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Wednesday, January 30, 2008

the black guy running for president 

I don't really have a strong opinion about Barack Obama one way or the other. I do have a vague yet entirely unsubstantiated feeling that if he was the Democratic candidate, the Republican machine would make mince-meet of him, in a way they would struggle to do with Clinton or Edwards.

One thing that I do find curious though is the way he is always labelled as "black" or "African American". His wikipedia page for example includes this detail in the first paragraph: "He is the fifth African American Senator in U.S. history, the third to have been popularly elected, and the only African American currently serving in the U.S. Senate."

I know "race" figures very prominently in the US - as indeed does gender (the constant "will Hillary be the first female President?" question) but really ... Obama's mother was quite patently white. Now he is perfectly entitled to identify as "black" or "African American" or whatever, but it seems strange to this outsider that his decidedly mixed parentage (white/black Kenyan) is elided in favour of his constantly being labelled "black." I can't imagine he'd want to deny his "white" background (his mother apparently being very intelligent and engaging from what I've read - both she and his father earned PhDs). We're not talking a single white great-grandparent here.

Thankfully the media here doesn't harp on about these things too much in the domestic context (e.g., I haven't heard the media labelling John Key "Jewish" ... and I don't even know if he even identifies as such - nor do I care), but I am reminded of another political party leader who seems keen to deny or at least "conveniently overlook" her mixed parentage.

I realize this is murky territory, in which some are quick to take offence, but it all strikes me as rather strange. As it did in person when a certain relatively well-known professor - whose father was Scottish and whose mother was Maori - went on a quite spectacular rant at a public event I attended, to the effect of Pakeha had oppressed her people, and her personally, the Pakeha system disadvantaged her at every step (note she was a a full professor), separatism was the way to go for Maori like her, and so on. "I had a Scottish father. Nice chap. But white = bad. And brown = good." Oh fuck off you racist old bigot I felt like saying.

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