Black White Man

My mother is black, and my father is white. I walk among you.

Archive for July, 2012

The Curious Case of Tiger Woods: is he Black or Asian?

Yesterday I blogged about a conversation I had with some of my drinking buddies about whether or not Obama is really our first Black president. As annoying as most of that conversation was, there were a few novel and interesting bits. At one point someone brought up the case of Tiger Woods: that he is considered a “Black golfer”, but that he self identifies as Asian.

If you’ve read that post, or much of my blog at all, you might guess at my response. I lean toward the idea that he “all of the above”. So, I would tend to answer the question of whether he’s Black, White or Asian with, “yes”. But, I also tend to very much respect the idea that people who fall at the edges of our system of racial categories have some power to decide for themselves. It has a lot to do with our relationships to our parents, and our home countries, which is an intensely personal thing. One of the main reasons I identify so strongly as being Black is the close and good relationship that I have to my mother and her extended family. On some level, when people tell me I’m not Black, it says to me that she and hers are somehow not my kin. For all I know, Tiger had a similarly close relationship to his mother. In any case, it may not be true that he identifies more strongly as Asian than he does as Black or White — I have also often heard that he self-describes as “Caublinasian”. But, regardless, I feel like it’s his prerogative, since our classification system clearly has a hard time describing him.

This Again: “Obama isn’t really Black”

Out drinking with a bunch of friends about a week ago, and an old conversation reared its ugly head. I thought I had heard the last of this. It came up that my mom is Black, and one of the guys out drinking with me started up on this thing about how everyone calls Obama the first Black president, but he’s not “really Black”, is he?

It comes from this idea that race is a sum-to-100% proposition. If you have a mom who is Black and a dad who is White, you’re “half-Black”. If you have a grandparent who is Black, you’re “a quarter Black”, and so forth. The reality is both more simple and more complicated than that. Our relationship to our parents is probably the deepest relationship we have. I’d say that in most cases, we feel like 100% kin to both of our parents. I don’t feel like my mother’s side of the family is half of who I am, and my father’s side is half of who I am. I feel totally, 100%, like a product each of my mother’s and my father’s background. I think that we understand this more intuitively when the weirdness of the American relationship to African Americans is avoided. I know many people with one Jewish, Irish, or immigrant parent, for example, who consider themselves to be completely that. And I don’t feel like (I may be wrong) that they get a lot of guff for that. But, in this country we have a long and deep history of dividing African-Americans in various ways: mulattoes, quadroons and octoroons; light-skinned and dark-skinned; house and field; and so forth. This is something imposed on our community from outside, as well as something we do to ourselves. And the ridiculousness of it, is that all African Americans are mixed. In addition to a mix of African and European descent, the majority of African Americans also have Native American ancestry. We’re much more like the Hispanics of the U.S. (particularly when compared to Black Hispanics).

Given all of this context, I don’t think it’s hard at all to say that Obama is African American. He owns the heritage of his father, just as much as he owns his mother’s heritage. And, that’s not even getting into the societal perception — he is, in many ways, Black because he looks Black.