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September 15, 2008 / JV

Barack Obama isn't African American… right?

Ok so, I’ve been a little confused by everyone referring to Barack Obama as African American (are we hyphenating these days?), and referring to his supporters, who are supporting him because of their “ethnic group identity” of course, as African Americans. Why is it, by the way, that when black people support Obama it’s because of their “ethnic group,” but when white folks support McCain it’s partisanship, or an objectively political decision?

Anywho — I don’t personally use the term African American, because it incorporates people I’m not referring to and does not include those I am usually thinking about. It seems to me like a widely misused term. People say African American when what they mean is disenfranchised, black/latino/working poor, and/or black, and of African descent in america (including first generation West Indians, recent black immigrants, and so on). I have always interpretted “African American” as meaning a person living in the U.S., who is a descendant of African (American?) slaves. This definition does not include Barack Obama, whose father is Kenyan… which would make him a first generation biracial American..? Or is he in fact the true “African American,” born in Hawaii to an African (really) father and a white woman whose family is from Kansas.

Either way, I find the fact that Obama is not a descendant of slaves to be an interesting aspect in his bid for President, especially considering the problem most people have with the fact that slavery ever happened at all, as well as the problem they have with black people who are living reminders of that fact everyday. The reality that Barack Obama is not a descendant of slaves, I think, has enabled people to cope with his blackness with just a little more ease.



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  1. steadycat / Sep 23 2008 1:38 pm

    I think Obama is an African American because he fits the rules of that label. One parent was African and one parent was American. The rest of us are truly just American of African descent. Though we now use the label of African American. I’m presently living in London where there are many Africans living. My label of African American doesn’t fit. To Africans, I’m American. Therefore I now claim the term American – like Whoopee Goldberg does.

    I also believe Barack was able to go further because he does not have the history of slavery in his genetic memory. In metaphsics, it takes seven generations of conscious work to change negative cellular memory. The rest of us still have some years to go before we are totally free of the chain. Of course, maybe none of what I said is true. :-)

  2. soltrane / Sep 26 2008 6:13 pm

    It’s true that when most born and bred Americans leave America they realize that they are American. This is especially true for black americans who think they are “african,” go to Africa and stand out like sore thumbs. And most anyone who is part of a made up hyphenated-American identity is really only that identity within the U.S.
    But… I don’t think Obama is African American, because from what I can tell about the history of that terms he’s not. The term makes no sense literally, but it does have a pretty clear social construction as being intended for descendants of slaves. It’s in the lineage of made up terms for black folks in America, falling somewhere in line after Afro American and Negro.

    about this metaphysics… interestinggg.. but how would that enable him to go further?

  3. lunchcountersitin / Oct 2 2008 9:35 am


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