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February 05, 2007

IS OBAMA BLACK ENOUGH?

As much as his biracial identity has helped Obama build a sizable following in middle America, it's also opened a gap for others to question his authenticity as a black man. In calling Obama the "first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy," the implication was that the black people who are regularly seen by whites — or at least those who aspire to the highest office in the land — are none of these things. But give Biden credit — at least he acknowledged Obama's identity.

The same can't be said for others. "Obama's mother is of white U.S. stock. His father is a black Kenyan," Stanley Crouch recently sniffed in a New York Daily News column entitled "What Obama Isn't: Black Like Me." "Black, in our political and social vocabulary, means those descended from West African slaves," wrote Debra Dickerson on the liberal website Salon. Writers like TIME and New Republic columnist Peter Beinart have argued that Obama is seen as a "good black," and thus has less of following among black people. Meanwhile, agitators like Al Sharpton are seen as the authentic "bad blacks." Obama's trouble, asserted Beinart, is that he will have to prove his loyalty to The People in a way that "bad blacks" never have to.

I had an Ethiopian friend in law school who was told that he was a less attractive applicant for a job because they were looking for a "real" black person, not an African. He was not amused.