Authenticity: Why Obama’s not Half-Black

In a recent article for the National Review, senior editor Jonah Goldberg discussed the popularity of Ben Carson amongst the GOP (at least based on recent polls). He notes that

“… most analysis of Carson’s popularity from pundits focuses on his likable personality and his sincere Christian faith. But it’s intriguingly rare to hear people talk about the fact that he’s black. One could argue that he’s even more authentically African-American than Barack Obama.”

Goldberg makes this statement and then goes on to make a number of claims as to why President Obama is not “authentically African-American” enough, at least when compared to Carson.

“…Obama’s mother was white and he was raised in part by his white grandparents. In his autobiography, Obama writes at length about how he grew up outside the traditional African-American experience — in Hawaii and Indonesia — and how he consciously chose to adopt a black identity when he was in college.”

This isn’t a new sentiment. Many people of many different races have often brought up Obama’s racial heritage in a way to discredit his blackness. In fact, a 2014 article by the Washington Post shows most of America doesn’t consider the president as black, but as “mixed-race”. The problem with this line of thinking stems from how we conceptualize multi-racial identities in this country- one with a history of hypodescent ideologies, like the infamous one-drop rule. The problem with this line of thinking is that all Obama needs to be “authentically” black is to be black, and that he most definitely is.

I myself identify as biracial. I have the same racial heritage as my black President. And just like my black President, I struggled thinking of how I wanted to identify. Coming into college, my identity wasn’t something that was of a massive importance to me. However, as I started to learn more about education (my major) and social justice (my passion) I started to understand the intricacies and nuances of the concept of identity- and how monotonously we view it in our society. From classes on multiculturalism and identity to TED Talks I’ve seen like Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Danger of a Single Story I learned that we all hold multiple identities that make up who we are at any given time. More importantly, I learned that it is not any of those singular identities that define us, but how they come together in each of us, uniquely.

Needless to say, I also had to decide which identities to take on once identifying as something became more important to me. But what? Black? White? Biracial? Blackness wasn’t something I often got associated with because of my educational attainment and whiteness wasn’t something that came to mind when you got a good look at me. So what was I to chose?

One of the pinnacles of me determining my own identity was during my university’s “Semester on Race”. It was a theme semester and we had a guest exhibit on campus- The Race Card Project. In one of the 6-word cards I read a parent write “My son’s not half, he’s both”. That statement struck me in a profound way in thinking about my own identity and biracial identities in general. Could I be both? I knew I could be black- I’d learned to see blackness in a diverse way. And I knew I could be white and black- I’d been checking two boxes my whole life. But can I be just white? Is that allowed for someone of my skin tone? I decided that my identity wasn’t up to anyone else- the only permission I needed was my own. It was after this that I decided that- racially- I would identify as black. And biracial. And white. What I do not identify as- however- is half.

Half seems intuitive. There were two different races that were put together in one person, so that person is half-and-half. However, scientists determined a while ago that race is not quantifiable- so what do you really mean when you say half-black? It’s not about how much blackness a person has, but about how included they are in blackness. Half-black is “not all the way black” it’s “not as bad as regular black” it’s “not black enough”. Half-black wouldn’t save me if a racially biased police officer stopped me and it also doesn’t mean I can’t embrace black culture. I’m not half-black. I am black. And white. And biracial.

So while Obama may only identify as one identity- which many biracial people of many mixes do– that is something that is entirely up to him. He doesn’t need something to make him more authentic. Blackness is not defined by struggle. If it is defined by anything it is by strength, and that is something this President has demonstrated in ways unseen before he earned the office. Obama is not half-black. He is black. Authentically, unapologetically, black.

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