There was a time when people fiercely fought not to be black. A time when a drop of black blood made you an outcast in society, valued slightly above chattel. Even amongst black people, there was a social hierarchy indicative of how much black blood was left in your bloodline. Today, well-to-do families on the east coast brag about their connections to the First Families of Virginia (FFV), proud of their fair skin, hazel eyes and “good hair”, while ignoring the harsh reality of how that FFV blood infiltrated their lineage. Though the etymology of blackness has historically been about blood and lineage, its is seemingly adopting a new definition; a definition rooted in cultural and economic foundations (though it can be argued that this has always been a part of how black folks have defined each other, it is now spreading to the point where other races, absent of known lineage and bloodline connections, can be black). This phenomenon is hastened by the globalization of Hip-Hop and spread of black culture; once again, it’s not a new phenomenon to have black music and culture popular and assimilated into other cultures, however now it is popular to assimilate to the black culture itself, instead of fitting into another framework. This means that unless you meet the cultural and social criteria of blackness, your bloodline and lineage may still leave you on the wrong side of blackness.
This is at the base of an argument made by Washington Post contributor and author Fredrick Harris in his excellent article, Still Waiting for the First Black President. Or at least this is the basis of his argument in my opinion. In the article, Harris constructs the framework that based on Pres. Obama’s political and social opinions, he is not black. Because Pres. Obama has not specifically addressed the issues facing the African-American community, choosing instead legislation “that will lift all boats” Harris infers that Obama has failed the litmus test of blackness and we should resume our wait for true black president. I saw this article on a FB friend’s timeline, s/o to the homie Dr. Kellie, and I am sure Tavis and Cornel approve the message as well. I, conversely, think Mr. Harris misses the mark. Not in his assessment of Pres. Obama’s political shortcomings, or in his assertion that the black vote is consistently pimped by political candidates (black, white, democrat, or republican), but whereas ones blackness is defined not by their genetics or lineage, but by their actions and loyalty “the cause”. It sets a dangerous precedent, one which is already threatening our communities. We have all heard the argument before, some of us have been on different ends of the spectrum, that so and so talks white or ol’ buddy (that happens to be white) acts black. These types of delineations of culture confine a people to a particular set of characteristics, creating a modern caste system. There is enough in our community to worry about, without adding a caste system that determines how you act, speak, think, dress, and aspire.
I am not qualified to debate the ontology of blackness, but I do know if in our attempt to define blackness, we omit proper genetic criterion, we are taking a step backwards. I dare not suggest every person of African origin is black, which would be an insult to the various ancestors of melanin-filled people around the world! “Lumping us all together”, Debra Dickerson wrote, “erases the significance of slavery and continuing racism while giving the appearance of progress”. Blackness is about the shared history people of color in this country have. It is about the progress we have made as a culture and our contributions to history and to the world. Blackness is about the breadth and depth of our experiences and socioeconomic statuses. Blackness is difficult to define, but you know it when you see it. There is no criterion, other than being a descendant of the Africans bought to America, which comprises blackness. So if you want to say Pres. Obama is not black, because of his lineage or bloodline, I’m cool with that. But to question it based your criteria of blackness, is a fallacy and historically in accurate. According to the framework set up in Harris’ Washington Post article, the argument can be made that quiet a few people that fit the scientific, genealogical definition of black would be excluded from the group because their behavior doesn’t align with a loosely compiled and agreed upon Black agenda. That’s like saying your drunk uncle, that embarrass the hell out of the entire family, isn’t your uncle anymore because he is embarrassing. Stop it!! Just because you do not claim him, doesn’t make any less a part of your family, or less embarrassing.
So what do you think, is President Obama black enough for you? Is he even black at all? Does any of that matter if he is not doing what you thought he would in office? Can we define blackness? Should we define blackness?