From Black To White Overnight

Inevitably, Sen. Barack Obama’s ascension as the Democratic nominee for president brought up the not-so-small issue of his “whiteness.”

Up until now, Obama has been characterized for the most part as black or African-American in the mainstream media.

Not mixed, not white, but black or African-American.

Now that he’s the nominee, overnight news reports have taken to labeling him as the first “mixed race” presidential nominee.

In Los Angeles, John Kobylt and Ken Chiampou, known professionally as John and Ken (a pair of shock jocks), made a point to remind their conservative listeners that Obama’s momma is white and that nobody ever refers to “that half.”

I’m sorry, but did John and Ken forget about the “one-drop rule?”

You know, that rule that holds that a person with any trace of African ancestry, however small or invisible, must be considered black, unless the person has an alternative non-white ancestry that he or she can claim, such as Native American, Asian, Arab or Australian aboriginal.

This rule traces back to slavery and Reconstruction. To stop slaves who had been fathered by white slave owners and overseers from claiming freedom, property rights or possible inheritance, several Southern states passed laws that in effect defined a black person as anyone with any “discernible amount of colored or African blood.”

Even though a lot has happened since then, for the most part, the media refers to anyone with “one-drop” as black…except of course for actress Jennifer Beals.

Remember Beals’ famous quote on how she got into Yale University? “I thought I would never get in. I thought they only took geniuses. But I was lucky, because I’m a minority. I’m not black, and I’m not white, so I could mark ‘other’ on my application, and I guess it’s hard for them to fill that quota.” Beals, whose father was black, seldom identifies with the black community despite being nominated for an NAACP Image Award.

Even actress Halle Berry, whose mother is also white, is consistently labeled as black.

So, why now, after Obama secures the nomination, did he go from an ‘inadequate black male’ to mixed race overnight?

If he’s been black all this time, don’t come trying to claim him now that he’s “done good” by clinching the nomination.

Clinton supporter Harriet Christian didn’t make mention of “that half” in her racist tirade at the DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee meeting that included labeling Obama as an “…inadequate black male,” and I am sure when Clinton supporter Geraldine Ferraro said “If Obama was a white man, he would not be in this position,” she didn’t take into consideration “that half” of Obama.

It’s almost as if Obama has passed some sort of intelligence test.

If he was inadequate, a product of affirmative action, black, African-American, and a nigger before June 3rd, that certainly didn’t change when he hit 2,118 delegates.

And, for the record, Obama has never turned his back on “that half” of his roots, having acknowledged his mixed ancestry on several occasions. But everyone was fine labeling him as a black man, including both black America and white America.

So how do Clinton supporters with a “superiority complex” deal with the bitter taste of defeat?

They take a spoonful of sugar to help the medicine go down.

“He’s not really black, he’s ‘half white.’


Jasmyne Cannick is a critic and commentator based in Los Angeles who writes about pop culture, race, class, sexuality, and politics as it relates to the African-American community. A regular contributor to NPR’s ‘News and Notes,’ she was chosen as one Essence Magazine’s 25 Women Shaping the World. She can be reached at www.jasmynecannick.com or www.myspace.com/jasmynecannick.

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