Biracial = Black?

One of the oddities of this election cycle is that, with all the focus on Barack Obama’s race, he’s almost invariably referred to as “black” or “African-American” despite having a white mother. The same phenomenon is true pretty much across the board, from Tiger Woods to Halle Barry. Biracial or multiracial people, regardless of hue or other characteristics, are seen and seem to see themselves as black.

Woods briefly fought back against this trend, telling Oprah Winfrey and her audience that he was actually “Cablinasian,” owing to his complicated ancestry. (His father, the late Colonel Earl Woods, was half black, a quarter Chinese and a quarter American Indian. His mother, Kultida, is half Thai, a quarter Chinese, and a quarter Dutch.) Nobody bought it and he’s still considered “black.”

Is this a vestige of the old “one drop of black blood” nonsense? A function of our identifying race through visual characteristics and the dominance of African traits? That Americans think anyone not white is therefore “black”? Or what?

UPDATE: In related news, South Africa’s high court ruled last week that the country’s 20,000 citizens of Chinese descent will henceforth be considered legally “black.”

FILED UNDER: General, Race and Politics, , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Michael says:

    Biracial = Black?

    Should be “Not White == Black”, and it’s not a new phenomena in cultural identities created by white people.

  2. Dyre42 says:

    There’s also the flip side of the coin

    Biracial = Not really Black

    Hence all that talk about “Is Obama Black Enough?”

  3. Michael says:

    Biracial = Not really Black

    Hence all that talk about “Is Obama Black Enough?”

    How many non-white people were actually saying that?

  4. Patrick T. McGuire says:

    …despite having a white mother.

    Not to mention that he is related to Dick Cheney!

  5. Steve says:

    Obama himself has embraced his black-itude. He went to that church for 20 years to build up his cred with black folks in the South Side. He’s married to a black woman. He got Oprah to campaign for him.

    Quite frankly, if he was 0% black and 100% anything else, Hillary Clinton would be the Democratic Party’s nominee.

    He’s black, he knows he’s black, he self-identifies as black, and he’s counting on his blackness helping him to get votes.

    I think that defines him as black, more accurately than any numbers game we can play with percentages.

  6. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    The interesting thing about Obama’s background is the thought his African forebares could have sold ancestors of his constituents into slavery. Wonder how that sits with the African/American community? Better yet, has anyone ever investigated the possiblility?

  7. Beldar says:

    Read his first book. His reconciliation of his roots and his choice to self-identify as not just a black, but an African-American, is a major theme. It’s one of the subjects, frankly, on which I have no fault to find with Barack Obama.

  8. Ari Herzog says:

    I have faith in the American electorate that superficiality won’t play a part and that Barack Obama will not receive votes solely based on his skin color.

  9. od says:

    Quite frankly, if he was 0% black and 100% anything else, Hillary Clinton would be the Democratic Party’s nominee.

    Based on the phenomenal success black candidates have had in gaining presidential nominations in the past? Just because Ferraro says black politicians have an easier time getting elected than white men or women doesn’t mean its true … Hillary Clinton is not the democratic party’s nominee because she ran a horrible race, running as the establishment candidate at a time people were looking for change, and with no contingency plans for the race continuing after Super Tuesday.

    I don’t like a lot of what Obama says, but its hard to argue against his statement that being a black politician named Barak Hussein Obama isn’t an advantage in US elections, nor is it a disadvantage. The people who will automatically vote for him because he’s black more or less cancel out those who will automatically vote against him because he’s black.

  10. Floyd says:

    I guess Obama would rather be judged by the color of his skin, rather than the content of his character??
    In his case that may be a good choice!

  11. Boyd says:

    When are we going to get to the point where we don’t give a rat’s patootie about anyone’s race? Frankly, I’m getting pretty sick of all this race-identification.

  12. Michael says:

    When are we going to get to the point where we don’t give a rat’s patootie about anyone’s race?

    When we find something that is more different than us than we are to each other.

  13. Steve Plunk says:

    Obama is black? All I see is liberal.

    Tiger is black? All I see is golfer.

    Halle Berry is black? I better not say what I’m looking at.

  14. Floyd says:

    Boyd;
    Probably only when “Rat’s patooties” reach $135 on the futures market??

  15. 1p3 says:

    Perhaps it’s merely because his skin colour is darker than that of most of his fellow Americans.