Friday, January 19, 2007

Barack like me? *

Dear National Media (and/or anyone else who's interested),

Let me say first that I've never been big on racial or ethnic identity. I think it's silly (why is a simple accident of genetics so meaningful, especially when there's increasing evidence that
very, very few of us have "pure" bloodlines?), arbitrary (I have uncles from "the old country" who are darker than Halle Berry), divisive (do I really need to expand on that one?), and generally stupid. Nor do I understand racial/ethnic pride, or why role models have to be of a certain color or religious persuasion. As a so-called white guy, I'm inspired watching Tiger's majestic swing or listening to Maya Angelou deliver verse in that soothing, hypnotic voice of hers;
I would think that a so-called black child should be able to draw similar inspiration from Roger Clemens' mound presence or a sermon on wealth building from Warren Buffetall the more so if he's been brought up to think of himself not as a black child, but just an everyday kid with brownish skin.

Having said all that—if we're going to play this silly game—then, as
Ricky Ricardo might've put it, would someone please 'splain to me why, if you're half-white and're black? I don't know where I've been, but yesterday I became, evidently, the last person in America to learn that Barack Obama's mother is white. (To make things even more interesting, his black father abandoned the family when he was very small, leaving his mother and her all-white parents to raise him.) So why is he the "first legitimate black candidate" for president? Why is he not, to an equivalent degree, just another in a long series of white candidates? Or colorless or "unspecified" ones. Similarly: Berry's mother is white. (Her dad, too, left when she was small.) Why then, a few years ago, was so much made of her being the first "actress of color" to take home a best-actress Oscar? I just don't get any of this... And come to think of it, isn't Tiger's mother Asian? So what does that make him? "Blasian"? How insane this gets...

Why can't we just stop it? ALL of it. Why can't Barack Obama just be some guy running for president? For that matter, why can't
Nancy Pelosi just be the new Speaker of the House (i.e. without the prefix "first female," which you folks in media use almost as if it's part of her actual title)? Why can't people just be individual people, judged as such? Funny, I think I heard something like that once, from a guy named Martin....


Steve (just take me as I am) Salerno

* apologies to John Howard Griffin.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for this post.
Reminds of something I thought about after actor Sidney Portier received his Lifetime Achievement award a few years ago at the Academy Awards. Every single actor who spoke about how he had influenced, inspired, or otherwise had an impact on his or her career was black. How is it possible that no white actor or actresses were inspired by Portier? I can't believe that's true.
The whole tribute was disappointing and ridiculous. Can't we just agree - in the spirit of your post - that Portier is a great actor who created some memorable roles during his career? And that those roles may have inspired - oh, I don't know - someone like Edward Norton or Jessica Lange or Matt Dillon somewhere along the line to do good work as well?

Steve Salerno said...


Anonymous said...

I agree wholeheartedly. The way we break everything down in this country by race, gender, religion and every thing else is as you say insane. And of course we see what these divisons do on the world stage, in Iraq and elswhere, where people who should be making a special effort to get along with each other under adverse circumstances are killing each other instead just b/c they don't come from the right sect or something. I agree with the first anonymous, thank you for posting this.

Luther "Luke" Setzer said...

Today's post was a rational breath of fresh air. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

So you're at it again (like the Brecker comment). Why is it in the first part of your comment you say you don't believe in race labels but suddenly then because Obama's mother is white you want to claim him as white? What you really want is to have it both ways so you can use race to your advantage when it benefits white !

Steve Salerno said...

With all due respect, I don't think you read the post closely, or followed the line of argument. I think I'm pretty clear in the "first part" that I don't like the race labels--any of 'em. (And just FYI, I've written about this in SHAMblog before, explaining, among other things, why I always tried to fight the "Italian heritage" that my father wanted to force upon me.) But in the second part, I say that IF we're going to "play this game" (which the media and many of the key figures themselves seem to insist on)...and THAT is what brings me to the (eminently sensible) series of questions about why Obama is "officially" black, not white, etc.

Personally, I think you're like a fair number of people I've encountered who just want to find (or imagine) the demons wherever they prove your own cries of racism.

Citizen Deux said...

Obama is black!!??!?!??

Really, the sooner we stop pointing out MEANINGLESS differences, the better off we will be as a planet.

Well done.

Rodger said...

Your thoughts are quite interesting and speak to how stereotyping can create perceptions that narrow and suspend our thinking about a person.

I've statrted a blog --

If you're interested, read more there.