By William Reed
“If you had a choice of color, which one would you choose my brother?” –Curtis Mayfield – 1969
In the official U.S. 2010 head count, President Barack Obama provided one answer to the question about his ethnic background: African American. Since the option was introduced in 2000, the census figures indicate that the country has 5.2 million multiracial individuals. Americans who check more than one box for race now make up 5 percent of the minority population. It’s of note that Obama didn’t check multiple boxes that were available on the form, or choose the option that allowed him to elaborate on his racial heritage. He simply ticked the box that said “Black, African American, or Negro.”
Though he checked the census “Black” box, is Obama “Black” like you and me? To date, Obama has paid no attention to Blacks and their economic challenges. African-American voters are rooted in the belief that Obama’s platform and persona represent “real Black Americans.” They both may have run the streets of Chicago; however, it’s doubtful Obama knows about the late Curtis Mayfield and what he represented. An American singer, songwriter, and record producer best known for his anthem-like music, Mayfield recorded and produced “message music” during the 1960s and 1970s. “Choice of Colors,” hit No. 1 on Billboard‘s R&B chart and reached No. 21 on the Billboard Hot 100. Neither did Obama grow up under the influence of a weekly Jet and or Ebony magazine adorning the family living room coffee table. As opaque as Obama is to Blacks, fellow Chicago businessman, the late John H. Johnson made his fortune catering to us.
Obama has yet to show up in the East Room in a dashiki, but, his being “Black” and being “there” has spawned “Obamania” among African Americans. Black voters love the fact that Obama checked the “Black” box, even though his mother is a White woman from Kansas. His father is a Black Kenyan. Obama’s biracial identity helped him build a sizable middle-class American following; it’s also opened up questions as to his authenticity as a Black man. Obama and the Biracial Factor, edited by Andrew J. Jolivette, is a book that explores the role of Obama’s mixed-race identity in his path to the presidency. It offers a broad and penetrating view of the importance of race in the ongoing development of American politics. It demonstrates how mixed-race identity reinforces rather than challenges White supremacy within popular discourse.
The “not-Black-enough” question started when then-senator and presidential candidate Obama refused to attend Tavis Smiley’s State of Black America forum. Smiley suggested that was “the necessary Black vetting space” Black America required. Now, in his second term, voices of dissension about the Obama administration grow louder. But, the masses of African Americans are beguiled that Obama identifies as “Black.” Loyalists argue that “he married Black,” worked among poor people on Chicago’s South Side, and still lives there, and that given the escape valve of biracialism he chooses to identify as Black because of the beauty he sees in his darker self.
Each time he’s run for president, Blacks have given Obama their loyalty and votes, lock, stock, and barrel, but idealistically accept Obama’s lack of attention to Black communities and their economic plight. This mindset has been regressive for Blacks as they foolishly ignore the continuance of traditional discrimination practices and have willingly integrated themselves into America’s social and political mainstream.
Too many African Americans are willing to ignore Obama’s opaqueness and: Black unemployment remains double that of Whites; a record high median income gap between White and Black households and a foreclosure rate among African Americans twice that of Whites. One in 15 Black men is incarcerated; they comprise 38 percent of state and federal prison inmates. Blacks refuse to recognize America as two distinct “nations” – one White, one Black – and acknowledge the needs of our race and people and move collectively to shape political agendas and platforms toward our advantage.
William Reed is head of the Business Exchange Network and available for speaking/seminar projects through the Bailey Group.org.