Sunday, March 11, 2007

The Debate Over Obama's "Blackness" is an Unfortunate Distraction

The debate over Barack Obama's "blackness" continues this week, with renewed criticism over the Senator's decision to distance himself from Trinity United Church of Christ and its Dr. Reverand Jeremiah A. Wright Jr.

Critics argue that by dis-inviting the sometimes Afrocentric Reverand from speaking at his presidential announcement, Obama marginalized his black base. At the heart of this issue is Barack Obama's multiethnic biography, particularly whether his experience makes him "black" enough for the demographic that the media broadly paints as "black voters."

Pundit Debra Dickerson recently made waves as a guest on Comedy Central's Colbert Report, arguing that Senator Obama simply isn't black. (Click for video of Dickerson's remarks.)

I don't know why we can't just settle the debate right here--Obama isn't "black," or at least he doesn't fit the mold of the "Black American experience." His African father and white mother, coupled with his international upbringing, clearly put distance between him and the traditional "black experience."

This isn't to say that Obama and his family have never experienced racism, nor to say that race and racism will not be a factor in the election. Ultimately, though, the "black" experience in the United States is so diverse that any attempts to certify Senator Obama as a "black" candidate, or to quantify the level of his "blackness," are impossible anyway.

The notion that this country, which for so long has resisted a legitimate black candidate for the Presidency, is now ready to criticize a candidate's chances for "not being black enough" is preposterous, and simply a symptom of our desire to label, separate, and ultimately marginalize those who do not belong to the white majority, for at the end of the day, while the "blackness" issue is being raised by some black pundits, the message is being drilled to death by the white media conglomerates.

Instead, voters of all ethnic groups ought to be asking themselves not "Is Barack Obama black enough," but instead, "Is Barack Obama wise enough? Is he honest enough? Is he capable enough?" Those questions we cannot answer by looking at a candidate's skin or ancestry.

In this political climate, though, the real question may be whether Obama is tough enough endure the longest Presidential campaign in American history when this issue of race will be with him all the way until Election Day 2008.