Clinton was called “Black” by many Black male comedians (and other Black people). It wasn’t because he is smart, which many Black men are. To them, being a child of a single mother who was hit by a man, smoking weed, playing the saxophone and cheating on Hillary many times is what indicated his “Blackness” despite the fact that these experiences happen to/by men of a variety of backgrounds. Even some Black people define Blackness quite poorly and with a limited scope. (Was Clinton still “Black” while the incarnation rates skyrocketed for Black men under his administration? Was Clinton “Black” while he passed welfare reform, something associated with Blackness despite more actual dollars being spent on White recipients? Was Clinton “Black” when the deregulation started which today majorly accounts for the mortgage mess that wiped away at least a generation of Black wealth?)
Cory Booker’s Blackness isn’t readily accepted by many of his constituents because of his Stanford/Yale/Oxford background, his complexion and his “newer” take on politics, possibly no better than but no more corrupt than previous Newark and New Jersey politicians who are Black.
Barack Obama is consistently called “not Black” even by other Black people, but White members of Congress, right-wing pundits and a considerable amount of the White populous surely perceive him as “Black” in the most stereotypically negative sense of identity, and disrespect him accordingly—even while questioning his Blackness. They don’t want to accept him as “Black” yet they surely treat him with the disrespect, disregard and hatred that most people who identify as Black have experienced.
It’s funny how Soledad O’Brien (Afro-Latina mother/White father), Mariah Carey (White mother/Afro-Venezuelan father), Alicia Keys (White mother/Black father) and Halle Berry (White mother/Black father) are accepted as “Black” but Cory Booker (who has two Black, but fair-skinned parents) and Obama (who has a Kenyan father, with no traceable “White” lineage and a White mother) make people question their Blackness.
The role of gender is interesting. Eurocentric beauty standards and colourism means that the “lighter” a “Black” woman is, the “better” (especially according to many Black men, though of course this thought is a product of internalized White supremacy) and it makes people very eager to want to include the aforementioned women in “Blackness.” Light skin is always considered “more attractive” and the woman in question is automatically considered beautiful. Even some Black women buy into this and will cosign Black men who insult dark-skinned Black women because they too genuinely believe that light skin = “pretty” (and also want to please patriarchal Black men and be “preferred” by them).
Due to the incredibly ridiculous and hate-motivated concept that “light skin” = “feminine” and “dark skin” = “masculine,” and the eagerness to praise and worship light skin when it belongs to a woman and shun and redefine Blackness when the same thing applies to a man, Booker and Obama aren’t always accepted as the women examples are, even by other Black people. The plethora of comments about Drake and Chris Brown not having a “real” fight because they are light-skinned (as if that reduces the likelihood of violence and the performance of patriarchal masculinity) again reminded me of the ignorant perception of only dark skin as “masculine.” The fact that light-skinned Black women get shorter prison sentences than dark-skinned Black women also reveals the perception of light skin as “better” and more “feminine.” It’s as if the judges and juries really see these women as “women” and not as big of a threat as dark-skinned Black women who are viewed as more “masculine” and dangerous. Benevolent sexism and colourism at play.
Does Morgan Freeman erase the label of “Black” from W.E.B. DuBois and Booker T. Washington the way he has for President Obama? Their lineages aren’t purely “Black.” People venture down the road of erasing Obama but often fail to realize what that really means in a larger context. They ache for soundbites and use that to replace sound thought. (Personally, I am REALLY tired of Freeman’s off mic comments. Sometimes I want to yell “just shut up and act.” He has the right to share his views though, although most of them seem like they’re more about pacifying and pleasing Whites. I recall his famous racism will end if we stop talking about it statement. Despite the fact many women never discuss sexism, misogyny or rape, they still managed to be paid less, endure street harassment and get raped. Guess his theory doesn’t work.)
The criticism for Obama often takes this route: Obama is not Black enough and then he’s too Black. He’s a Muslim and then he’s a Christian. He’s a socialist and then he is a puppet of oligarchical and plutocratic capitalists. He’s weak and then he’s dictatorial. He’s not competent and then he’s uppity/too smart/arrogant. He doesn’t “understand” the free market and then he’s interfering with commerce too much. Obama is not Black enough and then he’s too Black. This ridiculous style of hyperbolic commentary always starts and ends with the policing of his Blackness. The same old articles and tweets (that primarily started in 2007) and conversations of trying to quantify his Blackness resurface on almost a weekly basis.
Defining race “in reaction to” Whiteness is how race (a social construct with very minimal biological support, but quite a potent construct with historical, cultural and political implications—ones that don’t evaporate just because race is a “construct”) surfaced. But what was born out of hatred and racism (the label of “Black” and the one drop rule) has become part of a culturally connecting identity label for people in America (and I say in America since racially “Black” people in the Caribbean, Latin America and Africa may be “Black” but choose to use different identity labels—some out of a cultural experience, some out of an anti-Black stance because of internalized White supremacy) and means much more than skin or who someone’s mama is, or is not. We are not post-Black; we are still in the thick of it. It shouldn’t be something to run away from or to be policed for; it should be something that is more than just about skin (though that matters) but about history, culture, identity, unity and truth. Self-identification. The freedom to identify. The freedom from others who also identify this way to police you. The freedom from those who do not identify this way and hate “Black” to discriminate against you and punish you. The freedom from having to be “Black only” as a “whole” identity and not a facet of identity and culture that helps to shape a complicated yet rich existence. Obama is “Black” because he said he is. He wrote that he is. He identifies that way legally and experientially. The question isn’t even about “why” he identifies that way but why others think they have the right to police that and worse, why others continue to hate him because of it.