Butiama Bed & Breakfast

Butiama Bed & Breakfast

Saturday, 15 November 2008

America, in black and white

There was some worry that the election of Senator Barack Obama as the 44th president of the United States might elicit a rise in assassination threats against him. That has come to pass, although reports suggest that any US president-elect, regardless of race, usually receives death threats.

Race itself is actually an overrated word that receives more attention than it deserves. Anthropologists say that there is no pure race in the world today. We are all a mixture of two or more of what we call races.

According to the Encyclopedia Britannica (1998, Vol.9, p.876) :
The designation "race" has been applied to language groups (the Aryan race), national groups (the Scottish race), religious groups (the Jewish race), and the entire species of humans (the human race), but these usages are biologically and scientifically meaningless.
More from Britannica on the the same subject (1998, Vol.18, p.847):
Very few Americans can claim ancestry from fewer than three nations.
Which makes one wonder why some Americans should be so obsessed with race. Having accepted that race is biologically and scientifically meaningless, I use the words "white", "black", and "race" only to simplify comprehension of this post.

Which brings me to the question: why should someone who has a white mother and a black father be categorised as black? A sibling inherits an equal proportion of genes from each parent so why should half-"white" become "black" and not "white"? Apparently it has to do with an old legal definition of races in the United States in the days when racial segregation was officially sanctioned. One drop of "black" blood and someone became black. However after 1967 when the US Supreme Court ruled that the Racial Integrity Act of 1924 was unconstitutional the one drop rule became illegal. But it continues to have widespread use in American society, explaining why the media continues to report Obama as the first elected black president.

Race remains a hot issue in the United States, but the election of Obama suggests that demographic shifts are altering how Americans view this divisive question. Obama did not position himself as black but as an American and most of those who voted for him seem to share that view. The US Census Bureau reported blacks accounted for only 12.8 percent of the US population in 2006.

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1 comment:

Paul said...

Well spoken. I appreciate your insight and agree that "race" seems to be a word that has divided the United States for a long time, even if the definition is not fixed. As you insightfully mention, it seems that our understanding of the word "race" is more a function of our historical perceptions. We need re-educate ourselves and re-define words like race.