Shows how much I know about American politics. I thought Tim Worstall was joking when he wrote, on Sunday, of Barack Obama:
I’ll lay good odds that at least some people claim that he’s not really black as he’s of direct African descent, and thus has not shared the genetic and cultural burden of slavery
Then, the very next day, I read in Salon the following, by Debra J. Dickerson:
Obama isn’t black.
“Black,” in our [i.e. US] political and social reality, means those descended from West African slaves. Voluntary immigrants of African descent (even those descended from West Indian slaves) are just that, voluntary immigrants of African descent with markedly different outlooks on the role of race in their lives and in politics. At a minimum, it can’t be assumed that a Nigerian cabdriver and a third-generation Harlemite have more in common than the fact a cop won’t bother to make the distinction. They’re both “black” as a matter of skin color and DNA, but only the Harlemite, for better or worse, is politically and culturally black, as we use the term.
A reasonable enough point in its way, perhaps; I frequently wonder about the usefulness, in some contexts, of talking about ‘Europeans’ since it’s not always completely obvious that a Norwegian and an Italian will necessarily have a great deal politically or culturally in common.
Indeed, it’s a point I’d like her to have taken further, since I think it would have lead her to the conclusion that the ‘third-generation Harlemite’ was ‘black’ in a way that Condoleeza Rice isn’t, despite having grown up in Birmingham, Alabama during the Civil Rights struggle.
And I’d love to hear her explain to a Jamaican Rastafarian that neither he nor Haile Selassie could properly be considered ‘black’, at least not in American terms.
UPDATE: In today’s Salon, Gary Kamiya explains that
Barack Obama is black — he just isn’t “black.”
which I hope clarifies matters.