Sunday, June 29, 2008

One drop rules

Washington Post reporter Jonathan Weisman gets smacked down for observing that Senator Barak Obama is as white as he is black, perhaps more so since he was raised by whitey.

Several readers were upset by a remark that National political reporter Jonathan Weisman made on a chat on Monday. Weisman was responding to this question about Sen. Barack Obama:

"Alexandria, Va.: Obama's new ad (which plays a lot in Alexandria) shows pictures of his mother and grandparents, playing up his white family. Until now he's been 'African American'; now suddenly he's a white Midwesterner? During the primary Hillary was criticized for changing her image too many times. Won't Obama be criticized for doing the same thing?"

Weisman's answer: "I haven't heard that criticism, but it is striking -- not a single picture of his father. Now, that really is consistent with his upbringing -- he really did not become immersed in black American culture until he left college and went to Chicago. The great irony is that he is much more white than black, beyond skin color."

A Mr. Kendall Ridley from Houston is outraged.
"I'm simply blown away by this display of ignorance. Please let Mr. Weisman know that black culture is the all-encompassing experience of being black; there is not just one kind of black culture, as black America is neither monolithic nor single-minded. If Obama is 'more white,' 'beyond skin color,' I entreat Mr. Weisman to delineate precisely what he means. . . . Is he suggesting there is 'white behavior' and 'black behavior' or 'white thought' and 'black thought'?"

Without ultimately judging Mr. Ridley, I'm afraid I must question parts of his logic, if not his outrage altogether. If he were making the argument that there is no such thing as race so that any kind of categorization of people by race is idiotic per se, I would be right there with him. But when he writes that black culture is the all-encompassing experience of being black, he shows himself to be just as racialist, if not racist, as any other race obsessed moron.

This little controversy is a great example of why we need to do away with the entire disproved and outdated concept of race. Mr. Ridley is right that there is no such thing as 'black behavior' or 'white thought' because there is no such thing as black or white, at least when it comes to classifying humans.

But ethnicity is a very real phenomenon. Although impossible to classify around the edges, at the core things such as an African-American experience, ghetto culture, an African American literary tradition, white middle class values, WASP-ish snobbism, and all too many other ethnic categories actually exist, at least to some extent. Mr. Ridley's idea that there is an all-encompassing black or any other culture based on skin color is simply idiotic.

When we decode Mr. Weisman's politically unwise comment that Senator Obama is more white than black beyond skin color in ethnic terms, what he says is essentially accurate. Senator Obama was raised in what is typically considered a white middle class environment. An esoteric white middle class environment, granted, but a white middle class environment nevertheless. That is simply the fact of the matter.

Of course we should do away with all of these color based terms. 'White middle class values' should be replaced with something like 'typical American middle values' since people of all hues can and do share typical American values, but within the context of today's reality, Mr. Weisman made perfect sense as opposed to Mr. Ridley, who appears to be horribly warped by racialism.

The fact that Senator Obama cannot run an ad that shows images of his grandmother without getting criticized for trying to be white demonstrates just what a fucked up racialist world we continue to inhabit.