11 June 2008

Does it Matter What We Call a Rose?

http://www.cnn.com/2008/POLITICS/06/09/btsc.obama.race/index.html CNN asks the question about Obama's exact race in this article. Found this link from Samantha's blog (http://samanthaleighsmith.blogspot.com/) after she commented about my Obama/racial piece. The link mentions that in the 2000 Census, people were allowed to self-identify more than one race.

I find this whole idea extremely fascinating, but I've been reluctant to blog about it because wow, I'm going to get tackled. I just know I am. I'm afraid that if I'm not extremely careful in my wording (or maybe even if I am!), I don't have any good defenses if the "racism" card gets thrown at me. I'm not, to my knowledge, black or any other non-European race and I don't have the classic "some of my best friends are black" defense. To me it's a DISTASTEFUL tally game to play, but I see folks all the time say they know lotsa black or Hispanic or whatever people and thus earn their right to an opinion on race. So I have to mention the idea upfront that, really, I guess I get no credence because I haven't met my quota of variously-coloured friends. (DISTASTEFUL!!! BUT I SEE THIS ATTITUDE ALL THE TIME!!!)

I live in a suburb that is about 95 percent white, so I see people of various hues when I go out places... just not *lots* of people who don't look like me. It must be just me, but I can't see myself running out there in the neighbouring suburbs of the world looking for my collection of multicultural friends as though I were collecting state quarters or something. It just doesn't seem right to me, even if your best friends *are* Filipino or Hispanic or "whatever," that one would need to mention this fact to clarify bragging rights when speaking of race relations.

I suppose... If I had 100 friends, it might statistically pan out that five of 'em would be some other colour given my neighbourhood. It doesn't usually work that way, though. Asian folks are statistically not even counted in this area and yet ALL of Patrick's friends have turned out to be Chinese boys, as in descended from parents direct from China. All of them are gifted, play chess and like math. So happens those smartie stereotypes are true of these boys. But in any event, it might be that all 100 of my theoretical friends might be white. Would I be a racist? Just thinking aloud here.

I'm also confused about things in that I'm not sure what the difference between a biological and POLITICAL difference between the races might be. Could I be counted as just European-American as though I were descended from a monolithic culture... or shall I be an Irish-Scotch-French-British-Polish mutt sort of a person? Because at various times and places, some parts of me were considered less "white" than others. What if some Indian blood is really there, too?

To my mind, white + any colour = not white anymore. Here's where I'm really going to get tackled, though, because that line of thinking would negate half the child's parentage. Maybe it's more a political construct in my mind left over from the one-drop rule days, which means it's a racist construct that I should somehow magically eliminate from my brain this very second. (How to do that, someone please clue me in in the comments section. Be nice, though.) But in terms of a biracial child, everywhere he would go, he would have the same struggles and freedoms his darker parent had. Black may be beautiful, but if it's true that black has trouble shopping in the department store, it becomes not only your colour but your way of life in public. You must be more careful in these places... With respect to Obama, NOBODY talks about the white guy running for president; he's the black guy or the "light-skinned" black guy.

Maybe this is to differentiate him from alllll the other candidates and make him the different one. We use descriptive adjectives about people all the time to clue others in to the one specific person we're talking about. Obama, not McCain, gets his race mentioned before his name. How often do you see "white candidate for president John McCain" in the opener of a news story? (I just read what I wrote and it sounds bad!)

From the CNN article on Obama:

"He can't say, 'I'm a white guy named Barack Hussein Obama,' nobody's going to buy that," says cultural critic Michaela Angela Davis. "We're not ready for that."

This is an issue that has sparked debate not only in our newsroom, but also among my friends and family. Most Americans see Obama as a black man, and he identifies himself as a black man. But there are some who will argue that by labeling Obama as a "black candidate," we are all ignoring a vital and legitimate side of his life.

End quote.

On the idea of self-designating race: I like to be silly on official forms because I hate being categorized in someone's computer database as a tally mark for the "white" team. Am I going to get better service in the school district or the county health center if I'm of the "Displaced Edenic Peoples?" I'll never know, because people quietly change my designation on school records and the like and it always says "Caucasian" on all my records no matter what! And I get really crappy service there!!!

Well, howcome THEY get to look at me and decide what race I am? That bugs me. Bet these petty bureaucrats never took a class on how to racially designate a person. So really, I don't get to self-designate at all what I am. I also wrote NOYB on forms at the county health department and they told me that they had to write that we were white for funding purposes. UM, WHO TOLD YOU I WAS WHITE? How do you know that I'm not just 'passing'? Or maybe I was trying to pass for something else and you blew my cover?? Who are YOU, county health worker, to make that determination?

Argh.

But really.

Who gets to decide what race you are if you can't report it yourself? And as Christians, how should we feel about race? Should it ever make a difference, or should we be so colour-blind as to ignore the struggles other people go through? What do you think of the concept of self-identification of race? How about "racial reconciliation?" All *respectful* ideas and opinions are welcomed.

2 comments:

  1. I think this is a very honest post you've made, bringing up some excellent questions.

    You mention that in your mind, "white + any color = not white any more."

    I would just like to point out that this viewpoint (regardless of race or color) is probably held by the majority of the world. Many others around the world are equally feeling the same things about their own races. For example, many Japanese people would say exactly the same, "Japanese + any other color = not Japanese any more."

    We think it's only white people with this view, but it's not.

    I think what causes these viewpoints is that people are AFRAID. I still lived in Colorado during the 1980's when the "English-only" movement was strong. I was in favor of it. (And I would still be in favor of it, but for different reasons.) Having lived in a multi-lingual/multi-racial culture now for almost 17 years, I can now see both sides. I understand the fear that people have in these issues, but I now feel most of these fears are unfounded.

    People are more the same than different, the world over. What is different is the CULTURES. What people are afraid of in Obama is that they feel anyone who is not 100 percent white will not THINK/FEEL/ACT/MAKE DECISiONS LIKE a 100 percent white person. But they forget that if you have two opposing 100 percent white candidates, the difference can be just as great (Gore/Bush, McCain/Clinton).

    Best regards,
    Eileen
    Dedicated Elementary Teacher Overseas
    elementaryteacher.wordpress.com

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  2. I was considering doing a post about a radio show I heard where a number of callers said Obama is the anti-Christ. How's that for asking for it? I'm pretty sure I'm not going to.

    Totally unrelated question, why do you use European spellings like "colour" and "behaviour"?

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Non-troll comments always welcome! :)