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Barack Obama has been accused by various black leaders and pundits, including Jessie Jackson, of "acting white’. But if Obama has been raised by a white grandmother and white grandparents, is he acting, or are his actions authentic?

The perception that Obama has been "acting white" is directly linked the assertion that he is ignoring issues germane to the black community to better cater to the ideals it is presumed that white voters must have in their presidential candidate.

To take this premise a step further, then – if Obama is accepted by mainstream America because he doesn’t exhibit any of the traits of the stereotypical African American – those of us who do not use standard English, who do not have conservatively styled hair, who are not highly educated are in effect rendered invisible to white Americans, much like Ralph Ellison’s main character in Invisible Man.

But though a staunch few of us continue to lambaste Obama relentlessly for this betrayal, this inability to be true to himself (although we flip flop on this – one day he’s black enough, the next he’s all white), to be true to his people, most of us have rejoiced in unison as he continued throughout the primary season to attract a significant number of white voters.

Are these few, these holdouts content with being outsiders forever?  If the things we say we want the most from America – racial equality and equal access to economic opportunity – were here today, would we be ready?  Would enough of us be equipped enough, skilled enough, able enough to take advantage of the situation?  

If you take a hard look at the concept of identity, especially as it relates to Americans, you will find that the roles we all play are not as static as they appear. Five hundred years ago there was nothing that existed on this continent that defined a human being in the way we define ourselves now. The who, what, why and how that each of our ethnicities possessed we when got here have been altered dramatically over the centuries. The boundaries that we have chosen to live by, or have been forced to live by, are largely constructs of the mind of man.

Undoubtedly, Obama bumped up against some of these constructs as he began maturing from boy to man.

One of the more curious features of American life has been the ability of our citizenry to merge common customs of certain ethnicities - in particular, the characteristics of the Irish, the Italians, the Croations, the French, the English, the Germans, the Dutch, the Swedish, the Russians, the Polish, the Czechs, the Hungarians, the Austrians, the Danish, the Finish, the Romanians, the Norwegians, the Ukrainians - into an uber whiteness, a self image purer than the reality of those who wear its mantle.

Whiteness is as much a property, a state of being, as much as it is a trait - within the Big Tent of racial and cultural amalgamation we know as "White America", it is a badge of membership, of belonging, that supersedes individual differences.

Blackness is no less a state of being.

Today's whiteness, like today's blackness, is the last in a long line of new and improved versions - more refined, more efficient, sleeker - but not totally new.  The advent of the Obama phenomenon has put on the table of public opinion an important question that many of us African Americans seem to have trouble answering for ourselves.  

Is the authenticity of what we perceive to be "blackness", or "acting black" diluted or watered down if we cross these artificial boundaries?

Originally posted to Brown Man ATL on Thu Aug 07, 2008 at 05:54 AM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Thanks for a very interesting diary (6+ / 0-)

    Authenticity - Obama seems to be that, and I don't think he should "act" blacker (that would be weird) or "whiter" (equally weird). We all kind of adopt personas--my daughter talks about the Goths in her school--they aren't bad kids, they just dress a certain way and adopt an attitude around other Goths that helps distinguish them from the other kids wearing bright colored clothes. That is a choice, but not necessarily authentic. Or is it?

    Whatever it is, Obama seems open to people of all races, and he's smart and progressive enough for me, and very inspiring.

  •  People get on my nerves with the (7+ / 0-)

    "acting white" or "acting black" thing.  The man is HALF white.  Does he have to denounce and reject his whiteness to pacify black people or vice versa to pacify white people?  I guess accepting him for all that he is is just too much to ask.  I am sick of these stereotypes.

    If acting black means using Ebonics or the latest slang, having gold teeth, blasting the latest rap song or wearing the latest hip-hop gear, then I guess I am not black enough either.  

    •  Acting black or acting poor? (5+ / 0-)

      A young white woman I used to work with told me with pride one day that people have always told her that she "acted black".

      "You know," I said to her, "acting black and acting like someone who is poor is not really the same thing."

      She rolled her eyes and dropped her chin, just like Martin used to do when he played Sha Ne Ne (or however its spelled) on his show - an exaggeration of ghetto mannerisms.

      I know better than that.

      We've let the "keeping it real" and "hood" antics, the tail, wag the rest of the dog, which is the majority of us who are black who raise children, support churches, hold jobs, maintain houses, pay taxes.  

      I've never seen a tail wag a dog in real life.

      But the reality is, there are a lot of black people out there who aren't really thinking things through.

      Why do I think this is so important?  Because right here in Georgia, the estimates on the number of unregistered voting age blacks is 600,000.  


      I think all of this - the apathy, the desire that is not matched by the doing - as an ardent supporter of the Obama campaign, I can see how valuable each and every one of those votes are.

      So the things I am asking are trying to look at those of us who have decided not to participate.  

  •  Like me, Barack is who he is (8+ / 0-)

    but I was fortunate to have both my African-American father and German mother raise me together. I'm also 8 years older than Barack, so I saw and experienced more of the civil rights era than Barack. But my Dad was around to tell me the stories of growing up in segregated South Carolina and my Mom could teach me German and tell m stories of surviving th WWII.

    So, like Barack, I am a product of the cultures and suburban area I was raised.  I speak two languages and am accused of "sounding white" when I speak English. My tastes in food, art, music are a blend of those cultures. When in Europe, Europeans are amazed to see an obliviously American Black using continental table manners (Americans and Europeans us knives and forks differently). There's no acting, it's who I am.

    When the question of "is Barack authentically Black" came up, I had to shake my head.  If my Dad were still alive I'm sure he would have told Barack, "Tell those fools to kiss your "authentically" Black ass! No one has, nor ever will treat you the same as a White man in this world."  You have to look no further than how differently Barack and McCain are treated by the MSM to see my Dad was right.

  •  Interesting, I can understand the question (8+ / 0-)

    But as another commenter said, and as my dad, the dyed-in-the-wool racist said, "The man is also half-white, so WHAT is the problem everyone is having?"

    Doesn't mean my dad will vote for him.  Hell, no, my dad is 84, Republican, and thinks anyone who put on a military uniform walks on water.  Well, my dad's a WWII vet who has maybe overcompensated a bit in that area.

    But it remains, Obama is genuine, whatever label you put on him.  How tragic if whites vote against him because he's too black, and blacks vote against him because he's too white.

    Obama is the future, folks, in more ways than one.  Just like Tiger Woods is the future.  When races blend, what we get is beauty, and a reminder that we can, really, live together.

    Some people can't seem to stomach that.

    "It's what you think you know that just ain't so that will get you into trouble." --Will Rogers

    by winterbanyan on Thu Aug 07, 2008 at 06:44:28 AM PDT

    •  Rcc'd this comment because "Obama is genuine" (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Chi, winterbanyan, Dragon5616

      and I agree.

      Also, after leaving my little cocoon of Miami, Florida to live in different parts of the rest of America including Hawaii I THANK GOD for the racially and ethnically diverse world I grew up in.

      I learned something from living in different parts of America. From urban, suburban to rural, African Americans are more geniune with me than whites, more comfortable, more themselves. I'm ethnically Cuban, racially white.

    •  Its the logic I'm trying to explore (4+ / 0-)

      Its the logic that those people who "can't seem to stomach that" have been using that I am trying to explore.  

      I think a lot of black people who are resistant or reluctant to adopt the dominant culture, which is itself an amalgam, as their own might rethink things IF they realize that the people who are considered "white" have had to give up some things themselves, and IF they can learn to trust the dominant culture.

      Now that I think about it, the trust factor might be the real thing that's the problem.

      •  I watched the Black is Beautiful movement (4+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Chi, Dragon5616, CcVenussPromise, Cammi317

        grow while I was in college.  And I understood it.  Having been deprived of damn near every bit of REAL identity, these folks needed to reclaim something of their own, some kind of heritage which most of the rest of us have.

        I think it's a perfectly normal part of the growth cycle.  Most of us grow up knowing something about our ethnic heritage, and many can even point on a map to the locale where some of their ancestors came from.

        This was truncated by slavery.  Badly truncated.  And the efforts of African Americans to build a heritage apart from the wasteland of slavery is perfectly comprehensible.

        Equally comprehensible is the reluctance to yield any of what was so difficult to piece together.

        I think you're right about the trust issue.  Problem is, few enough of us in the rest of society have given African Americans any reason to trust.

        "It's what you think you know that just ain't so that will get you into trouble." --Will Rogers

        by winterbanyan on Thu Aug 07, 2008 at 07:52:16 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  You accept the slave power's ID of race (7+ / 0-)

    The pre-1865 Southern Slave Power defined race in this country, and sadly, this view has triumphed despite the just victory of the Union over treasonous Rebels. If you have even one African ancestor in the past few generations, then you are "black", regardless of hundreds of European ancestors in your family tree.

    Obama is half white, but this does not matter in the Mass Media. They accept the Slave Power ID of race, so he is "black". I am so sick of this racism.

  •  Just America (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Chi, Dragon5616, Cammi317

    You state the following, "One of the more curious features of American life has been the ability of our citizenry to merge common customs of certain ethnicities - in particular, the characteristics of the Irish, the Italians, the Croations, the French, the English etc."

    Here we have a man with a white mother and a black father who some say is too white and others claim is not black enough.  At the same time there are those who see him as not white at all.

    Maybe now is the time for us to merge black America with white America just as we have done with the various white ethnicities to create a newer larger tent known just as America where the badge of belonging can belong to all of us.

  •  When I talk about my friends I do not (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Dragon5616, Cammi317

    differentiate between "black" or "white" friends. They are just friends because that is all that matters to me.

    Obama is neither "half black" or "halfwhite". He is a human being. A highly educated one at that. With a genetic structure that is common within us all.

    It is time we got away from the whole color thing as we are now in the 21st Century. Let's start, here and now.

    Let me do right to all, and wrong no man. - Dr. C. Savage, Jr.

    by pwrmac5 on Thu Aug 07, 2008 at 07:36:30 AM PDT

  •  My AA students (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Sagittarius, trivium, Dragon5616

    accused me of trying to make them "talk white."  We had quite a class discussion about it.  I asked them if they thought I spoke differently with my boss than I do with my friends.  They all were sure that I did.  I then explained that, fair or not, when they were trying to get into a good college or get a great job, they would be judged in relationship to all the others who were applying no matter where they came from.  (These kids weren't rich but they were very smart.)  I told them that I wanted them to have every opportunity to show people how smart they are and that if it took a little extra for them to speak well, they had better do it or they would never get a chance.  I was pretty hard on them but when I put it to them honestly, they understood it immediately.  They know the obstacles they will have to overcome.  They face them every day!

    -7.62, -7.28 "We told the truth. We obeyed the law. We kept the peace." - Walter Mondale

    by luckylizard on Thu Aug 07, 2008 at 02:38:00 PM PDT

  •  White/black/whatever... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    ...reading this diary, I realize that this is the most interesting presidential candidate that I have ever seen. Obama really pushes us to think differently about a lot of things, but especially, the future, the viability, and the meaning of "race."

    ...there's a rose in the fisted glove and the eagle flies with the dove - Stephen Stills

    by NuttyProf on Thu Aug 07, 2008 at 08:47:07 PM PDT

  •  When I see or hear Obama, I only (0+ / 0-)

    see and hear the best presidential candidate I've ever experienced. I don't care if he's orange with purple polka dots--his wisdom, his temperament, his authenticity, and his self-possession are incredible. He's comfortable with all sides of himself.

    If there's a problem with Obama's race, it's our problem, not his, which is partly what I think you're getting at here.

    Great diary. Well-written. So glad it was rescued.

    "It's no wonder more people call themselves Democrats; it's easy to identify with a party that identifies with you." --srmjjg

    by Dragon5616 on Thu Aug 07, 2008 at 09:20:06 PM PDT

  •  I'm going to recommend this (0+ / 0-)

    for the discussion it could foster, and not necessarily for the discussion it has fostered.

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