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What makes a man African-American?

By unknown | Feb 28, 2007 | COMMENTS [ 0 ]

People across the political and racial spectrum started discussing US presidential candidate Barack Obama's race after he spoke at the 2004 Democratic national convention.

People across the political and racial spectrum started discussing US presidential candidate Barack Obama's race after he spoke at the 2004 Democratic national convention.

Some people insist he is not African-American because he is not a direct descendant of slaves and hasn't had what they call "an authentic African-American experience".

Obama doesn't fit the stereotype of a black leader; he's not a church-based fighter for civil rights.

He is the son of a Kenyan immigrant woman and a white man from Kansas. He has many white supporters. And he is running to win, not just to fix black America.

Kevin Johnson, a professor of law at the University of California, said: "He touches on hot-button issues among African-Americans."

San Francisco district attorney Kamala Harris is frustrated by all the race talk.

"That is the added significance of Barack Obama. He is opening up what has been a limited perspective about who is an African-American.

"But remember, it is an issue of perception, not reality."

Melinda Chateauvert, an assistant professor of African-American studies at the University of Maryland, said a personal connection to slavery is still a common measure of who is and who isn't African-American.

"A lot of my students are multicultural and don't have the problem with Obama that you hear in barber shop discussions," she said.

People forget that the black leadership from the church was a product of the 1950s, she said. Previously, black leaders came from the labour movement, from politics and from law.

"This is simply a return to the old-style leadership, " she said.

In a sense, Obama is achieving what the church-based civil rights leaders wanted, the opportunities so many fought for.

Jesse Jackson, who ran twice for the presidency in the 1980s, said in an interview last week that black baseball players are now just players, black college presidents are just college presidents and black mayors are just mayors.

"US president would be a huge first - which means race remains an issue," he said.

Author and Princeton University professor Cornel West said Obama's decision to announce his candidacy on February 10 in Illinois shows he "speaks to white folks and holds us at arm's length".

Al Sharpton, of New York, who ran for president in 2004, said: "Just because you are our colour doesn't make you our kind."

The two main parties have fielded five black presidential candidates over the years. But the issue of race didn't rise to this degree, perhaps because Obama is the first black person viewed as a possible winner.

In a US TV interview, Obama, 45, said: "If you look African-American in this society, you're treated as an African-American. I am rooted in the African-American community but I am not defined by it.

"I am comfortable in my racial identity, but that is not all I am.

"There is a ridiculous assumption that somehow the black community is so unsophisticated that the minute you put an African-American face on the screen they say 'That's our guy'," he said.

Harris, the district attorney, said: "As far as I'm concerned, in conduct, in deed and in word, he represents the face of America. That is where the discussion should begin and end." - New York Times


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