The other day, I had a spirited online argument with a stranger, who adamantly insisted that President Obama is mixed, not African-American.
President Obama is clearly biracial, the fruit of the union between a White mom from Kansas, and African father from Kenya. However, President Obama is more likely to define himself as African-American than biracial. In fact, President Obama has identified himself as African-American on numerous occasions, notably, when he filled out his census form, shortly after taking office.
Filling out his census form, President Obama, the most famous mixed-race person at the moment, could have made the same choice as 9 million Americans, 2.9 percent of the population, who identify themselves as being more than one race. Instead, President Obama checked off: Black
Every man has a right to decide his own destiny. And this writer does not know the factors that influence the racial identity of a biracial person. Still, it is quite fascinating to see a biracial person identify exclusively with one race, instead of the other.
Take the case of Tiger Woods. His African ancestry is not central to his racial identity, at least, publicly. Tiger Woods once bristled at the notion that he is black. Not denying his African lineage, Tiger Woods protested, quite reasonably, that his mother’s race should equally count to define him. Consequently, Mr. Woods defines himself as multi-racial. Every man has the right to decide his own destiny.
Many people have been known to explicitly and vehemently deny that they are black. All it takes is a small branch off in the family tree. This is akin to one-drop rule, except that, in this case, the rule is practiced in reverse.
One-drop rule defined anyone as black who has any kind of black ancestry. In contrast, there are instances of people who look totally African, but deny that they are black, because of a slight hint of racial mix in their lineage. This writer encountered such a case in Jamaica. A negro-looking young man affirmed that he was Indian, solely on the basis of his paternal grandmother being half-black and half-Indian.
Take the case of Bob Marley. His father was Caucasian, and his mom is black. Bob Marley grew up in a country where people have been known to deny that they are black. In his early, struggling years, Bob Marley could have chosen to be ”¹…”brown’, and enjoyed the privilege of being ”¹…”fair skinned’, something similar to ”¹…”white privilege.’ Instead, he chose to be black. Bob Marley did not just identify himself as black, he became fiercely Afro centric; he embraced the Rastafari faith, a movement that is comprehensively immersed in African identity, even African deity – Jah Rastafari.
Bob Marley’s African identity consumed him. He sang:
Every time I hear the crack of the whip
My blood runs cold
I remember on the slave ship
How they brutalized my very soul
– Slave Driver
Bob Marley, the son of a white man, became a black advocate. It was Bob Marley who sang:
Every man gotta right to decide his own destiny
And in his own judgment there is no partiality
I hope that my online stranger will relent, and give President Obama the identity he has decided for himself.