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Morgan Freeman: Obama Not A “Black” President

Actor Morgan Freeman, who has previously said that opposition to President Obama is rooted in racism, told NPR this week that Barack Obama is not, in fact, America’s First Black President:

Oscar-winning actor Morgan Freeman joined Tell Me More host Michel Martin to discuss his new movie, The Magic of Belle Isle. But the prolific actor, famous for his roles in films such as The Shawshank Redemption, Million Dollar Baby and The Dark Knight, also had a lot to say about politics. He was especially interested in talking about President Obama, and why Freeman thinks he should not be called America’s first black president.

“First thing that always pops into my head regarding our president is that all of the people who are setting up this barrier for him … they just conveniently forget that Barack had a mama, and she was white — very white American, Kansas, middle of America,” Freeman said. “There was no argument about who he is or what he is. America’s first black president hasn’t arisen yet. He’s not America’s first black president — he’s America’s first mixed-race president.”

So, apparently, in Freeman’s thinking, one can only be “black” if both of one’s parents are black? It strikes me as a rather odd way of looking things in that it’s seems like a reversal of the way the “mixed race” issue was treated by whites in the past, when even a single African-American ancestor was sufficient to have one considered black. Freeman essentially argues that a single Caucasian ancestor makes one “not black.” It’s yet another reflection of how Freeman seems to have became more racially polarized since the 2008 election, a point Ed Driscoll notes while posting this clip of a 2005 60 Minutes interview:

So what the heck happened?

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. john personna says:

    I guess he means not a fully black life experience. Whatever.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 3

  2. Moderate Mom says:

    He was pretty severely injured in a car accident in North Mississippi two or three years ago, the cause of the accident supposedly the result of getting a BJ while driving. His companion was a white woman. Maybe he blames her….

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 4 Thumb down 16

  3. mantis says:

    So, apparently, in Freeman’s thinking, one can only be “black” if both of one’s parents are black?

    This is an old and common way of thinking about mixed-race people in much of the black community. Mixed-race people have long been outcast in that community, seen as not truly black, and of course they were never seen as white either. It’s unfortunate to hear someone like Freeman repeat what were probably very common opinions throughout much of his life, but have caused a lot of pain and confusion for those born of parents of different races.

    I would be tempted to say that President Obama should not be considered “not black” or “not white,” but rather both black and white, but the reality is more difficult. Race is a social construct, and there’s no avoiding the fact that in America if you look black, you are considered black by most people, regardless of your parentage. If someone had no idea who Obama’s parents were, he could easily pass for black but would never pass for white. To my mind, that makes him just as black as Morgan Freeman, if you think of race as an experience in a culture instead of some sort of creepy blood purity level.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 14 Thumb down 4

  4. James Minor says:

    Morgan is correct in the sense that he isn’t truly black. I think what he means is that it is disingenuous to say he is just black. President Obama is a white and black man which seems to be lost in the discussion these days. As a Mississippian who grew up in a school system that was 50% black and 50% white the previous comment made about the line of thinking involving mixed race is a continuous one at the very least in this state. A mixed race child is shunned by both sides at least when I was growing up however as time goes on and more of these children are born acceptance is becoming more and more evident. As much as one race discriminates against another some of the worst discrimination comes from your own race just because you happen to be a little different due to upbringing or racial makeup. I have seen racism in all forms in my life growing up in this state but I have also seen a lot of change that no one every thought they would get to see. But those are just my thoughts.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 1

  5. george says:

    Given that his father was black and his mother was white, it seems equally wrong (or right) to say he’s white or that he’s black.

    Perhaps that’s what Freeman is getting at – doesn’t strike me as Freeman being at all racialized, just pointing out the obvious.

    Why is the default, given both black and white parents, automatically that he’s black? That strikes me as a much more racialized position than to say he’s mixed.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 0

  6. Racehorse says:

    Why is the president’s race an issue? How about his record?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 3

  7. Nikki says:

    …in America if you look black, you are considered black by most people, regardless of your parentage.

    And for this reason, Morgan Freeman needs to shut the eff up.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 11

  8. Tony W says:

    I have always hated calling him “black” because it implies that Black is a pollutant, of sorts, to the caucasion “race”. That, if you ask me, is the old-style of thinking

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 3

  9. @mantis:

    This is an old and common way of thinking about mixed-race people in much of the black community. Mixed-race people have long been outcast in that community, seen as not truly black, and of course they were never seen as white either.

    There’s a similar problem with being bisexual. A lot of people think bisexuals are really just closeted homosexuals trying to pass as straight.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 2

  10. DRS says:

    The obsession with degrees of “blackness” did not start with Morgan Freeman. It was something that white southerners paid a lot of attention to. From Wikipedia’s entry on “One-drop Rule”:

    The one-drop rule is a historical colloquial term in the United States for the social classification as black of individuals with any African ancestry; meaning any person with “one drop of black blood” was considered black. The principle of “invisible blackness” was an example of hypodescent, the automatic assignment of children of a mixed union between different socioeconomic or ethnic groups to the group with the lower status.[1] The one-drop rule was not adopted as law until the 20th century: first in Tennessee in 1910 and in Virginia under the Racial Integrity Act of 1924 (following the passage of similar laws in several other states).

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 2

  11. Tsar Nicholas says:

    Probably the greatest irony here is there are lily-white liberal kids in the chattering classes who would not be able to grasp just how racist are Freeman’s comments.

    Speaking of racists, when I was kid, back in Queens, I had a buddy who had a black father and a white mother. The black kids around the ‘hood hated my friend. Called him a “zebra.” Beat him up. Frequently. Shit, they liked me a helluva lot better than they liked my friend, and I’m as white as Caspar and not exactly the most likeable kid on the block.

    I used to ride the subway a lot. Also the LIRR. The path trains in Manhattan too. Buses. If you ever want to hear the “n” word in spades, excuse the pun, all you need to do is to listen to urban black kids talking to each other, especially in groups, and particularly if agitated. It’s really quite amazing. It would make a KKK member blush.

    Lived in Los Angeles. Saw and heard more of the same. Hartford, CT. Ditto. The S.F. Bay Area. Ditto. Sacramento, CA. Yep.

    But of course I’m not allowed to discuss race and racism. I’m guilty of being white.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 8

  12. al-Ameda says:

    Thanks, Morgan, for contributing nothing to the body politic.

    Also, @Tsar Nicholas:

    But of course I’m not allowed to discuss race and racism. I’m guilty of being white.

    Please Nick, of course you can discuss it. I’m kind of tired of white people like us complaining about racism, political correctness, and all that goes with it.

    I grew up in a very conservative working class family here in the San Francisco Bay Area, my father was a police officer in the City, our family friends were police and firemen, and the ‘discussions’ on race that I heard all the time were basically generic race resentment with all the loaded terms and stereotypes that you’d expect. Needless to say, I’m not delicate when it comes to these subjects, and I do not feel that I cannot express my opinion on the subject of race.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 2

  13. Dazedandconfused says:

    Being a Democrat is the new Black, really. Morgan simply hasn’t considered the crap they tossed at the Clintons.

    “Black” is having to contend with people who are possessed by an unquestioned sense of entitlement to power, and frequently actually have it. Obama didn’t grow in, and wasn’t primarily shaped by that culture.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  14. An Interested Party says:

    …and not exactly the most likeable kid on the block

    Obviously some things never change….

    I’m guilty of being white.

    No, actually what you are guilty of is being a victim…you poor thing, not being able to talk about race because you are white…there, there…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 1

  15. Interesting Read says:

    So what is the issue here? Is the president half white and half black? Does it make him a person of mixed race? Not to say his great grand parents were partially black/white… his mother was white. Is this false? Is black an overpowering pollutant that annihilates any other racial makeup? In terms of his race, is the president not really biracial?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1

  16. gVOR08 says:

    Happened to read Bill Maher last night on the difference between R and D reactions to actors. Basically we see actors playing geniuses and heroes and presidents. Ds know they’re acting; Rs try to elect them to office: Reagan, Fred Thompson, Arnold, Sonny Bono.

    I seem to be seeing lot of stuff lately, most recently the Republican Brain, that says conservatives have trouble seperating words and symbols from the things they represent. I suppose this confusion of actors and roles is an aspect of that. Of course there’s also cynicism. Fred Thompson looks and sounds presidential, the rubes will fall for that. And he’s easily manipulated, so let’s run him for president. Oops, that looks and sounds presidential thing doesn’t work past a certain age and weight.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 3

  17. al-Ameda says:

    @gVOR08:

    Happened to read Bill Maher last night on the difference between R and D reactions to actors. Basically we see actors playing geniuses and heroes and presidents. Ds know they’re acting; Rs try to elect them to office: Reagan, Fred Thompson, Arnold, Sonny Bono.

    … don’t forget Fred Grandy too.

    It is fascinating. For all their complaints about liberal Hollywood, conservatives seem to do an awful lot of recruiting out there.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 3

  18. gVOR08 says:

    @al-Ameda: You’re right. You made me Wiki Fred Grandy. I still don’t know who he was. Gopher?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

  19. Darryl says:

    @mantis: He’s mixed race. You almost have it. But race is about genetics and lineage when looked through the scientific classification view. His daughters could very well have kids with blues eyes or very light skin. Those are not black traits on the genetic level. So mixed race fits more so than trying to make a hard stance for either race. No can change their biological mom or dad so why should society tell a mixed race person they are not part of one parent. There are some very dark Indians and aborigines that if not for their hair texture and other features, their skin color would classify them as black if personal judgement would be how races are classified.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  20. mantis says:

    @Darryl:

    But race is about genetics and lineage when looked through the scientific classification view.

    Actually, biologically there are no coherent differences between what we, socially, call different races.

    No can change their biological mom or dad so why should society tell a mixed race person they are not part of one parent.

    I agree, but because of our culture and history, our society does do that. Anyone with above a certain level of melanin in his/her skin will be seen as “black” in our society, and treated that way.

    There are some very dark Indians and aborigines that if not for their hair texture and other features, their skin color would classify them as black if personal judgement would be how races are classified.

    The ways in which some biological anthropologists classify groups of homo-sapiens has very little impact on how people treat each other in society.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  21. Darryl says:

    @mantis: You are stating really what I am saying. The classification of race by appearance, not the real underlying genetics is merely a social construct for convenience. How people are treated based on that construction mirrors the values they have placed in a race categorized society. Thus which leads back to the very statements of Morgan, President Obama is the first mixed race President. The society views him as black based on complexion. But he wasn’t raised in what would be a typical black American setting. Nor does his genes qualify as being called as one race. But that same social construct sees his “blackness” as one) a means to inspire and uplift and two) another segment sees his “blackness” as a way to demonize and point out as against the grain and the norm for the society. Hopefully, a third set can see him as just man, a blend of two races, who did not choose one or the other. Which once again, points out his genetic mixture, but at the end of the day, it’s still all human genetics with no side he or anyone else really needs to see or claim as inferior or superior. Thus, claiming the reality of him being a mixed race President should not offend or alienate any segment that wants to classify his blend as one race for their own societal purpose. What society says or thinks is not always the best conclusion.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0