Paper Bags

November 7th, 2008 by | Tags: , ,

I figure I have a reputation to keep up with, so let me get on with it.

Scipio from Absorbacon, on the day after Barack Obama was elected president, had a few things to say. I pulled an excerpt out for y’all:

Sorry to rain on anyone’s parade, and I’m sure this is going to anger a lot of readers, and I’m going to be misunderstood. But here goes….

Barack Obama’s not the country’s first black president; Barak Obama’s not black.

First, let me affirm, and strongly: I supported Obama during the primaries; I voted for him in the general election. I was, am, and, hopefully will every reason to continue to be, a strong supporter.

His election is not just a victory for an individual or a party, but for American democracy and spirit, which it has revivified. And I couldn’t be happier about it.


I am not delighted by the constant characterization of Obama as the first Black president. YES, he certainly “looks black”. Yes, because of that he’s certainly had the experience of growing as a perceived black person in the last 40+ years. And, yes, that is very significant. It’s of great signficance and a great sign of hope for the future that the American people would elect such a man as its leader.

But, for one thing, he’s biracial. That, to me, is more symbolically significant, since he personifies (or could) a post-racial way of viewing the world, one that is the only real hope for social unity in our nation. That’s something that gets swept aside when he’s characterized simply as “our first black president”.

I don’t think that Scipio will be misunderstood at all. His point is clear as day. “Barack Obama is biracial, therefore he is not black.” In his own words, “Barack Obama’s not black.”

The problem is that Scipio is wrong. His opinion is wrong, his point of view is wrong, he’s uninformed whatever whatever. You know what I’m saying. There is actual factual reality and then there is Scipio, over here saying things.

My first thought after reading this post on Wednesday was a Paul Mooney skit. “White folks made up the word ‘nigger’ and don’t want me to say it.” His point is that nigger is not new, and was not created by black people. Was it adopted? Yeah, it was.

“Being black” is similar. Black people didn’t decide who got to be black and who didn’t. One drop rules aren’t from Africa. That’s something we inherited. However, we took the handoff once the ball got rolling. Got free, reclaimed it, and made it ours.

So, basically, you don’t get to decide who’s black or not. Black people got that treatment for a few centuries and now it’s over. It’s our turn. We know who’s black and who isn’t.

Being black isn’t a matter of having two black parents. It isn’t that simple. It’s not about being from the ghetto, or talking slang, or liking rap. It’s not about education. It’s not about status. There are a wide spectrum of experiences that make up the black experience.

Most of all, though, Barack is black because he says so. In his own words: “If I’m outside your building trying to hail a cab, they’re not saying ‘Oh, there’s a mixed race guy.'” He’s said over and over again that he’s black.

Who are you to say that he isn’t, in the name of making him fit your agenda? Being biracial is more symbolically significant than being black when attaining the highest public office? Really?

How about if it’s good for Barack, it’s good enough for me? And you? And anyone else who cares to question his own personal racial identity?

I’m sorry he doesn’t fit into the little box you’ve prepared for him.

So, in the spirit of not misunderstanding–

Scipio says “Barack Obama is not black.”

Barack Obama says he’s black.

No misunderstanding there at all.

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21 comments to “Paper Bags”

  1. You had him at the “one drop rule”, sir.

  2. I was talking to my parents today about how long it’d take for the “Well, he’s not REALLY black” meme to start gaining traction. Unfortunately, it was sooner than I expected.

    I mean, every person who identifies as black in the US has absolutely no white ancestors whatsoever, right? It’s not like plantation owners ever dipped into the slave pool… oh.

    You know who should start picking this up? Soulja Boy. It’d be about right.

  3. Man if I hadn’t dropped him from my read list months ago for some other jack-ass post this one would have done it. And the number of hear, hear you’re so clever responses. Sheesh…

  4. Some people should just stick to reviewing comics. Nice job, David.

  5. Well said.

    Looks like you covered all the bases, so I’ll just sit in the dug-out cheering. I don’t know this Scorpio person well or his words well enough to call him anything but wrong. And, like I said, you covered that, thoroughly.

  6. People are just mad that light skinned brothers are coming back. We had years of dark brothers kicking it, and now some brother with that Malcolm X tint gets his game up and people want to say he ain’t dark to roll?

    PSH. Anytime I hear this shit, I’m gonna blast some Billy Paul at them – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bNcrvRmBGag .

  7. Oddly enough, West, I have read enough of his words. I once read the Absorbascon’s entire archive (I’m doin’ the ISB currently). Now, keep in mind this is a guy who’ll casually drop stuff like “the ‘real’ Flash” into Heroclix discussions, and he means JAY frigg’n GARRICK when he does. Well-informed, a bit snarky, problem being he knows the former but not the latter.

    It seems to me he’s substituting being gay for being black. I could be wrong on account’a being straight & white, but if I’m right I know enough to say it doesn’t work that way. There are times when no amount of being well-read or Classically trained will back up your opinion. It reminds me of Superman dealing with Manchester Black or the Ultramarines. Yes really. Maybe because Big Blue was speaking from experience to someone who meant well, but hadn’t thought out the other guy’s position.

  8. Hmm. Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, who is also nonwhite, and a journalist I normally do quite admire has made the same point – I think it’s a stretch and probably a projection to suggest his mother would be ‘insulted’ by the descriptor… Scipio, otoh, once Dick Hyacinth pointed out the legal texts he’d authored on immigration – well, if you’re of a certain disposition, as I am, you might be inclined to find his incessant ‘hilarious’ mockery of Vibe had an odious contextual light shed on it by that.

  9. I knew I would find some commentary on this nonsense from somewhere. After a campaign in which Obama was cast as the “other” (something black folks have historically endured) the notion that he isn’t black caught me a little off guard. Ultimately, it’s not that surprising though.

  10. When I grew up in the Caribbean, I was me. I was my mother’s daughter, my father’s daughter, so and so’s niece and cousin. When I came to America I learned I was not my name and I was not my blood – not first. When I woke up, I was black. When I crossed the street, when I spoke up to the teacher, when I got good grades, when a fight broke out in the cafeteria – I was black.

    My father came here from the Caribbean and he had to go through the same damn experience. And my mother and my other relatives.

    Like you recounted of what’s happened to Obama, when my family’s trying to hail a cab, the drivers passing us don’t go “Oh look, there are some former British Colonial Citizens.”

  11. *applause* Well said. I don’t have anything to add except that I wholeheartedly agree, and it affected me enough to write so.

  12. HA, this is exactly how I thought about Debra Dickerson’s assertion that Obama wasn’t black because he wasn’t the descendant of slaves.

    It’s selfishness at best, racism (prejedice based on race or perceived “lack” of race) at worst. Fuck it, if you don’t “allow” Barack Obama to have something in common with you because of technical semantics, that’s not his loss.

  13. Well said, sir.

  14. I did not know you were a follower of the greatest black comedian since the great prophet of stand-up Richard Pryor.

    However, I think it’s something that’s hard for people who don’t interface with Black American culture to understand.

  15. Honestly man, I usually have youtube standup videos going in the background at work. Mooney is a favorite. His Coulter interview was hilarious.

  16. Scipio doesn’t have the excuse of not interfacing with Black people. He lives in DC aka Chocolate City. One of the largest Black Cities in the country. And I met him, and I’m Black. It’s just a bad post, and I feel he should know better.

  17. You know, I think the term “Chocolate City” needs to have an official ruling on what city it is applicable to. I hear it used with DC, Atlanta & even the Hampton Roads area of Virginia. This needs settling.

  18. So, I’m a white guy and I voted for Barack… I’m a lifer in the Democratic party… for me, it just came down to the platform, I felt Barack was on the right (err, left) side of the issues, regardless of race, gender, religion, whatever, he was the man with the better plan.

    That said, I don’t want to sound ignorant here and mix up my terms, but would it be safe to say that the President-Elect considers himself culturally Black, but racially he is indeed, technically, biracial? I guess my question is, can he be both?

    From where I sit, I found his biracial heritage to be attractive. I’m the parent of a biracial child (half Filipino, half Italian) and I loved being able to point to the TV, point to Barack and say “you can do that too, that’s America, baby.” A lot of the CNN commentators I followed said that Barack being biracial was quite a draw to voters, essentially that he was all things to all people, to Blacks, he’s Black (half or otherwise), to whites, he’s half white, to the poor, he’s this, to the affluent, he’s that, to Red States, he’s this, to Blue States, he’s that, he’s Mr. Inclusivity.

  19. @Robert: That’s definitely a good point, and I don’t mean to give short shrift to any biracial or mixed readers out there. Barack is definitely both.

    My main issue was with the “Barack isn’t black” statement. It’s an insult to tell a man “No, you aren’t” when he consistently identifies as black.

    “I am happy to say that I have been married to the love of my life for five years…”

    “Um, pardon me, no you aren’t. You just have a strong attachment to her, I’m afraid.”

    That kind of thing.

    So yeah, you’ve got the exactly right point of view to have about the whole thing.

  20. I was surprised to see this meme picked up by a professor of mine at school – a black man in his 60s, no less. He wasn’t necessarily dismissive of Obama, but he pointed out that he didn’t have any ancestral connection to African-American slavery except through his wife, and so in some way wasn’t really “African-American”, in the way that folks whose African ancestors have been here for 3 or 400 years are.

    It was an odd, uncomfortable moment in that class, let me tell you…

  21. Hey David, thanks for the clarification. That makes perfect sense to me. I’m so fascinated by this, the idea that he can be Black and biracial and that they’re not mutually exclusive. When I apply that same criteria to my daughter it makes perfect sense though.

    She could say she’s Asian. She could say she’s European. She could say she’s biracial (though really, who goes around saying that?). None of which would be inaccurate. She may self-identify as being Asian due to the “wide spectrum” of her life experience, even though she may “look” European. And it’s indeed ludicrous to imagine someone saying to her “no, you’re not Asian, you’re ‘biracial.'”

    As an aside, I think we’re finally seeing significant movement toward the “melting pot” we were promised long ago (instead of the “Chef’s Salad,” hey you’re a carrot, I’m a tomato, we’re united by this “dressing” of both being American). What I mean is, in another few generations, let’s say 200 years, won’t the majority of all Americans be 1/8th Black, 1/8th White, 1/8th Hispanic, 1/8th Asian, 1/8th Middle Eastern, 1/8th Indian, 1/8th Rannian, 1/8th Thanagarian (heh, couldn’t resist)?

    Something else that irked me a bit was that many commentators on election night were saying “this is a proud day for African-Americans.” Sure, there’s no denying that. But, I felt left out. It’s a proud day for ALL Americans. Again, I’m a 34 year old white dude, but I shed a tear. For me, there are few moments more poignant or touching than seeing Rev. Jesse Jackson brought to tears as Obama gave his acceptance speech. What must be going through that man’s head, I thought. Here’s a guy who saw two young liberal Irish Catholics from the Northeast murdered, here’s a guy who marched with Dr. King, who was there that horrible day in Memphis, here he is in this transformative moment watching Barack. Almost as if he felt he could safely pass the baton onto a new generation, our generation, Barack’s generation.

    Anyway, sorry for rambling… awesome post, great comments, and proof why 4th Letter is something special. This ain’t your father’s blog site!