Thursday, February 22, 2007

I'd Be The First Non-Puerto-Rican Puerto Rican President

Debra Dickerson was on Colbert a couple weeks ago, primarily because she believes Barack Obama isn't black, because as she put it "'Black,' in our political and social reality, means those descended from West African slaves." This is the kind of semantic argument that is completely meaningless in the real world, but making "black" a meme is perfect for the blogosphere. There are 472 comments, 202 blogs link to Dickerson's "Colorblind" article.

She has a point (and she doesn't seem like a crazy ideologue about this, see the clip below), but it is useless to look at things through such a prism. If Obama isn't black, then is any white person not descended from slave owners not white? Is a Latino not a Latino if after a couple of generations, they lose their fluency in Spanish? We can disaggregate until we're only examining individuals, but breaking up people by race, or gender, religion, political view, or even union-membership is done because generalities, although they are inaccurate, make for lazy, simple ways to analyze information.

My father was born in Puerto Rico. My mom was born in Europe, en route to America, after her parents *left* Poland, being Jews. However culturally, it is hard to argue I am anything other than white. I have white skin, I'm nerdy looking, I'm not fluent in Spanish, and the Latino part of my ethnicity is a non-factor in my life, and the Jewish part is only a very minor one.

But I'd make the distinction between being a multiple-generational White American, and recent (first or second generation) American. Bill O'Reilly seems like a cultural specimen only appropriate for anthropological study, not a real person to me. I have no personal experience ever dealing with people like him. But he is representative of a strong plurality of the country with which I self-identify. I've always felt a stronger affinity to first generation Americans, and Jewish-Americans (gf who is DAR-eligible notwithstanding).

Recently, I've come to believe that my distrust for and estrangement from the O'Reilly types is as much because of political upbringing as my cultural or ethnic one. I'm not a cultural representative, I'm just me, and happily at that.

There was a less popular follow-up article on Salon, "Black vs.'Black'" The article is written by a mixed-race person, half-Japanese, who examines the issue from that perspective. He mentions in the article that he put down white when asked to list his ethnicity on a university form. He calls it a "matter of intellectual honesty."
The truth is, I don't think of myself as either white or Asian. In fact, I don't think of myself in racial terms at all. If asked, I of course identify myself as what I am -- mixed-race, or Eurasian, or half-Japanese. I try to work the Scottish part of the mix in as well, because I like trumpeting my weird mongrel gene pool. But although I know I am a person of mixed race, that fact plays only the most minor role in my sense of myself. I am a mixed-race person, not a "mixed-race person."

Amen to that.

He has thoughts on what being 'white' is though:
I do that not because I see whiteness as a positive identification, or as my identity, but for precisely the opposite reason: because whiteness is the marker of racial invisibility in America. White, in other words, means no race, not the master race.

That I'm not so sure about, but that will be the topic of another post.

Dickerson on Colbert:

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