The saga of the election of President Barack Obama has drawn out some pretty silly expressions from some people who would otherwise be thought to be intelligent.
Pres. Obama’s status as a “real Black man” has always been an open question. First, when he declared his candidacy, some Black folks said he wasn’t “Black enough.” After his victory some White folks began saying he’s “half White,” he’s “bi-racial,” wanting to rob the delirious Black folks of their moment of pride in the man who “self-selected” himself to be Black. Some Whites belittle his Kenyan father, Barack Obama Sr., for abandoning his wife–Ann Dunham–and his young son Barack Jr.
I continue to say that Barack Obama is “an American politician with an African father.” When I think about him, I realize he’s more than “half White.” He’s a pure American who, when faced with the identity choice in his early adulthood, made the best and proper intellectual, cultural, and spiritual decision–that was to self-identify as being Black. If he had chosen to identify as “White,” or “bi-racial,” or any other watered-down version of being a Black man we would have never heard of him. He would have been just another dude, trying to deny his true soul.
Since the time of Harriet Beecher Stowe–the author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin–the better cultural and spiritual choice for all Americans has been to choose life among the lowly, the Blacks, to choose life in the living “soul” of America. But White racism and White loathing for Black people who have managed to survive the worst treatment ever heaped on a people–kidnapped, enslaved, robbed of their names, language, religion, culture–while still not hating their captors and tormentors, has prevented most Whites from embracing their own “inner Negro,” the “Better Angels” of their own souls, to coin Pres. Abraham Lincoln’s term.
Whether it’s Jazz and Blues music, the way Black people dance, their athleticism, or even the non-violent Civil Rights Movement which saved America from an African uprising like the wars which swept through colonial Africa in the mid-to-late 20th Century, the truly unique facets of American life indeed come from the African contribution. Without the African influence on American life and culture, this country would be like Australia, or Israel, just another European, settler colony in an otherwise hostile environment. Black people “civilized” the American conquerors from within, without them even knowing they had been affected, saved from themselves.
It’s a good thing that Barack Obama Sr. did cut his ties with his son’s family when he was very young. If Barack Jr. had been influenced at all, not so much by his Black father per se, but by an extended African or African American family, his decision to embrace his “Blackness” and his decision to have his own Black family would have been coerced, not freely made. By not having a “Big Mama” down in Birmingham or somewhere to visit every summer, by not having a proverbial “crack-head cousin Willie,” he probably never heard the expression “Negroes ain’t s—” until he was an adult.
Had his father or his father’s family been involved in his life, his grandparents–Stanley and Madelyn Dunham–and his mother would have reared him entirely differently. He was embraced as a full member of the Dunham family, a full and equal member of the Hawaiian village, the White American village in which the Dunhams lived their lives. A black parent or grandparent in the child’s life would have meant the Black part of him would have been ostracized, rather than having been fully nurtured by them. Maybe not by the Dunhams themselves, but certainly by the larger White community which accepted young Barack and which participated in his “normal American” upbringing.
So the new President’s “half-Whiteness”–really more than half in my view–was part of his preparation for this job he has now undertaken, with a big dose of Providence backing him up. He’s an American with an African biological father, a father who left him dreams to discover, and whose skin color enabled the young man who would become President to see the Better Angels in the soul of the nation he was destined to lead.