Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Bruschetta at the Cafe au Lait

As I've said before, David Aaronovitch's instincts are fundamentally decent when he's not trying to defend the government.

His first six paragraphs today are our boy at his best. Focused on detail, scholarly, compassionate, thoughtful, and eloquent. By the sixth, however, his virtues have started to tire. Certainly I got confused by the sudden gush of dates: 1661, 1691, 1924. What was with that? It's probably best that Dave didn't go into a discussion of the double standards applied to white and black mothers of illegitimate children or the rapes (real) by whites of blacks and the imaginary rapes the other way.

“[Barack Obama is] black,” a friend said to me yesterday. “Most people would look at him and see him as being black.” Certainly 1924 Virginians would. And if the man see himself as being black, then where's the argument? Except, he isn't. To say that Mr Obama is black is to say, in effect, that his mother had no race or that her race was somehow obliterated by her choice of husband. Is to say that no one much had realised, had quite noticed, that her son was, in fact, mixed race. Is to say that being mixed race is not also to be something.


Michelle Obama, quoted on page 180 of Obama: From Promise to Power:

Barack is a black man!


That sentence was the epigraph to Chapter 13 of the book, titled, "Race." Obama is a skilled politician: he has it most ways he can think of. Some blacks think he's not black enough and consider him elitist; he says (page 188):

... I am rooted in the African-American community, but not limited by it. ...


From a speech to "a nearly all-black audience at Mars Hill Baptist Church in Chicago's Austin neighbourhood in November 2003."

I think Dave is dead-right that there's no "mixed race community" - but who needs a community based on skin colour? Who ever did? I think he's wrong to quote the Washington Post writer David Maraniss on "the notion of Hawaii... the spirit of aloha, the transracial if not post-racial message" when Obama went to a predominantly white school.

Obama's senior class was more than 90 percent white, with just a smattering of Asians, and so it was known informally among Hawaiians as "the white school," or the school for the haole, the derogatory moniker for Caucasians used by island natives.


From Obama p 36.

DA seems to emotionally on the right track, but I can't help feeling that he's either missing or twisting something. Anyway, the President-elect is Irish as everyone who watched Andrew Marr now knows.



PS The title: it refers to Dave's colleague India Knight's piece in the Sunday Times. Dave seemed to be wittering once he brought in Leona Lewis: I don't know why he even went there, he'd already said that his "mildly extended family now includes four mixed-race children".

13 Comments:

Anonymous andrew adams said...

OT, but as you mentioned both Aaro and India Knight, our Dave and Daisy Goodwin kicked India and James Delingpole's asses in the book quiz on BBC4 tonight.
I have to say Dave was most impressive and, for all his faults, I would take him over that right wing Daily Mail shitbag Delingpole anytime.

11/11/2008 11:11:00 PM  
Anonymous Martin Wisse said...

A good attempt by Aaronovitch, but still on the somewhat stupid side. That "Huh Barack's mum was white so why do we call him Black" schtick wasn't interesting when Toby Young did it on HIGNFY either, as it sorta ignores all the historical and sociological context which defines Blackness in the US.

11/12/2008 07:25:00 AM  
Anonymous Phil said...

I like Garry Trudeau's take on that one.

11/12/2008 08:11:00 AM  
Blogger ejh said...

What, some black people aren't entirely black? Good God. That changes everything. Why did nobody tell us before?

11/12/2008 08:42:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

DA's probably missed the point: say 'Black' with the right tone of voice and a clenched fist in the air, and you might get closer. In other words, for some African-Americans, Obama's 'blackness' was a way of questioning his roots in the Civil Rights struggle (cf Jesse Jackson). And you're right, I don't think we need to go over the whole 'one drop of blood' arguments again.

[redpesto]

11/12/2008 10:16:00 AM  
Anonymous organic cheeseboard said...

Just to note: Aaro's January column on Obama was entitled 'White woman v black man. One's got problems'. I know columnists don't usually provide their own titles, but still.

11/12/2008 03:13:00 PM  
Anonymous incelement said...

I think the whole 'so there's a bit of white in an African American - quelle surprise' argument is a bit disingenuous. Ignoring a bit of pink in the woodpile is not the same thing as erasing someone's mother because it simplifies things.

11/14/2008 04:59:00 AM  
Anonymous Phil said...

Who's erasing anyone? Obama's a black man with a white mother.

Ethnicity's an insanely complicated topic, partly because it's both claimed and ascribed, and partly because the criteria on which it's claimed and ascribed change over time, between individuals and with context.

These days claims tend to trump ascriptions based on appearance, which in turn are a lot more acceptable than ascriptions based on measurement. So when someone asks "is Obama black?" they may be asking a 'claim' question:

"does Obama regard himself as being black?"
or
"is Obama regarded as black by other people who regard themselves as black?"

...or an 'appearance' question:

"does Obama look like a black man (to you and me)?"
"does Obama look like a black man (to the white majority of his own society)?"

...but they're very unlikely to be asking a 'measurement' question:

"just what proportion of black blood does Obama have?"

11/14/2008 12:14:00 PM  
Anonymous incelement said...

Who's erasing anyone? Obama's a black man with a white mother.

What's to stop Boris Johnson claiming that he was the first black mayor of London. After all if one parent can be removed from consideration why can't both.

11/14/2008 07:10:00 PM  
Anonymous Phil said...

What's to stop Boris Johnson claiming that he was the first black mayor of London.

Let's run through those questions, shall we?

"does Boris regard himself as being black?"

He certainly never has done up till now. That in itself would militate against taking seriously any claim to being black he made in future.

"is Boris regarded as black by other people who regard themselves as black?"
No.

"does Boris look like a black man (to you and me)?"
No.

"does Obama look like a black man (to the white majority of his own society)?
No.

That would be what would stop it, I think.

11/14/2008 10:20:00 PM  
Anonymous incelement said...

Given that the Boris Johnson example was clearly a hypothetical and a humorous exaggeration, not that I'll make that mistake again, then...

"does Boris regard himself as being black?"

Is irrelevant

"is Boris regarded as black by other people who regard themselves as black?"

Also irrelevant

These days claims tend to trump ascriptions based on appearance, which in turn are a lot more acceptable than ascriptions based on measurement.

Since Obama clearly looks mixed race, as do Lewis Hamilton, Tiger Woods and Thandie Newton, claim must be the deciding factor...

Therefore Boris Johnson, should he choose to make such a claim, would have to be accepted as a black man.

11/15/2008 04:30:00 AM  
Blogger ejh said...

I'm as fond of pedantry as the next chap, but in general a good pedant knows that the idea is to look knowledgeable rather than stupid.

11/15/2008 08:47:00 PM  
Anonymous incelement said...

I'm as fond of pedantry as the next chap, but in general a good pedant knows that the idea is to look knowledgeable rather than stupid.

That'll teach me to think above my station.

11/16/2008 09:28:00 AM  

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