Can Obama Imitate Life?

Thursday, February 15, 2007

I'm someone else. I'm white... white... WHITE!

-- Imitation of Life (1959)

Some years ago I worked with a woman, of Jamaican descent, who could have been fairly described as a light-skinned black woman. She confided in me, one day, about the problem she was having with her family over her Haitian boyfriend. Her family was furious that she was dating a "black" man. This was my first acquaintance with the caste system of the West Indies. She explained to me that because her family had a good bit of "white" blood and was lighter skinned, they considered themselves of a higher social class.

"When I look in the mirror," she told me, " I see a black woman." Thus did she dismiss her family pressure, and continue her relationship with her dark-skinned Haitian boyfriend. And good on her.

In the midst of this insane debate over whether Obama is black enough, or white enough, to pass as human enough, he seems to have reached a similar conclusion.

I’m not sure I decided it. Uh, I think, uh, you know, if you — if you look African-American in this society, you’re treated as an African-American, uh, and, uh, when you’re a child in particular, uh, that is how you begin to identify yourself.

To which Rush Limbaugh brings the following inisight:

So are we to conclude here that he didn’t define himself as black, that the way he looks does? (Sigh.) Okay. We’ve got Obama’s wife in here. We’ve got John Howard from Australia coming up, but, “I’m not sure I decided it”? Well, if you didn’t decide it, then how did it happen?

Well, when you look like that, that’s what you are.

Well, renounce it, then! If it’s not something you want to be, if you didn’t decide it, renounce it, become white!

This of course follows Glenn Beck's bizarre pronouncement that he's "colorless." The entire transcript from his radio show is worth reading and can found here, but here are the salient bits:

Yeah, I -- you know, I was driving in today, and I was seeing -- because I saw this piece with him on 60 Minutes -- and I thought to myself, he is -- he's very white in many ways. . . .

And I thought to myself: Gee, can I even say that? Can I even say that without somebody else starting a campaign saying, "What does he mean, 'He's very white?' " He is. He's very white. . . .

When he says -- yes. When he said, you don't notice his color, as a white guy -- and I don't know if African-Americans feel the same way -- but for whites, I think he's colorless. You don't notice that he is black. So he might as well be white, you know what I mean? . . . .

OK, until he starts talking about race issues and he says things, like on this 60 Minutes piece last night, he said, "When I hail a cab." And I thought, "What?" And then all of a sudden, I noticed his color. . . .

So when I say -- I mean, he's colorless -- or, for whites, he might as well be white, he's white. And yet, I guarantee you, there will be blogs today that will have me being a racist because I say that. . . .

Gee! Ya think?!

I suppose it's possible that this isn't just a preemptive shot, aimed at distracting us from his evident racism; that in fact Mr. Beck doesn't see his ruminations on whiteness as racist at all.

What Limbaugh and Beck seem too obtuse to recognize is that the implicit message of these rants is that it is obviously preferable to be white. That Obama should take these opportunities to trade up; to pass.

I, for one, will be glad when the media moves on to more important issues, like his wardrobe.