The Label Game

Barack Obama. Ignoring the politics and whether he deserves to be President or not, as frankly I haven’t looked into his politics enough yet, but here’s the question. If elected will he be the first black President? (Well some people consider Bill Clinton to be the first black President, but that’s a different discussion) The answer of course depends on if you consider him black. Without a doubt it would be accurate to label him (if you must) as African-American since his father is indeed from Africa and his mother is white American. But then again, a white friend of mine from South Africa who is now American is also African-American. But nevertheless we can certainly say Obama would make history as the first to be such a mixture. Which technically means he would be the nation’s first “bi-racial” or mixed President. So win or lose it is refreshing to see someone representing the “new” America being at that level. By the way, I have not read or heard how Obama labels himself. But I am all for mixed people having the right to self-identify.

I bring up Obama mainly because he is so very much an example of the problem of labeling. Obama, who is most often referred to as black or African-American is interestingly culturally very different from most blacks, at least in how he was raised. He was largely raised by his white grandparents in Hawaii and in an Eastern Country. So his cultural experiences growing up were not what you would call “black.” I love that he brings all of those experiences to the table in terms of his ethnic and cultural view of the world and his make-up. And I love that he will force the whole labelling thing to the forefront.

Of course we have had other prominent mixed people in the spotlight – Halle Berry, Derek Jeter, Mariah Carey, Rosario Dawson, Tiger Woods, Lenny Kravitz, Alicia Keyes, Jessica Alba, Amerie, Rae Dawn Chong, Corbin Bleu, Christina Aguilera, Thandie Newton, Michael Jackson (wait a minute, that’s not right), and the list goes on and on. But most of those are entertainers and athletes. A President is something different. But in all those cases ultimately these people, whether they identify themselves as black or white or mixed or Hispanic or whatever, they challenge our labels. It is the labels themselves that we need to challenge. Again, is it OK to call a white person from Africa, African-American? What about a black person originally from England? What do you label a kid whose parents are Mexican-American and White? Salvadoran and black? For that matter what in the world does it mean to be “white” considering the oh so many ethnic differences amongst Anglo-Americans. It is all so confusing and yet there are so many who would prefer to make it come down to just three “races”. Well it is not that simple. And yet it can be very simple if we would just accept that what separates us is simply a matter of nothing more than culture and ethnic differences developed over many many years. But those differences are not rooted in stone and there is no racial line to cross. So I say do your thing Barack and whether I vote for him or not, I am oh so glad he is in the forefront of the media these days.

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