“Blackness that is uniquely and indisputably American”

Flickr: Natalie Woo

Billboard from 2009 along California's Interstate 5 freeway.

More on race and perception, though this time, the issue is not what people see– it’s what they know about President Obama’s ancestry. In “For Birthers, Obama’s Not Black Enough“, Melissa Harris-Perry wonders if the President’s lack of connection to “the historical variation of blackness that is uniquely and indisputably American” is part of what makes him suspect to those who doubt his citizenship:

The American slave system disrupted the ability of enslaved Africans to retain or pass along their ethnic identities. Igbo, Ashanti, Akan, Yoruba and Hausa became interchangeable units for sale. While slaves nurtured fragments of cultural, religious and familial traditions, much of the specificity of their African experience was surrendered to an imagined and indistinct notion of “Africa.” Moreover, the law did not initially recognize slaves or their US-born children as American. So enslaved Africans were women and men literally without a country, defined solely in terms of their labor value. Their descendants eventually achieved citizenship, but to be an American black, a Negro, is to be a rejected child who nonetheless clings to her abusive father because she knows no other parent. To be a black American descended from slaves is to lack, if not a birth certificate, then at least a known genealogy—to have only a vague sense of where one comes from, of who one’s ancestors were and of where one belongs.

In this sense, Obama is not very black. He is not a Negro. As a black man, President Obama’s confident and clear knowledge of his lineage is precisely the thing that makes his American identity dubious. Unlike most black people, he has easy access to both his American and his African selves.

  • Anonymous

    The President made the correct decision by releasing his birth certificate. Those who continue to snipe and twitch about his citizenship will reveal themselves for the defective hate mongers they actually are. Their continued whining will discredit not only themselves, but their political efforts as well for the majority of Americans will look askance to such small-mindedness. Cooperating with a detractor’s demand is not necessarily an act of weakness. In this case, Mr. Obama has effectively ended “any reasonable person’s doubt” and forced said detractors into an untenable position. He is in a much stronger position now than he would have been if he stubbornly allowed this matter to even appear to have some legitimacy by not providing his birth certificate.

    What is galling is the child-like mentality of the persons who called for his birth certificate in the first place. Why is it necessary for Mr. Obama to provide such evidence when others did not have to do so? How is it “okay” for the rules to change for Mr. Obama? By the way, but not incidentally, when one refers to our chief executive, one is supposed to say Mr. President or President Obama; not Obama! He is not “some guy!” He is the President of OUR nation. To disrespect him is to disrespect ourselves and “the system” under which we live– id est our government. The President is OUR President regardless to which party he/she belongs or his/her/ethnic background! Either we take ourselves seriously as Americans consistently or let’s call the whole damn thing what it recently has started to appear to be: a farce!