Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Why black?

Man known to bathe and
shave outside killed and
eaten by mountain lion.

This business of being identified as black has me very confused. As I mentioned in yesterday’s bog, Obama is half white. So why is he always identified as black when logically he could just as well be identified as white? It is true that he identifies himself as black, and it is also true that he sort of looks black, but nonetheless he is just as white as he is black. If you vote for him why are you voting for a black man anymore than voting for a white man? I don’t know the precise history of this classificatory scheme, nor do I know the legalities of it, but I do know there has been a tradition in the U.S. of labeling black anyone who has any known black blood in them. I say any known black blood because there are examples of blacks passing successfully for white, depending upon their appearance. But what is the reason for this practice of labeling people black because they have a bit of black blood in them? Is black blood so much stronger than white that it should win out completely, even though someone may have more white blood than black (yes, I know there is no such thing as black blood or white blood, it’s just a way of discussing this issue). It seems to me that the fact that there is no black or white blood simply makes the whole business even more confusing. But to continue…would white people agree with the premise that black blood is stronger than white blood and therefore should win out in classifying? Does stronger blood mean better blood? I don’t think most people would agree that their white blood is inferior to black blood. Maybe it’s that black blood is more evil somehow? But that would be to admit that black blood is stronger than white blood, and that the good white blood is insufficiently strong to overcome it. In other words it would be a case of evil triumphing over good. I don’t think most people would accept that. In Obama’s case, I suppose one might argue that his father’s blood is superior to his mother’s blood, and it is that that makes him black rather than white. But that would be sexist in the extreme, to say nothing of kind of stupid. If Obama is as white as he is black why should he not be identified as a white/black, or a black/white, or a half-caste, or even a mulatto? Of course these last two identifications have a traditionally negative connotation. And how is it that he is called an African-American, he’s not African, but only American. Of course he is of African descent. But he’s also of American Midwestern white descent, so why is he not called a Kansas/African, or an American-African (a Kanfrican or an Amero-African). It seems to me that labeling him black is in and of itself discriminatory as he is half white as well. In any case, as we have by now had all kinds of black mayors, black Congresspersons, black Senators, black Governors, black Supreme Court Justices, and very high-level black Generals, black intellectuals, some fine black writers, as well as zillions of our best athletes, and so on, what the hell difference does it make if he’s part black or even all black. I should think it would only be a problem these days if he was blue or green or polka-dotted. Besides, he’s not even black, he’s brown. Anyway, I told you it was confusing.

Of course this all goes back to discredited ideas of white superiority and black inferiority, to notions of a “great chain of being,” with whites on top of the chain, to previous na├»ve beliefs about the evolution of humans and human cultures from “savagery” to “civilization,” as well as completely ridiculous beliefs about race and morality, and so on. Until about the 1500’s there was no concept of race. In areas of the world where there were both blacks and whites, as In Egypt, it seems to have just been accepted that people were of different colors, ranging all the way from white through browns and blacks. Race was a concept that grew out of the so-called “great age of European exploration,” when it became part of a scheme to enslave and exploit those less technologically advanced. The European colonial period was so vicious and “savage” as to make any idea of superior morality simply laughable. This unbelievable baggage of “savagery” is unfortunately still with us in some parts of the world. It is not unrelated to why Barack Obama is labeled as black, or why Palestinians are locked up in Gaza. It is time to leave all this behind and make the 21st century something we can all be proud of. Electing Obama President will be an absolutely giant step forward. We’ve certainly been off to a disastrous and disgraceful beginning.

“The chief obstacle to the progress of the human race is the human race.”
Don Marquis

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