Is He or Isn’t He?

Is He or Isn’t He? “He ‘s not black enough.” “Is he really black?” “He identifies too much with white people.” “His Father was black but his Mother was white.” “Black people can’t relate to him.” “White people have to get use to him?” “Why does he call himself black anyway?” “He’s not too black so white people will vote for him.” “What does he know about the hood?” “He’s bi-racial.” “He doesn’t understand the black experience.” The above are snippets of pre and post election “Is he or Is he not” conversations about the degree and quality of President Obama’s blackness. I had these conversations with family members, friends and people I will never see again. I heard these conversations on CTA buses and trains, in grocery stores, department stores and drug stores. The talkers’ skin tone ranged from dark brown to light brown and from light white to dark white. Some had voted more times than they had fingers. Some would cast their first vote. Others could only voice vote. They covered every inch of the Bell Shape Curve and every rung on the socioeconomics ladder.

I feel safe in saying the verbal wrestling matches I was involved in did not include white supremacist or the black equivalent, James David Manning followers or people from states that want to secede. These were plain old ordinary people who were wondering and worrying and wishing they knew the answer. I don’t know whether the media is this issue’s chicken or its egg but I, an unsophisticated and impatient on-line researcher, found eight references dating back to 2007 that is evidence of its involvement. 1. Answerbag. January 2009: “Did you think the 2008 election was about having a black president?” 2.BBC News. July 2007: “A black Man in the White House.” 3. Chicago Sun-Times. January 2007: “…biracial graduate of Harvard Law School, was an overeducated “elitist” who wouldn’t play well in the hood.” 4. Los Angeles Time, February 2007: “Redefining Black” 5. SFGate.com. July 2007: “Is White America Ready for a Black President?” 6. Newsweek Magazine. July 2007: “How Barack Obama is shaking up old assumptions about what it means to be black and white in America.” 7. CBS Evening New. Nov. 2007: “Obama’s racial identify still an issue.” 8. Chicago Defender. April 2009: “Fear of a Black President.”

While I believe news entities and individuals who initiate and/or work at keeping the “Not too black, not black enough” discussions alive are part of the problem, the fact that there is a need to have such discussions speaks volumes. It also points to why politically lynching Reid as we pretend like none of us have thought about this let alone talked about it is ridiculous and symptomatic. It is ridiculous because it is true that some Americans, white ones and black one and other color ones are not comfortable with and trusting of darker skin black people. It is symptomatic because the denial that has, for centuries, surrounded racism and its residuals are the real troublemaker. The symphony of finger pointing, head shaking and tongue wagging is a way of drowning out the truth in Reid’s words. If he’s forced out of his job, others will learn not to pick at the threads of racism in America’s draperies; except one day, someone else who is thought to be too something or not enough of something will cause a “Reid” to speak out and… In the meantime, leave Harry Reid alone. Even if he were a racist, his statement is not.

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