Census Nonsense: Why Barack Obama isn’t black.

Census Nonsense: Why Barack Obama isn’t black.

The New Republic

John Judis, Senior Editor and Visiting Scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

When asked about his race on the census form, Barack Obama, the child of a white Kansan and black African, did not take the option of checking both “white” and “black” or “some other race.” Instead, he checked “black, African American or Negro.” By doing that, Obama probably did what was expected of him, but he also confirmed an enduring legacy of American racism…

…The obvious question—perhaps not to an American, but certainly to a visitor from another planet—is why if someone’s ancestry is predominantly white, they are not identified as “white” rather than “black.” It’s not because of the way they look. Walter White was widely “mistaken” as a white person. As a student at Colgate, Adam Clayton Powell [, Jr.] was initially believed to be “white.” But once it became known that they had black ancestry, they became black. And American law backed up this conclusion. In the South, the idea that any black ancestry would qualify someone as black, negro, or colored was called the “one-drop rule.”…

…In its American incarnation, blackness emerged as a social category in the seventeenth century as part of Southern whites’ attempt to justify the economic and social subordination of Africans who had been brought to the country in bondage. The legal interpretation of blackness was accompanied by laws barring miscegenation between whites and blacks. The one-drop rule endured after the Civil War and after emancipation as a justification of racial segregation and of the tiered economy of the sharecroppers…

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