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Why is Barack ‘black’?

Tae Andrews | Monday, February 11, 2008

Why is Barack Obama “black?”

Just look at him, you might say. Obviously, he’s black.

Who am I, you ask, to put forth such an impertinent question? Well, Obama and I actually have quite a bit in common. We both sport healthy year-round tans. I could also fairly describe myself as “a skinny kid with a funny name.” We also both have white mothers.

We have our differences as well. He’s running for president, I’m not (although the way this year’s primary elections have gone, I’m thinking about running as soon as I turn 35); he spent his college years snorting copious amounts of blow, I have not (although I enjoyed Johnny Depp’s movie by the same name, so maybe this should be a similarity) and he has had a shirtless photograph of himself published in People magazine, I have not (…yet, and this is a good thing, because Barack is way more jacked than I am).

The media has latched onto Barack Obama’s presidential campaign as the potential “first black president.” It makes for a great story – the skinny kid with the funny name, coming from a single parent household to rise above race and racism to take America’s greatest office. In fact, it more than makes for a great story – it writes itself. However, the reality of the situation is that the media’s black-and-white portrayal of the candidate doesn’t paint the entire picture.

Barack Obama, like myself and many other people in this country, is a multi-racial person. Obama spent much of his early life living in Hawaii before attending Columbia University and Harvard law school. He’s not exactly another brother from the street.

While I understand that the story of Barack’s rise to imminent superstardom makes for a great story, the fact is, he has as much a claim to becoming our nation’s 43rd white president as her first black president.

Regardless of your personal opinions on his politics, there can be no denying that Barack Obama is a political superstar and a media phenomenon. Everywhere he goes, people turn out to hear him speak in record numbers. He has a smile made for camera flashbulbs and a voice made for the microphone. Ever since delivering the keynote speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, Barack has burst onto the scene, to the point where four years later he is in deadlocked contention for the Democratic presidential nomination. Obama is a brilliant orator who has inspired and moved a large part of the nation with his infectious message of bringing change to Washington.

My point is not to comment on Barack’s politics one way or another, but rather to comment on how the national media have made this presidential race about race.

By characterizing Barack as America’s first black president, the media have set up a convenient and simple showdown in the Democratic primary between Obama and Hillary Clinton. Man vs. woman. Black vs. white.

There’s just one problem. It’s not as simple as that.