Friday, January 21, 2011

Does African American mean anything?


President Barack Obama is constantly in the news these days. He seems to take up a lot of space in the blogisphere and in the corporate media. Much of what's been said about him recently has concerned race as this past week the nation remembered the life of Dr. Martin Luther King.

One thing that I've noticed that continues to bother me concerning race and the President is that he is almost universally referred to as African American by bloggers and corporate media. This makes me wonder if the term African American really means anything or is it just a simple descriptor meaning Black?

For me the term African American refers to Black people that belong to a particular ethnic heritage. I've always thought that African Americans are descendants of Black Americans who were both enslaved in this country and those who suffered under Jim Crow.

The President is a direct descendant of an African man from Kenya. None of the President's ancestors suffered enslavement in this country. Although it can be said that his father briefly lived under the thumb of Jim Crow laws when he was a student in the late 50's here in the U.S.

So I do not think of the President as being the first African American President. Being African American, in my opinion, is not about simply being Black. It's about a cultural heritage rooted in the atrocity that enslavement was in this country and then being forced to live as second class citizens after slavery was outlawed.

The President is indeed Black but his particular ethnic heritage is different from most Black Americans. He has no direct blood ties to enslavement except that his wife is African American.

Am I the only one who cringes when Barack Obama is referred to as being African American?

Hopefully at some point the distinction between being Black and being African American will be more clear to people in general. In the meantime I hope that at least the decedents of people who were enslaved in this country will make the distinction for themselves.


What do you think?




P.S. I'll post about my vacation soon. It was really nice. ;-)

8 comments:

♥ CG ♥ said...

Hey Val! Welcome back! I don't like the term at all for a few reasons. One being that I see it as a way to say Blacks are somehow less American simply as a matter of history. I personally know Africans who feel, and rightfully so, that Black Americans have little or no connection to the continent, so it makes AA kind of a fluffy label void of real meaning. I'll be glad when we see the day that defining ourselves doesn't change every 20 years, but is a matter of simply being human. I see your points though :-).

Francis L. Holland said...

"Much of what's been said about him recently has concerned race . . ."

What would be lost if you said, "Much of what's been said about him recently has concerned skin color and skin color-aroused politics.

The difference that it makes to me is that skin color demonstrably exists while "race" does not. You just argued above that President Obama is not part of a sociological Black Race Group by your standards, so you can't be using the word "race" sociologically.

You're basically asking what defines us. I wish we could all agree with the evidence of the Human Genome Project, as a starting point, that biological "race" is a mental fantasy.

http://www.nature.com/ng/journal/v36/n11s/full/ng2150.html

http://www.ornl.gov/sci/techresources/Human_Genome/elsi/minorities.shtml

It might be that most of what we and Barack Obama have in common is that we have brown skin and so we have been targets of color-aroused ideation, emotion and behavior by whites and even by other people with brown skin.

Sociologically, President Obama is "Black", if only because every one of Hillary Clinton's strategies against him, and now many of the extremely color-aroused attacks on him by birthers and Republican arguments are based on his skin color. He is treated like a Black man in America.

Is he African-American? His father's from Africa and his mother is from America and he is a US citizen. If you say he is not Africa American because his ancestors were not slaves, then you would have to disassociate sociologically from the many Blacks who lived in American from the start but were never slaves. They were "free blacks."

Francis L. Holland said...

Yes, there were many Blacks in the US who were not slaves, just as there was a significant number of native Americans who were not annihilated by whites.

Let's let President Obama be "Black" if he wants, because he has brown skin and it shows in the way whites (and Blacks) treat him.

And let's let Obama be "African American" because his father was African and his mother was American. I think it's safe to believe that Obama's white grandmother didn't like any Black people except her grandson (based on what he said in his autobiography). It's also safe to say that his white mother caught all kinds of color-aroused hell everywhere she went for having had a Black husband and for having a Black child. These are experiences that Obama shared with his white mother.

The heritage of Obama's wife cannot be allowed to count in determining the sociological skin color group of President Obama, although it certainly counts in our color-aroused ideation, emotion and voting behavior.

If President Obama had married a white woman, as Justice Clearance Thompson did, would that convince us that Obama was less African-American himself? Of course many Black people and many white people would have had different color-aroused ideation, emotion and behavior toward Obama if his wife had white-like skin! The color-aroused ideation about the wife would have been inevitable, although many of would have tried to keep our color-aroused emotions and behavior in check.

I am Black and I am a member of the American skin color group called "Black People". However, I think it's safe to say that my Black American paternal ancestors suffered through slavery, Reconstruction and Jim Crow. Even if they weren't personally slaves, the newspapers announced slave auctions. Every Black person, slave or free, was subject to being taken for a slave and being sent South to a slave state and slave master. I recently read an autobiography by a man who had this experience--was a free Black but tricked into going south, where he became a slave. This experience was all-too-common.

So, a Black American would not have to have had an ancestor who was a slave in order for ancestors to pass down through the generations the many color-aroused ideas, emotions and crucial behaviors that were born out of slavery.

Don said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Don said...

Hmmmm.

Calling us "African Americans" ... as if everything is fair again.

I'm not buying it.

Francis L. Holland said...

I don't know, but I think it was Jesse Jackson, Sr. who began insisting on the term "African-American" around the time of his 1984 or 1988 presidential campaigns.

If there are "Irish Americans" and "Italian Americans," then why not "African Americans?

When you call us simply "black" with a lower-case "b", don't you simultaneously admit that you can't tell black from brown and beige, and then effectively tell others and ourselves that our skin color is more important than our historic geographical origins?

Just because whites believe that, we don't necessarily have to accept it.

Irish Americans remain Irish Americans even after three generations in the United States.

Newspapers have chosen to use the lower-case "b" when writing the word "black". If Black is a color, then the newspapers are right to use the lower-case "b" in describing anyone's skin who actually has "black" skin. Have you seen any recently who had literally BLACK skin.

Apparently, newspapers have decided that "black" is an adjective that refers to skin color, but it is not necessary to use this adjective literally. Anyone who is perceived to or acknowledges having one drop of African blood can be referred to simply as "black".

My skin is not black; it is brown. However, I am a member of the "Black People" which is a group that shares African heritage (as well as many others) and which is outstandingly cohesive when it comes to our voting behavior.

nachalooman said...

Hi Val! Wow, Francis L Holland has said a mouthful, and very coherently I might add. I tend to agree with him generally.

I feel that we as black people in America do ourselves a disservice to identify ourselves based on what our oppressors have done to some of us, as FLH points out. It's very limited and speaks to our lack of knowledge about our entire experience in America.

It doesn't seem to make real sense that blacks who come from Africa now, and have children born here, the children then aren't African and American because their parents didn't go through the degradation of slavery.
This did happen to many of us, but I believe it should NOT be what defines us as people.
When Asians come here and have children born here, they expect those children to be Americans, yet they still are Asian as well.

I disagree that we should define ourselves by our enslavement. We were Africans before we were kidnapped and we had cultures, even though we may not know what they are. But with DNA testing now available, we can find out with a high probability, where we come from.
So Obama is definitely African American, IMHO.
It depends on how one takes the descriptor. Positive or negative. I take it as a positive.

Ensayn1 said...

Val, I believe president Obama is truly African American. As pointed out before, his father is African, who probably suffered under colonization which was incredibly horrible and equally terrible as enslavement and Jim Crow.
However, we that may have suffered under slavery, the many wars conducted against us right here in the Americas including the surrounding islands (not taught in school) and Jim Crow are more aptly American American. We were not all brought here on a slave ship from Africa. DNA testing does not conclude that we all have origins in Africa. As Henry Louis Gates found out his roots were in Ireland. He begged and begged until the DNA scientists located some people in East Africa and West Africa he could be remotely related. His European DNA should NOT be misconstrued as having "white" DNA, just European.
For the most part, we melanin rich people that suffered during the European wars against us in the Americas, enslavement and Jim Crow are by far and wide native and indigenous to the Americas.

Peace,

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Soldier Of Love

I've lost the use of my heart
But I'm still alive
Still looking for the life
The endless pool on the other side
It's a wild wild west
I'm doing my best

I'm at the borderline of my faith,
I'm at the hinterland of my devotion
In the frontline of this battle of mine
But I'm still alive

I'm a soldier of love.
Every day and night
I'm soldier of love
All the days of my life

I've been torn up inside (oh!)
I've been left behind (oh!)
So I ride
I have the will to survive

In the wild wild west,
Trying my hardest
Doing my best
To stay alive

I am love's soldier!

I wait for the sound
(oooh oohhh)

I know that love will come (that love will come)
Turn it all around

I'm a soldier of love (soldier of love)
Every day and night
I'm a soldier of love
All the days of my life

I am lost
But I don't doubt (oh!)
So I ride
I have the will to survive

In the wild wild west,
Trying my hardest
Doing my best
To stay alive

I am love's soldier!

I wait for the sound

I know that love will come
I know that love will come
Turn it all around

I'm a soldier of love
I'm a soldier

Still waiting for love to come
Turn it all around
(4x)

I'm a soldier of love
I'm a soldier

Still waiting for love to come
Turn it all around
(3x)

Still waiting for love to come

Miss Keri Baby!

Tracee!

Solange!

Solange!
The only interesting Knowles

un·for·get·ta·ble: Earning a permanent place in the memory; memorable: an unforgettable experience.

Alicia says...

Rest in Peace Mitrice

Rest in Peace Mitrice
Mitrice Richardson