Tallking Race In the Age of Obama: Julian Bond, Al Sharpton, Bryan Monroe and More
As a companion to my Perspective story today on race identity, I decided to pull together some extra comments from some of the story's most notable sources. here, they are mostly responding to the question which inspired today's piece: When Barack Obama says he is a black man, why don't some people believe him?
Check it out:
Julian Bond, chair NAACP board: “It seems to me there are both “cultural” and “genealogical” questions raised about Obama – both of them are bogus. One is whether or not “he marched with Martin” as if that was a qualification – but if it is, it disqualifies everyone in his generation. His ancestry is also a bogus question – in America. Whatever the percentage of his Caucasian ancentray, he’s considered to be black. I hope I am what used to be called a race man – a popular term 50 years ago for someone who – I don’t want to say committed to his race – but someone for whom talking about the race is a major part of the discussion. I’m not sure it’s a detriment, either. There’s all kinds of shapes of black people and black thought and we’ve always had all these shapes. I think people, especially journalists, are always looking for how this guy isn’t like the other guys, no matter who the other guy is.”
Al Sharpton, civil rights leader, on why he's been slow to endorse Obama: “This is about those who look at black leaders as a monolith. The premise of that is arrogant. Why would they assume I’m going to endorse him? Barack and I have discussed this in private…If I support Barack right now. Your next question is going to be why? Can you show me were he’s appeared in black venues to answer these questions (about his priorities)? I don't do anything in private...If all you have to do I meet wit five or six leaders privately (to get endorsements), why have debates?
Elisabeth Lasch-Quinn, professor, Syracuse University: “Here we have this wonderful, very promising potential president and the idea that the main question that would be launched is ‘Is he black enough?’ is appalling. It’s an example of how impoverished our terms are. He has a lot to offer….We really need to entertain the idea that he is a servant for all of us – he is not drawing a sharp line between what is good for black people and what is good for all of us. We believe that African Americans are Americans, that we are a mixed people, we have a high and growing rate of interracial marriage, that makes us one people. Some of these terms we have inherited from a very difficult racial past, why would we want to hold onto these terms forever? He’s giving a clear message that we don’t need to keep rehearsing the same terms we’ve used to refer to race in the country. I think maybe it’s time to find new ways to talk about it.”
Bryan Monroe, top editor, Ebony and Jet magazines: “As African Americans – light skinned, dark skinned exist in America. It’s as much how people describe themselves as what other identities are foist upon them. He’s the one who said he’s certainly black enough. I had a similar conversation with Halle Berry – we talked for a hour about her mixed race heritage. She was primarily raised by her white mother, and in the next edition of Ebony magazine she’s on the cover. I asked her, ‘How did you develop who you are as a black woman? She said, My mom – her spirit her soul is very much connected to my struggle. She felt the pain we felt, she cried every tear we cried. She saw the Oreo cookies in our mailbox. Every kid wants to be like their mother. I wanted to be blonde and blue eyed and have skin like hers. She’s the one who said you’re beautiful just as you are.”
Sylvester Monroe, senior editor, Ebony magazine: ““We’re out in Iowa and he was speaking at a coliseum full of white people He tells this story he doesn’t tell at every stop. He’s running for the Senate and Dick Durbin tells him you need to go downstate. And he was very uncomfortable – there’s a whole bunch of white people out with signs, but as he gets closer, he sees the signs are welcoming Barack Obama. He tells this story saying he’s expecting the worst and he gets welcomed by open arms. That’s a story he tells to make white people feel good about themselves. It’s not a story you’d hear from Jesse Jackson or Al Sharpton –that’s not their orientation. Guys who come from the civil rights tradition are about righting past wrongs. Obama’s saying let’s move forward.”
Carmen Van Kerckhove, diversity consultant, who is biracial: “Regardless of how you self-identify – it almost seems the way a mixed race person self-identifies is the least important facet of this. He has repeatedly articulated that he self-identifies as a black man…It’s hard to know how much of this was calculated, but that almost doesn’t seem to matter. All these other people’s opinions seem to exist above and before his. Obviously multi-racial people have had a pretty difficult history in this country. The legacy of the one-drop rule is so strong. When someone tries to step outside of that, there’s still opposition and resistance to that idea. One thing that worries me, which is a trend that I’m starting to see is that – you’re starting to see these stories about African immigrants having much higher educational achievements than African Americans – pitting them against African immigrants. And people asking whether immigrants should benefit from affirmative action. One thing that I worry that we’re going to see this pitting of African immigrants against African Americans. It’s like comparing apples to oranges.