Faith & Social Justice: In the spirit of Richard Overton and the 17th C. Levellers

Racism in Journalism: The “Is Obama Black Enough” Question

If anyone wonders whether or not racism is alive and well in 21st C. U.S.A., they only have to watch Tucker Carlson and an all-white MSNBC panel discuss Barack Obama’s “blackness” as a presidential issue.  Yes, they did.  Along with questioning whether Gov. Bill Richardson (D-NM) was “the best representative” of U.S. Latinos. ¿Como? ¿Que? Say, what??

Thanks, folks, but I think I’ll judge my presidential candidates on their qualifications, character, and issue positions, not on whether some white folks think a bi-racial candidate is or is not “black enough,” what degree of “flavah” a Latino candidate must have to be “representative,” or what the “perfect embodiment” of a female candidate should be! Give me a break.  These are the lengths the media will go to avoid discussing the issues in any kind of serious way.

I don’t recall anyone asking Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. about his “blackness,” when independents attempted to draft him (along with Dr. Benjamin Spock) to run a third party race for the presidency in ’68.  Did anyone ask the light-skinned Julian Bond if he was “black enough” when he became the first African-American nominated for the U.S. Vice Presidency at the Democratic National Convention in ’68? (Bond declined the nomination because he wasn’t old enough to pass Constitutional muster. Look it up.)  Did anyone ask Shirley Chisholm about her degree of “blackness” when she became the first African-American woman to run for president in 1972?  Has Jesse Jackson or Al Sharpton or former Sen. (and former U.S. Ambassador) Carol Mosely-Braun, presidential candidates all, been discussed for their “blackness?” When Republican leaders were seriously considering Colin Powell or Condoleeza Rice as presidential candidates (before they both became far too identified with Bush’s very unpopular foreign policies to have a chance at winning), did anyone stop and ask if they were “black enough?”

No. None of them. So, what’s the difference, now?  Is it because the African-American community isn’t united around Obama’s candidacy? Don’t be absurd.  The African-American community has never united around a single candidate, no matter his or her race or ethnicity.  The assumption that it should do so is itself racist.  No, the  difference this time is that Obama has a real chance of winning–and that frightens certain power groups.  Getting a compliant, entertainment-obsessed, media to discuss non-issues like Obama’s “blackness” (with brief forays into Richardson’s authenticity as a Latino and Clinton’s gender) is a subliminal playing of “the race card.”

I have not yet picked a primary candidate (6 months before the election year even begins!) and by the time I get to vote the field will be much smaller.  As I have said repeatedly, I won’t endorse candidates on this blog.  I am impressed with Richardson’s credentials and experience. If running for president were a job interview, he’d have it hands down.  I don’t like Hillary Clinton’s economic or foreign policy views, which strike me as too close to Bush’s.  I get mixed signals from Obama.  Sometimes when he speaks, I get inspired and believe he could be a real healing force for the nation and the world. At other times, he also sounds too belligerant in foreign policy and too attached to neo-liberal economic policies (like Clinton and Bush). 

The most progressive candidate is Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH), but his chances for being on the ballot when I get to vote in the primary seem remote.  Former Sen. John Edwards (D-NC), who did not impress me in ’04, seems by far to be the most progressive of the current frontrunners.  No one is discussing his “whiteness,” or “maleness,” but they are avoiding serious discussion of his plans to eliminate poverty, provide universal healthcare, revitalize schools and labor by discussing–wait for it–his hair!!

Serious journalism isn’t dead in the U.S., but it certainly seems to be slipping into a coma.

August 11, 2007 - Posted by | human rights., media reform, politics, race


  1. It’s an absurd subject indeed to bring up. As an African-American we come in many shades. Personally, I had not thought of him as even falling into the light category by our standards and yes even withing our community we have the light thing going on with some.

    Comment by Jaynie | August 11, 2007

  2. Hey Michael,

    Long time no see; I was sorry to miss Peace Camp this year. I’m pleased to stumble across your blog, and glad that you’re promoting the Leveller movement here. Long live the Anarcho-Baptist revolution!

    David Reese
    (peace community church, etc.)

    Comment by David | August 11, 2007

  3. Jaynie, I can’t be sure, but I don’t think the pseudo-topic of Obama’s “blackness” is about how dark or light skinned he is, but about whether Obama, the son of a white woman from Kansas and a culturally-Islamic-though-personally-atheistic Kenyan, raised in Hawaii and the Philippines until coming to Chicago in his teens, identifies enough with the African-American narrative history and culture. It is still an absurd question.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | August 11, 2007

  4. Amen. Racism. Sexism. It’s all alive and well in the mainstream media.

    I’ve put up a little song about the Diggers on my blog, if you want to hear someone else say some nice things about your beloved Levellers.

    Comment by Aric Clark | August 11, 2007

  5. Dennis Kucinich, though radical by some estimations, is exactly what this country needs. His views on certain issues and his desire to create a “Department of Peace,” what a novel idea, are refreshing. But, I agree, sadly, that he doesn’t stand an ice cube’s chance in hell of winning 🙂

    That’s why I’ll be voting Green in November ’08. It’s looking like San Francisco mayor Matt Gonzales and former Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney may be on the ballot—that is if Greens can get past their infatuation with Ralph Nader.

    Comment by Dustin | August 12, 2007

  6. Dustin, the Green Party is even more hopeless a cause than Kucinich. For 3rd parties to have any electoral chance (and do some good rather than just helping the worst choice win by taking votes away from the poor-but-better-choice) we need some major electoral reforms such as instant run-off voting. It will take reform minded Democrats such as Kucinich in power to make the reforms needed for 3rd parties like the Greens to have any positive effect.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | August 12, 2007

  7. Does it matter how “black” he is? We are talking about the WHITE House.

    Comment by blackpoetry | August 18, 2007

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