Saturday, February 03, 2007

Will the Real African American Please Stand Up?

A few "African Americans" in Israel at the Baha'i World Center

My father-in law sent me this piece in the New York Times about Presidential candidate Barak Obama and how the "black vote" is still up for grabs. Apparently Obama does not have a "get into the White House Free" card with those who question whether he is a "real" African American:

The black author and essayist Debra J. Dickerson recently declared that “Obama isn’t black” in an American racial context. Some polls suggest that Mr. Obama trails one of his rivals for the Democratic nomination, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, in the battle for African-American support.

And at the Shepherd Park Barber Shop here, where the hair clippers hummed and the television blared, Calvin Lanier summed up the simmering ambivalence. Mr. Lanier pointed to Mr. Obama’s heritage — he is the American-born son of a black father from Kenya and a white mother from Kansas — and the fact that he did not embody the experiences of most African-Americans whose ancestors endured slavery, segregation and the bitter struggle for civil rights.

“When you think of a president, you think of an American,” said Mr. Lanier, a 58-year-old barber who is still considering whether to support Mr. Obama. “We’ve been taught that a president should come from right here, born, raised, bred, fed in America. To go outside and bring somebody in from another nationality, now that doesn’t feel right to some people.”(Read the whole article Here)

I've addressed how and why I define myself as an "African American" in the past and this article offers another chance to do some Baha'i thinking about this issue. First of all, the "multicultural" aspects of Senator Obama's ancestry would go virtually unnoticed in the Baha'i community, which is a global faith community in which marriage between people of different ethnic backgrounds is encouraged and quite common. Many of the children of these marriages are then raised in cultural and national contexts far removed from the ones their parents were raised in. Secondly, powerful spiritual and social forces are at work in the world that are moving humanity towards its destiny as the inhabitants of a single global civilization and African Americans are being impacted by this process just like every other ethnic group on the planet. As the number of African, Caribbean and Afro-Latino immigrants, "bi-racial" children, and "inter-racial" adoptions increase over the coming decades, those of us descended from the enslaved Africans who were brought to North America will have to undergo a transformation of consciousness that frees us from fixed conceptions of self inherited from the past. Our mental circle will need to break its bonds and widen to embrace broader experiences of the African Diaspora than ever before. This will include people who may not fit the "classical" definition of what an African American is, but who may very well embody its contemporary and future definition. The good news is that African Americans are a people who are well prepared to meet the challenges of the changing racial landscape in America. Over and over since we were first brought in chains to the "New World" we have had to change our conception of ourselves and how we express it in our public and private lives. Out of a diverse group of captives from many different tribes and nations, we became something that had never existed before: African Americans. To adapt, to evolve, to innovate is the essence of African American experience and has been the key to our survival as strangers in a strange land. In the 21st century we can and will continue this great tradition. It would be the truly "African American" thing to do.