There may be no greater evidence that Black people remain psychologically devastated by the effects of slavery and racism than the rumble of voices that question President Barack Obama’s color quotient.
Face it, ya’ll. We’re a mess.
Pathetic irrelevance is all that’s produced by the murmurs over whether a White mother and African dad qualify the new head of state to speak for American Black folks. So I, for one, as a die-hard “Boondocks” fan – the comic strip and the animated series – was relieved to hear that its creator Aaron McGruder had not, as was first reported, added his voice to the growl of self-hating ignorance. At a recent speaking engagement, McGruder dismissed Obama’s African heritage as irrelevant to the president’s 47 years as an American of color. McGruder quickly released a statement, however, saying: “The claim that I asserted our new president was not Black is categorically false. I have seen an endless stream of Black pundits on TV pontificating about the significance of President Obama’s election – many of them making reference to the three-fifths clause in the Constitution, regarding slaves. The point I was making is that this is not an accurate comparison.”
McGruder speaks the truth about comparisons to Obama with American slave descendants, like me, being inapplicable. Obama’s father came from free Kenyans. Yet, the foolishness of questions about how truly “Black” Obama is lies in the fact that the Black Experience in America is unique, not to the bloodline, but to the journey itself. Sadly, it’s not new for the Obamas, who represent the finest Black American family most of us have seen since “Huxtable” was a household name, to face such criticism. Back in 2000, Chicago Democrat Bobby Rush put a pretty good whipping on Obama when the new president challenged Rush for his fifth term in Congress. Rush’s tone and campaign tactics, which observers recall implying the suggestion that Obama wasn’t one of “us,” brought out his wife’s claws.
“Barack is a Black man,” Michelle Obama told a TV interviewer. “And he’s done more in terms of meeting his commitments and sticking his neck out for the community than many people who criticize him.”
“Commitments” and “community” remain key words. The Black Experience collectively is one that reflects our actions in each category. It takes commitment for single parents to raise their children with a strong sense of identity and confidence to aspire to the highest goal (much like Barack Obama’s White mother raised him). And what measure of a Black person, or any other person, is more visible than the community with which he or she most consciously and deliberately identifies? By now, nearly all of us know of Obama’s past as a community organizer who worked door-to-door, aligning himself with grass-roots causes and getting out in the streets with his neighbors in Chicago. He not only experienced, he became, Black America.
To suggest that a White momma or an – at least, ethnically speaking – “Blacker”-than-most-of-us daddy from Africa negates Obama’s journey is disrespectful. Was Malcolm X, the revolutionary who actor Ossie Davis called “our Black, shining prince,” less “ours” because his mother came from Grenada? Was Shirley Chisholm not, as history shows, the first Black woman elected to Congress because both her parents emigrated from the Caribbean?
The answer is even more obvious when the question becomes: Was Notorious B.I.G. a Jamaican rapper because of his lineage, or a Brooklyn rapper because of his pride in living there?
Whether Biggie or Barack, it is the journey that forever joins the man.