Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Less black, less white?

By Christy Rogers, Research Associate at the Kirwan Institute

When the question of whether or not Barack Obama was “black enough” for the black community cropped up, I was startled to hear an African-American woman interviewed for NPR state that Barack “self-identified as black, married a black woman, and has black children, and that’s black enough for me.” Your race is determined by whom you marry? Sure, I knew the academic term – race is a “social construction.” But it had never struck me in such a stark way before. I wondered to myself, do white women make similar assessments?

I thought back to a conversation I’d had years before, with a colleague in a planning firm. I had admired her, because the construction and development world is largely male, and although she was young she could easily hold her own in a room of “town fathers” trying to patronize her. She was talking about a friend of hers.

“You know, she’s one of those white girls you can just tell will date a black guy,” she said.
“You know – you can tell them. You know what I mean.”
“No, I don’t know what you mean. Tell me what you mean.”
“Forget it.”

I guess you aren’t white if you date across the color line. Or if still white, a different “species” -- identifiable like some sort of invasive weed.

Last week when I went to pick up my daughter at daycare, I ran into the mom of my daughter’s best friend. I was really glad to see her, because in the fall, my daughter is starting a new school and leaving all of her current friends. I wanted to propose a weekend play-date. I was relieved and pleased when she seemed committed to maintaining their friendship outside of school. She suggested a joint trip to Lowe’s on the first Saturday of every month, when they have a special kids’ work session. I couldn’t imagine my daughter happier: in a tiny orange apron, clattering around with her best buddy. And most of all, I was relieved because my daughter is white and her son is black, and for the two of them to keep what they have – a delighted friendship – is going to take help, and work. For now, we only have to pick which month we go to Lowe’s. In the years to come, we’re going to have to acknowledge that their friendship, in the eyes of some, will make her son less black, and my daughter less white, and what that means for us, and for them.

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