When I first read Yoshinori Nakai’s (Deputy Chief Editorial Writer, Mainichi Shimbun) article answering the question: “Is U.S. President-elect Barack Obama really black?” I thought: “Okay, this is really a dumb-ass question!” but then it dawned on me that some in America had/have/may have issues with Obama and his race:
- “Is he Black enough?”
- “He’s not Black, he’s mixed/biracial.”
- Racial identity equation: white + black = black
- “He’s half-white/mixed/biracial/other, so Black people should stop trying to claim him!” I call this the Tiger Woods Syndrome.
- The Stanley Crouch comment in a New York Daily News column entitled “What Obama Isn’t: Black Like Me.”
- “Black, in our political and social vocabulary, means those descended from West African slaves,”wrote Debra Dickerson on the liberal website Salon.
- As written in Time: “Obama, for his part, settled this debate some time ago. “If I’m outside your building trying to catch a cab,” he told Charlie Rose, “they’re not saying, ‘Oh, there’s a mixed race guy.'”
When I read or hear comments like those above, I think of Chris Rock and his comment about no white person wanting to trade places with him, even though he (Chris Rock) is rich! Those that understand Chris Rock’s statement get it and those that do not are similar to Nakai and his attempt to answer questions on Obama and race in America, they just don’t get it! But then again, at least he tried! Zurui
The Mainichi Article begins below:
The Mainichi answers common questions readers may have in connection with U.S. President-elect Barack Obama and his race.
Q: Is U.S. President-elect Barack Obama really black? His father is black, but his mother is white. Why do people call him the “first black U.S. President”?
A: Obama, whose black father was an international student from Kenya and whose white mother was from Kansas, can be regarded as black. The first reason is because Obama considers himself a black, as stated in his autobiography published in 1995. In the book, a young Obama, obsessed with his identity, visits his father’s family in Kenya and decides to live his life as a black person.
Zurui: Nakai needs to understand that having a father from Kenya, Africa could mean that Obama is a Kenyan/African depending on where he was born and on the nationality of his father. His caucasian mother from America (why he used Kansas escapes me since the average Japanese reader may not know where Kansas is located) could have married a man from India that happened to be the same “color” as Obama’s Kenyan father. Would Obama then be considered Black, Indian-American or Asian-American?
Q: Is there any other reason?
A: The second reason is because American society sees Obama as black. Most people wouldn’t be able to tell that his mother is white since his skin is black. Obama reportedly was reluctant to talk about his mother’s race since his childhood because he didn’t want other people to think he was adjusting to white society. He must have had mixed feelings. Obama, who was raised by his white mother and grandparents, didn’t have any hatred against white society. Many white people might have voted for him without considering his race.
Zurui: I give the Mainichi credit for their attempt to answer their readers questions but this article sort of misses the mark. I think that Obama said it best: “I identify as African-American — that’s how I’m treated and that’s how I’m viewed. I’m proud of it.” In other words, the world gave Obama no choice but to be black, and he was happy to oblige.
Obama chose the race which was most comfortable to him. He saw/experienced “social separation” at a young age. If he ran around saying he was white, his classmates would have fell out of their chairs laughing. Blacks in America have had to deal with and adjust to social separation and white society in America from day one. How could Obama not adjust to white society when he was raised by a white American mother and grandmother? He had to adjust in order to survive socially and culturally. Obama found refuge in blackness!
By the way, the English translation of the Mainichi article did not include the part about “Black” typically meaning being a descendant of slaves, like Obama’s wife Michelle.
Q: Do many American people have parents of different races?
A: In a U.S. census in 2000, there was a question asking which race they think they belong to, with choices of five different categories — white, black, American Indian, Asian, and native Hawaiian — as well as an option for “other races.” Among 6.82 million people who answered they are from at least two races, 2.4 percent of the total respondents, some 780,000, chose the combination of “white and black.” By comparison, one out of 30 babies born in Japan in 2006 was born to a foreign parent.
Zurui: According to the 2006 US Census, 12.8% of Americans were Black. Persons reporting two or more races and those of Hispanic origin can also be “seen” as Black. The Mainichi missed the other 19 million people, or 6 percent of the population, that identify themselves as “some other race” than the five available choices (white, Black, Asian, American Indian/Alaska native, Hawaiian and Pacific Islanders).
Taking the “one-drop rule” into account (one drop of black blood meant that person, and his or her descendants, could never be a full citizen in America during the days of slavery), the unknown numbers of white Americans that have Blacks “hidden” in their family trees technically means that the number of Black and biracial Americans would increase.
Of course, at the end of the day, the multiracial, multiethnic, or multicultural people in the US are all Americans. The same cannot be said for the “mixed-race” people in Japan. Being accepted as Japanese (legally and by other Japanese) can be a frustrating thing. Multiracial or biracial children of Japanese and African-Americans (for example) that are born in and reside in Japan will typically be seen as an outsider, half, double or not “pure”(I hate the use of this word when talking about race) Japanese.
I hope that the Mainichi uses this article and the writer’s attempt to answer the question on Obama’s race, to begin discussion on the much bigger issue on what to “call” and how to accept multiracial children born in Japan to a Japanese and non-Japanese couple.
Q: What about racial barriers?
A: The term “multiracial” describes people whose ancestries come from different races. In this way, people identify where they belong themselves, without being influenced by prejudice in society and by the state. There have been more celebrities who are multiracial, including golfer Tiger Woods. The more people feel proud of their multiracial roots, the more they will choose their race as multinational in the next census in 2010. (Answers by Yoshinori Nakai, Deputy Chief Editorial Writer, Mainichi Shimbun)
Zurui: “Where they belong? The Mainichi needs to understand that the multicultural citizens in America are part of the United States of America, a land of immigrants and Native Americans. Americans may complain about their Country, their elected leaders, their “other” but at the end of the day the majority do not jump ship and suddenly belong to another country.
Someone choosing “multinational” race on a census is bogus. Multinational means “of or relating to more than two nationalities.” The citizens in America need to have allegiance to America. It is fine to have pride in one’s multiracial background but there is no need to split loyalty to their Nation. The US Government specifically decided not to add a “multiracial” category, deeming it not a race in and of itself. I wonder what solution the Mainichi has for almost every American that would be able to check the multinational box on a census form. How will America go about rewriting the myriad of laws that are in force. According to the U.S. Department of State website, “the U.S. Government recognizes that dual nationality exists but does not encourage it as a matter of policy because of the problems it may cause. Claims of other countries on dual national U.S. citizens may conflict with U.S. law, and dual nationality may limit U.S. Government efforts to assist citizens abroad.”
Multicultural/multiracial people are of course proud and they assimilate (choose) according to how “they” and society deems, socially and culturally. These multiracial (minorities) have had to assimilate into the dominant culture, not vice versa. America’s current mixed pot –no longer a melting pot since the current dominate group will not blend into America’s new society but become one of many– will stir change for many in the United States of America.
In America, many white and mixed-race people now view President-elect Obama as something other than Black. This can be a convenient escape for some, justification for others on why Obama won the election, and a dose of reality for many in America that conveniently forget the truth of what the “one-drop rule” did to a proud group of people from a seedbed civilization that were once considered property instead of human.
As Obama continues to bring the matter of race to forefront, I like the Doonesbury comic strip that ran the day after the election showing several soldiers celebrating:
“He’s half-white, you know,” says a white soldier.
“You must be so proud,” responds another.
In America’s past, being Black was once deemed being worthless! With the numerous Black Tokyo articles on Blacks in Japan and their experiences, the Mainichi could have conducted better research to provide better answers on Obama and the issue of race in America. Obama represents the multicultural UNITED States of America.
Multicultural pride is abundant in America but until the Government of Japan accepts those with multicultural roots in Japan, the Mainichi should write more articles on that issue if they really want to report some news and do some good!
Note: A track back is provided to Mainichi. I will submit my comment to the newspaper via the internet.