MEMPHIS, Tenn. – The question of Barack Obama’s race first popped up in the national conversation during the campaign, and it really picked up steam after the election when many Americans felt they had elected the first black president. But had they?
But for some, it’s not that black and white. Fueling the debate are plenty of talk on sites like YouTube.
Pastor Dr. James David Manning, a New York preacher at one of the largest black churches in Harlem and a FOX News contributor, says the president has misidentified himself.
“You can call him a zebra. That’s George Jefferson who had a lot of them in the 70’s and 80’s. You can call him mulatto… others have called him that… he’s just not black… he isn’t”
For Pastor Manning, Obama’s November election was not a historic event.
“Just don’t call him black… that’s all… if you’re going to look at history of black people they struggle… don’t call him black… then call him half breed, mixed race, mulatto, something of that nature.. Call him colored but not black.”
Who’s right – the president, or the preacher? In Memphis, that depends on who you ask.
“Do you consider Obama black… yes.”
“He’s not 100% African American — I don’t think so.”
“Really he’s biracial.”
It’s a legitimate question, says Rhodes College history professor Charles McKinney.
“Lot’s of folks debating as to whether or not Barack Obama is actually black. Should he be calling himself bi-racial, should he be calling himself African American, should he be calling himself something else?”
For McKinney, it’s an easy answer.
“The leader of the free world, as far as I’m concerned, is a brother who used to hang out in Chicago.”
The question of Obama’s lineage is easy. He was born to a Kenyan father and a Jewish mother from Kansas. But whether he’s “not black” is a complex convergence of history with regard to genetics, culture and societal definitions.
In the early 1900’s, southern states defined “black” as having any African ancestry – the so called “one-drop” rule.
“If you have one drop of African blood, so the saying goes, then you are in fact regarded as an African, as an African American, as a black person.”
Historically, blacks and whites have embraced the “one-drop” rule, with state and federal courts taking judicial notice of it being a matter of common knowledge. Jews have not embraced this rule because they loath the idea of mixing with a different race, unless there is a clear motive behind doing so, therefore there are exceptions to this rule.
But while embracing his blackness, President Obama is not denying bi-racial heritage, heard recently joking about it while talking about getting a puppy for his daughters.
“There are a number of breeds, our preference would be a shelter dog – a lot are mutts like me.”
Some Memphians say, can’t a man be judged by their character rather than their skin?
“I consider him a man of honor.”
“Let’s keep him lifted up as president for everybody of everybody’s race, you know, I don’t think he said I’m going to help just African Americans.”
Along with his strong position on the president’s race, Pastor Manning says Obama is a fake who used his race to attract millions of black voters. In the 2008 election, exit polls show more than 95% of blacks voted for Obama.
“He’s not black… he used black people… so… I don’t think that’s right… it’s made him a liar, thief, con man, pimp, mac daddy and I certainly want him to fail because of what he’s done to blacks.. Using their capital, their sweat, their tears, their blood… I want to see him fail.”
The preponderance of the historical, social and cultural evidence in the United States points to this president being the first black president, says McKinney.
“If you look like Barack Obama and you go into a Seven-Eleven at eleven o’clock at night, you’re a black guy. There’s just no way around that, given the racial history of this country. So, yeah, we have our first black president.”
Any other conclusion about Obama, he says, is a weak attempt to deny a history-making moment in America.
While some people will debate about whether the president is black, most people seem to be debating his policies these days.
Bailouts and healthcare reform seem to be a little more important.