a White woman, was having a disagreement with his grandfather. His grandmother had asked his granddad to take her to work. During the debate, Obama had offered to simply take his grandmother, in an effort to curtail the back and forth, only to find out that the issue was much deeper than just a ride to work.
His grandfather explained to him that his grandmother was quite upset because a man was peddling her for money and suddenly felt uncomfortable taking the train to work, like she typically insisted on doing. Obama expressed through reading a passage from the book, that from his grandfather’s vantage point, the sudden displeasing of her taking public transportation wasn’t just because of the man peddling her; it was because the man was Black, a sentiment that his white grandfather did not appreciate. Needless to say, Obama, a bi-racial man, describes an agonizing “punch in the gut” feeling with this revelation.
Now, President Obama has often made remakes about how he struggled in his youth with his racial identity. His father is a native of the African country of Kenya and his mother, a white woman, from Wichita, Kansas.
There have always been conversations about how a person should identify himself or herself when they are of mixed race. How does one choose who they are? Is it the culture you were reared in or, is it what your parents tell you who you are and when you become an adult, you just follow suit based on how you were raised? President Obama is hardly the first to have this issue, as our country is made up of several bi and multi-racial people, many have risen in the spotlight and tackle the question head on, like Tiger Woods, Soledad O’Brien and many more.
Obama’s first presidential election campaign in 2008 was saturated with several pundits and critics trying their best to turn the election into a racial spectacle at the expense of Obama’s monumental run to seek the office. While Obama made every attempt to sway the attention away from his skin color and onto the issues at hand, eventually he had to “face the music” and tell the nation how and why he identify himself as a man of color.
Albeit the reason why he scheduled this speech was actually about his membership of a church where the pastor made, what some might call very incendiary comments about America, it all came to a head on March 18, 2008 at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia. Personally, it is my favorite speech by him because it hit all the marks about our beloved country’s ills on race relations. He goes on and describes the true and false perceptions some people feel about one another via the prism of race.
He titled the speech, “A More Perfect Union.”
Of, course, this is in reference to the Preamble of the United States Constitution. In that speech, he explains his disdain towards his own grandmother who raised him because of some of her views of black people. He also articulated why he identify himself as a black man.
In polite company, within the black community, there have always been whispers and mumbles as to the “blackness” of an individual based on their current lifestyle or the way they may master the English language, which is perplexing in its own right. This disdain causes concern, at times, for those black men or women who are highly educated, reared in affluent neighborhoods, possessing a certain job title, articulate or simply carrying him/herself in a certain way. Some folks want to question his/her allegiance to the black community; or as some would put it, are they for their “own people.” This mindset is sickening and divisive to say the least.
The mentality of questioning someone’s “blackness” is not exclusive to common folk in the community. There are also signs and symptoms of this type of discontent with highly educated black folks whom themselves are often looked at with a side-eye by many others and their sense of awareness of being a black man.
Most recently Dr. Cornel West, an acclaimed intellect and professor on political, race and theological matters, directly from the halls of two of the nation’s most elite institutions of higher learning, Harvard and Princeton, has been on a tirade about President Obama and his perceived lackluster performance for the betterment of black people. I find it very ironic because like West, who received a PhD from Harvard, President Obama is also a graduate from Harvard earning a law degree.
So, when are we going to see someone for whom they are and what they stand for as oppose to what their skin color is? Can’t a black man be intelligent, well to do and articulate without him having to explain how he still qualifies as being a “real black man?” Will we ever see the day when it’s not unusual to see men of color as a part of high society without thinking they were part of some affirmative action program? Time will tell and God-willing we will see the day.
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