Musing from a black woman: Barack Obama = African American

9 years ago


Yesterday I was greeted with this questionable, newsy article on the Yahoo! front page: Obama victory opens door to new black identity, by Jesse Washington, AP via Yahoo! News.

 

Before Tuesday, black identity and community were largely rooted in the shared experience of the struggle — real or perceived — [Apparently my struggle is now perceived] against a hostile white majority. Even as late as Election Day, many blacks still harbored deep doubts about whether whites would vote for Obama.

Obama's overwhelming triumph cast America in a different light. There was no sign of the "Bradley Effect," when whites mislead pollsters about their intent to vote for black candidates. Nationwide, Obama collected 44 percent of the white vote, more than John Kerry, Al Gore or even Bill Clinton, exit polls show . . .

. . . Certainly racism did not disappear after Obama's white votes were counted. No one is claiming that black culture and pride and community are no longer valuable. Many also dismiss the idea of a "post-racial" America as long as blacks and other minorities are still disproportionately afflicted by disparities in income, education, health, incarceration and single parenthood.

But white groups that once faced discrimination, such as the Italians, Jews and Irish, have moved from the margins to the mainstream. America debated whether John F. Kennedy could become the first Catholic president; now that's a historical footnote.

 

If I ever again have to hear someone mention groups of white people who had been discriminated against in the past, and then equate them with black people who continue to be discriminated against in the present, it will be too soon. There are historical differences amongst various oppressed ethnic groups, and it is unwise to ignore those differences. For instance, the ancestors of Italian Americans, Jewish Americans, Irish Americans and Catholic Americans (some of whom are all the same people) came to the United States relatively voluntarily. Whereas the ancestors of many (though not all) black Americans did not come to the United States voluntarily; they just happened to survive the Middle Passage.

This seemingly endless election and the final results have reminded me of something Wanda Sykes said in her Comedy Central Presents special. She repeated in her book, Yeah, I Said It:

 

I'm not politically correct. I still say black. I say it because with African American, there's no bonus. It doesn't make your life any easier. You don't see black people standing around, saying, "Oh yeah, African American. Man, I'll tell ya, this beats the hell outta being black. We should've made the switch years ago. Oh, this is nice."

You don't see any of us going into Bank of America, "Excuse me, I'm here to pick up my loan."

"Uh, Ms. Sykes, you were rejected for that loan last week."

"Oh, that was last week. I was black then. See, I'm African American now. I'll just go in the vault and take what I need. I'll sign on my way out."

African American ain't helping nobody. You think Rodney King's black ass is sitting somewhere, saying, "Damn, if I just would have waited two years before I acted a fool, they wouldn't have been beating my black ass. I would have been African American." . . .

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