Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Telling White From Black

There's an interesting thread going on over on The Cincinnati Beacon called "Obama is not black" where our good buddy The Dean of Cincinnati seems to be saying that its somewhat incorrect to refer to Barack Obama as "Black" as he has one parent who would ordinarily be considered "Black" - in fact, African, another who would be considered "White". In the comment stream, some of which have been deleted at this point, we discover possibly the true motivation of this post, as, if I understand him correctly, The Dean is the father of a "multi-racial" child who he believes should not be compelled to pick one race over the other. In fact, it sounds like he is saying that to force his child to call himself "Black" completely negates The Dean's existence.

It's a terribly complicated subject.

Now, when I was growing up in the Northside neighborhood of Cincinnati, the races were considered so separate they were almost like genders. "White" was the "opposite" of "Black". Occasionally someone would come on the scene who was "bi-racial" or "mixed", and back then that's pretty much how we identified individuals of visually mixed ancestry.

Something seemed to start shifting in the '80's, however. Back in slavery times there seemed to be a notion that "one drop of Black blood" made a person Black and in a pejorative sense. Somewhere in the last 20 or so years, however, having some distant ancestor of an ethnicity other than "White" became a kind of badge of honor - something to be proud of.

There was a movie, however, called Brewster's Millions where it first hit me though how much the notions we have of "Black" and "White" can blend. There was an actress in that movie named Lonette McKee who I swear to GOD pretty much all the way through the movie I thought was White until the way she said ONE line - "That's more than alot of hard working people make in a year ..." - got me to thinking, "Oh wow ... she's Black." I of course later did some research, and, yes, she considers herself Black.

From a "genetic" standpoint of course it's quite complicated. Henry Louis Gates, Jr., head of African-American studies at Harvard University has BOTH sex-linked genes from northern Europe. His nuclear DNA tests as 50% European and 50% sub-Saharan African.

Oprah Winfrey tests as having 1/8 Native American nuclear DNA.

Both of these individuals, in this culture, would unabiguously be considered "Black".

The fact of the matter is that almost everyone who would be considered "White" or "Black" in early 21st century North America would find genetic markers that would constitute an admixture of 16th century northwestern European, sub-Saharan African, and indigenous North American.

It ultimately shouldn't matter all that much. Perhaps someone might even want to consider it some sort of element of pride to be a Black man packing R1b genes ...


At February 12, 2008 at 12:32 PM, Blogger The Dean of Cincinnati said...

I didn't know comments got deleted. Sorry!


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