Mary Ann Sorrentino's 2 Cents Worth

Opinions, Observations and Musings

Mary Ann Sorrentino

Mary Ann Sorrentino
Location
RI or FL depending on season, USA
Birthday
June 19
Bio
Mary Ann is a columnist for the Keene (NH) Sentinel, the Providence Phoenix and other newspapers and has appeared on Salon.com She was an Associated Press Award-winning radio talk host for 13 years and the Executive Director of Planned Parenthood of RI 1977-1987. Her most recent book, ABORTION - The A Word (Gadd Books) is available on line and in major bookstores.

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Editor’s Pick
APRIL 7, 2010 3:29PM

President Obama: Clear As Black and White

Rate: 13 Flag

 Obama clip  

Earlier this week it was reported that the president had checked off “Black” on his 2010 census form question about race. There was a momentary blip on the media screen in reporting this: most of the discussion/commentary centered around Obama’s apparent self-image. Then, silence.

 

Though I do wonder why the president chooses to ignore his white half-- the half that was his mother who, with the help of her parents, raised the future president-- the question Obama’s race selection raises for me has more to do with telling the truth.

 

Ever since George Washington ‘fessed up to chopping down the legendary cherry tree, Americans have valued honesty in their chief executives (Washington and Lincoln) and despised the public lies told by others (Nixon and Clinton to name just two of many.)

 

Of course the president has a right to see himself as black since anyone pointing him out in a group would probably see him as black as well. His complexion and features leave little room in observers’ eyes for doubt that Barack Obama is a “black man,”  and not a black man likely to “pass” for white, as blacks say.

 

But we are who we are—not always what we appear to be or what outsiders mistake us for. When Uncle Sam asks glamorous drag queen RuPaul “her” gender, the correct and truthful reply would still be “Male.”  If Joan Collins is called upon to tell the US government her age, she will still be 77 next month however young the Dynasty star may appear today.

 

In America, we have ever-increasing numbers of citizens of mixed race and mixed ethnicities. Some would go so far as to say that there are hardly any "purebreds" left in our population, and the DNA technology tells us that going back to a prolific Thomas Jefferson, and long before that, Caucasians and their partners of color have been producing children of mixed lineage for centuries in this country and globally. They constitute an important group that needs to be counted.

 

The Census is an attempt at an accurate count: it is not a consciousness-raising exercise in race relations. The 2010 US Census form makes it easy enough for multiracial citizens to just check off “some other race,” and there is even a space provided for the respondent to name the race/races. Respondents can also select more than one category under the general race question, so Obama could have checked off both “Black” and “White” had he cared to be honest about it.

 

Some worry that if the president had done that, the Black community would have been offended.  Well, whites have an equal right to be offended in this case. The man had a white mother: get over it!

 

People participate in the Census because we need to periodically take demographic inventory. But the count is only as accurate as the truthful answers people provide. There is plenty of room for error based on human shortcomings-- literacy issues, language barriers, racism, vanity and the like. But when the president—a Harvard Law School graduate, author of two books, former U.S. Senator and loving father of two-- makes a decision, for convenience, political reasons or otherwise, to tell a half truth on an official US document he sets a bad example.

 

 

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Good for you, Mary Ann, for taking yesterday's #3 to the next level.
I think we are mostly in agreement about this, because I think the problem would solve itself if the government would just count bodies. I offered my comment to #3 hoping to explain why a person like the President doesn't feel as if he is lying when he marks Black.

It might not be like the transvestite you cited because President Obama and I cannot switch our racial identities at will; RuPaul can. How would you count his two halves? If everybody marked all the categories that they knew about, there would be a lot of fractions. When added together they might add up to whole persons, but how can that be an accurate count? Where is that person? Doesn't really exist.
I do understand what you said about by choosing to mark black, we tacitly deny the white part. My mother feels that way. But unless we just count bodies, without regard for race, people will continue to be boxed into choosing. R for thought provoking
Lezlie
I noticed one of your questions (recent post) was also about this issue. I don't think there's anything clear about black & white in this country and Obama's census decision is a perfect illustration of the challenge many people face when asked such a "simple" or "factual" question. He didn't lie, he didn't do anything wrong, and this one question is something he's had to deal with his entire life.

While it may seem strange that Obama would "ignore" his white mother when checking that box, I have no doubt that having a white mother didn't make him immune from the persistent racism directed as those with ANY black ancestry. I'm sure you've heard of the one drop rule - within Obama's lifetime (and to this date, I'm sure) there are people who would insist that anyone with even one drop of black blood does not qualify as a white person. So even someone with white parents and grandparents would be excluded from being white (whatever that means) if there was a single black great-grandparent out of 16 in the family tree. These people don't care how you were raised culturally or the color of your skin - this racism is fully based on the "stain" of black ancestry and the attempt to keep the "white race" pure.

During the election, I was chatting with a co-worker about this very issue - someone was claiming that Obama wouldn't be the first black president because he had a white mother. I was incredulous and asked my co-worker and close friend, who is a black woman in her 50s, whether this was a new trend - where 1 drop of "white blood" made someone white. She reassured me that she and her family had never gotten the memo about the reversal. We both enjoyed a good laugh about how absurd these political maneuverings had gotten - justifying anything to get votes.

Until there's an actual definition for these categories - and there won't be - there will be people that are forced to try to fit themselves into imperfect boxes. Easy for people like me - whiter than white bread - but incredibly difficult, emotional, and challenging cultural issues are at play for many others. I don't see that going anyway any time soon.
Not to be too contentious but this would then raise the question of how much "black"/African blood does one require to be considered black? Is it "octoroon" or greater? Or is it what the person considers it to be? This effort at counting and being at least somewhat "politically correct" or sensitive makes for interesting interpretation.
If the man considers himself to be black, that's good enough for me. If he considers himself to be of "mixed race" then that's good enough for me. And, correspondingly, if he considers himself to be white then that would be good enough for me too. The bottom line here is that it's none of anyone else's business except for the person filling out the form. More's the pity that the poor guy decided to release how he filled out his census form in an effort to stimulate more people to voluntarily respond.
Sorry, but I really couldn't care less and see little or no justification in calling him to task on how he chose to respond to that particular question. And...I still don't care one way or another if he smokes. Both of these are non-issues especially since the man has far greater concerns and issues to worry about.
Most people see him as black, he sees himself as black. How is that being untruthful?
First of all , this should be private information. Secondly, he gave a valid response. Third, you sound like a birther. Fourth, if you really want to find out about race you'll need a genetics test.
I'm much more concerned about the former adminstration getting away with starting a $3 trillion war based on lies and getting away with it than how our current president answered the census.
This is the ultimate in Political Correctness backlash BS. And why I hate and loathe,to the core of my being Political Correctness. Who the (explative) cares what race he chose to identify himself as? Why do you, why does anyone get to decide how he identifies himself as? He chose "black" for a reason, and his reasons are his and his alone to live with. We do not need to know his reasons for identifying as black, and his self identity as black does not in any way diminish his identity as bi-racial.

This is the same argument that the blacks and gays have been having for years. If you are both black and gay, you are forced to choose, and be rejected by the other community. If you are black, you are almost guaranteed to be identified as homophobic, and if you identify as gay, then you are almost certain to be identified by others as racist.

it is entirely possible to be both gay and black, and be neither racist or homophobic, and it is entirely possible to be biracial and only list one of your identities for a given purpose.

Give it up. This attempt to control others through the use of language is just as offensive to me as you seem to believe his choice of identity is offensive to you
There are people who don't consider all "whites" the same, too. You know - like Hitler, and the people who make comments about white trash, people in the south, etc. So, should whites have to get specific, too?

IMHO, the fact that people talk about what he did or didn't put on the census just shows how petty we humans are.

I'll consider it progress when the census forms don't ASK for race and categorize everyone as an American, Canadian, Brit., etc. When we can count our numbers by country, not color.
There is more to our ethnic genetic make-up than black and white. One's skin color is a small piece, though people seem to define themselves by it, because they are defined by it. Even if I have a black or Native American ancestor, I look white, so I check that box. It is an artificial construct and I am not sure if it will ever change.
While I understand your point, it's simply not of major concern to me. I would have to check the census documents that I filled out again, it appeared to me not to be "check all that apply," but "check the one that applies." I could be wrong. Anymore, I just don't care how someone identifies racially - identify or don't, but what's the fruit of your life?
I might be wrong about this but I see no issue here. At all.
The story about Washington and the Chery Tree is apocryphal, as is the story about throwing a silver dollar across the Potomac (first of all, there were no dollars then and, secondly, the Potomac is too wide.) Aside from that, by a long tradition, mixed race people always refer to themselves as Black, unless they are trying to pass as white. Aside from the fact that I don't think that Obama would be president today if he were white, he has represented himself as black throughout his political career because he looks more black than white. And, while I have myself thought about the fact that half is half, and how he was raised in a white family in a white community, I think we can safely believe that the president hasn't lied. He has merely told his truth.
As is often the case, the comments and reactions may outshine the post itself. I am learning from what all of you have to say about this post. Thanks for taking the time...
With our particular zeitgeist I do (expletive) care what box our Black Hawaiian FEARLESS LEADER checks. I do care to know he checks black- check. Still an issue. I hope to be around when, after his 2nd term, he someday checks mixed-race on a future form, if we are still staining dead pine trees at that point. Additionally, Da Prez was not brought up in a white world, he lived down the hill, and in Indo.

Aloha Kakou
Yikes, where do we begin?

1. race is a fiction. what we can call a true lie. race is a social construction that is based on some loose sense of phenotypical difference that the State, individuals, and communities choose to reproduce/resist/internalize or not in the interest or against Power. There is only 1 race--the human race. Now that having been stated, the President chose "black", he seems himself as a black man in America, claims that historical experience, and is seen as a black man by others for the purposes of racial classification in this country. So, why the confusion or offense (even) at his choice?

2. How some white folks want to claim the President and are offended that he is black stinks of childishness. It is reminiscent of the spoiled brat at the birthday party who is mad that someone else is getting a gift and not him or her. Obama is black. Get over it. Be proud of his accomplishment and what it may or may not symbolize for you personally and politically.

3. A random thought: would some white folk be clamoring to claim the president and exercising the raw nerve to say "he lied" in communicating his own social identity on the Census, if Obama were a taxi driver? a janitor? or (God forbid) a prison inmate? I think we know the answer. He is "black" when anonymous and therefore stigmatized in this society, but when President he becomes somehow anything but Black. Sad.

4. Deeper thought: Could it be that those whom want Obama to be something other than black, can't accept or comprehend that his brilliance and intelligence and obvious life accomplishments are inseparable from his blackness, i.e. the idea that a black person could have accomplished so much could be shocking to some who have internalized a lifetime of messages, both gross and subtle, about the inferiority of black people specifically, and non-whites, more generally?
The census has had little boxes for race going back to the first census in the 1800's. You can see these old census sheets on line on the geneology sites . This one did have a little more variety as far as ethnicity. It's just a population growth study. If the president identifies as a black man, that's his choice.
"Ever since George Washington ‘fessed up to chopping down the legendary cherry tree, Americans have valued honesty"

My.sprite.almost.shot.out.of.my.nose.on.that.one...
I am a big believer in writing the best post one can, and then letting the comments fall where they may, but I must say I find some of these extreme reactions that go way over the top demanding a reply.

If race is "a fiction" then so might gender, ethnicity, creed, and age be...very existential, I'm not writing "No Exit" here, this was an examination of facts. I'll leave the possible "fiction of race" to Sartre

As far as people who wonder why the president ignores his white half not being able to embrace a brilliant black man...that is just bullshit. I embraced Obama in November 2008 and I have consistently defended his brilliance and vision every chance I have had. But he's not perfect and Truman would have reminded you that he's in the kitchen and there is bound to be periodic heat. It isn't helpful to the dissipation of racial questions-- if that's what you seek-- to scream "racism" any time the president is questioned or even criticised.

He is a man of mixed race...who looks black and apparently likes to play to all of those who are so enchanted with the concept of the first Black President that they have lost all ability to reason and embrace his diversity.

Obama might see himself as younger than his years too, does that mean he can say he's 40 when asked? He's not being counted as President Obama, he's being counted as one more man answering the questionnaire, and one would hope the group he belongs to (Americans of mixed race) would be important enough to be counted for what it is. Lumping all those people together as either Black OR White because it makes anyone "feel better" is apparently possible, but it undermines a multi-million dollar census effort to get to an accurate count. (Census results are used, by the way, for the distribution of federal funds (you can see that right on the form.) So is it OK to pad one group's chances over another? )

This post is about one census question. Please put the race cards back in the deck, unless some of you who are in a knot about the white half of Obama have a problem accepting that that part of him
also exists. No one says it's better, bigger or more legitimate..it just IS!
Mary Ann, at some point in the past you reached my radar as someone who has an irrational dislike for the President. I can't remember when/where/how, which I realize is decidedly unhelpful for you and even unfair, but I can only say that I remember thinking that about you. This post merely confirms it.
"Obama might see himself as younger than his years too, does that mean he can say he's 40 when asked?"

He can, anyone can say "I feel like I'm 40, and that's all that matters" just like anyone can say "I feel like I'm black, and that's all that matters, despite the fact that I'm multi-racial"

This is about YOUR attempt to define him, and your refusal to let him define himself however he wants.

If, as you say, this is a focus on one question, then I think this question might be a lot less relevant than some of the other questions asked in the census, that go toward government representation
What a pointless post.
Mary,

I always try to play nice when in others folks' houses...or posting on their blog as I expect the same at my various sites. But, you need a moment of critical self-reflection: you evoked a certain energy with your post and your claims. Thus, one has to own what happens. Perhaps next time you will be more precise in your claims. As I tell my students, Americans all think they are experts on race--it is our national obsession of sorts--but opinion is not reasoned consensus, fact, or scholarship. Consider again my point, race is a fiction because it is socially constructed. And yes, gender is also a social construct as is sexuality, there are no "pure" races.

Interestingly, social demographers, genealogists, and anthropologists have demonstrated that a significant plurality of white Americans have "black" blood. By extension, almost all Black Americans...those who can trace their linage through slavery to the origins of this country have "white blood."

By your logic, shouldn't we all check off mixed? By your definition, all black folks should check off "black" and "white." But ask yourself, why this does not happen? Are you willing to check off black? and then to identify yourself as such in public, private, and in your interactions with others?

How does race--whatever we imagine it to be--order American social life? Mary, there are no "pure" races, so the very basis of your claim is a specious one. This is one the tragedies of white supremacy in this country's history--a system of inequality was created based on somewhat arbitrary distinctions between different groups of people for the purposes of exploitation. This is the tragedy of racism in this country.
Mary Ann – I carefully read and reread your post and then I read the comments, including your own. I have to agree with the majority here and would add that I am astounded that this piece gets a cover billing anywhere including OS. Your sentences “Well, whites have an equal right to be offended in this case. The man had a white mother: get over it!” are just so over the top. Whites don’t have any RIGHT to be offended here.

And your comment “He is a man of mixed race...who looks black and apparently likes to play to all of those who are so enchanted with the concept of the first Black President that they have lost all ability to reason and embrace his diversity.” doesn’t even make sense.

You wrote a provocative post that invokes race under the pretense of a “single census question” and then you chastise commenters for invoking race. Not a very logical or sound argument on your part.

And to the OS Eds: Placing this on your cover with your “Did Obama lie?” headline is just pathetic.
As this discussion winds down, I refer you all to the first comment above here, from LintheSoutheast. Her comment yesterday on my 20 Questions piece provoked this lengthier look at what had been Question #3 in that post. She also described herself as a person of mixed race. It is fascinating that she had none of the "racism" reactions some of you have expressed here as a person with more standing in this question than many of us.

Bottom line: this has all be instructional to me and I still thank you for your comments and insights, and for taking the time to read and to express, in some cases so thoughtfully, whatever your point of view.

(Don't we all love the First Amendment?)
THIS is the question that sparked this post (or so you say):

3. Is it okay that the presidents lied about his race on the census form or are we, in fact, what we look like?

My answer: The problem is one of semantics. Is the question "what race ARE you?" or "what race do you most identify with?" The question doesn't say. the question is simply "RACE", and when that is the case, the respondant has the option to choose to answer what race they are vs what race do they most identify with. There are many people who ARE one race, but who have stronger identification with another race, because of the culture in which they are brought up.

It STILL boils down to YOU trying to decide FOR HIM how he does or is supposed to feel. If he feels more black than white, let him. If he feels more white than black, let him identify as white. It is HIS choice. WHat does it matter?

Now, if you want to argue that the census needs to be more specific and not just have a check for different races, and expand the question, then, okay, argue that, but don't argue that his PERSONAL interpretation of a given question is wrong, based on your beliefs and values
Before the 2000 Census there was no option to check more than one box - the Barack Obamas and Tiger Woods of the country either picked one, or checked "other." People, understandably, complained, and now we have an option to be more inclusive. But to act like a man who must have filled out at least one census having to choose one, and whose wife is Black, and who then has to determine if his daughters should also be classified with more than one choice is "lying" is going a little far.
The U.S. Census does not ask questions about gender. It asks about sex. Sex and gender are not the same thing. Nevertheless, fussing over how someone else self-identifies on matters of sex, gender, or race is adolescent and provincial. I smell a red herring. I do recommend that you read some work on performativity (start with Judith Butler)--both on matters of race and sexuality. In doing so you'll come to realize the difficulties many people face when confronted with bureaucratic appellations for/of Otherness.

You appear from your photograph to be a white woman. If that's settled business for you then cheers. For many people it isn't, and they don't need others settling it for them.
I have no problem with your post or headline. I think the headline on the cover is nonsense and a travesty.
Hey Mary Ann, I like this piece. All I have to say is...the "one drop rule". This rule says that even if you have one drop of African-American blood you are African. Society enforces that rule like a mfka (pardon my french). Look how hard it is for somebody who is 75% white and only 25% black to be fully accepted by the white community. Let alone someone who is half and half. I do see your point however and it sparks some interesting discussions.
In America – Land of the One Drop Rule – Obama is more than "black enough." He's not ignoring the white part as much as the culture at large does.
Realistically speaking, it's not clear that Obama, whose father was probably 100% African, has much more white ancestry than many black American black men.

How would it change things if we all got DNA tests and discovered that no one is pure anything? Would it turn us into a society where content of character matters more than the color of your skin?

To me, that is a post-racial society, one where skin color/race doesn't matter. We won't reach it by obsessing about race or skin color.
If only Obama's policies supported the black community or the poor of all colors, or everyone but the very wealthy. I don't care what color Obama is, he is owned by the corporations, just like his predecessors. If he identifies himself as black, fine, now go out and help them.
This is way too complex, and it doea not need to be. The Census is a numerical inventory of how many of whom are residing here in the U.S. Period. Amen. The man had two choices he could answer, he chose the appropriate one. He neither lied nor disrespected his Mother by answering that he belonged to the Black race. This type of thinking is holding this country back from frying the bigger fish to which we had all better start paying attention.
A black man becomes president and all of a sudden race not only isn't supposed to matter, it isn’t even supposed to exist. All of a sudden 500 years of history are wiped out. They can excommunicate you but they can’t stop you from believing in miracles, can they?

This is the country where a person could and would be denied the most basic rights – yes, even in the north – no matter how black they were or how many of their antecedents were white, as long as they looked a little black.

In the south a single drop of “black blood” subjected any person to severe legal restrictions until just a couple of generations ago – and for social change a couple of generations is a nanosecond. A single drop made you completely black by law.

Though I do wonder why the president chooses to ignore his white half-- the half that was his mother who, with the help of her parents, raised the future president-- the question Obama’s race selection raises for me has more to do with telling the truth.

Do you know that he chooses to ignore his white half or just that he checked “black” on the census form? Before he became president would anyone have accepted him as equally white as black?

I would think that a visibly black child being raised in a largely white environment, living with white people, would be even more focused on his black identity by virtue of his visible differentness. I confess, I have no idea when they went to Hawaii or if he spent any time as a child in Kansas, but if any significant part of his childhood was spent in Kansas I’d expect that effect to be exacerbated.

Have you seen the posters, the signs at tea-party rallies, on the internet depicting the president in all manner of viciously racist ways? While politicians are always caricatured and even mocked to one degree or another, when can you remember that being centered on a president’s ethnicity? Has any part of the citizenry demanded that any other president or candidate not only produce his birth certificate to prove his citizenship but then deny its authenticity when he does it? Do you honestly believe Obama’s race was not the single factor in all of that?

Not long ago I casually knew a family, black people, both parents very high powered and highly paid attorneys, the mother a top official at a major state university - second only to the president. When the father took the two children to a small, not so upscale local shop they were watched closely and even followed by store clerks from the time they entered until they were uncomfortable enough that they just left. That happened for one reason – their race.

In my neighborhood there was a black family with three very nice, smart, well-behaved children. I never saw those kids hanging around at the house next door when it sat empty for months but I did witness some white kids – whose mother absolutely knew her kids “would never do anything like that” – causing trouble there. When there was vandalism, it was the black kids who immediately were blamed and gossiped about. Again, this was all about their race, there was nothing in their behavior to indicate they were troublemakers.

This is still a racist society. A black man is a black man is a black man. In a racist society if black and white exist in the same person, black always trumps white. If you met someone who looked like Barack Obama who told you he was white – seriously. You’d think he was disturbed. You can assert all you want that you wouldn’t think twice about it but then I would question your grasp on truth.

This is too long for a comment but – oh hell, but I don’t care. I will probably even do a post of my own tomorrow. I’ll think and learn before then and I hope I’ll make more sense.

Now that I've read the comments I'm calmer, thank god for some voices of reason. I think I'll put this up anyway.

(I didn't rate this one, Mary Ann.)
Are you proud of yourself for getting yet another false accusation of "Obama is a liar" out into the public domain? If you want to hear something racist, how about, "Every Italian I've ever met was a racist." How does that feel? Do you resent me defining you by your ancestry? Good. Your article was the stupidest thing I've read today, and I've read a lot of stupid things today.
I don't get why how Obama self-identifies, or at the very least, how he identifies himself for a census form is at all an issue.

Frankly, if anything, it points out how ridiculously arbitrary the issue of 'race' is in many ways. Black, white, orange, purple, whatever. It'll be a fine and good day when those little blocks checking off "race" are gone for good.

He simply identifies himself in that way because he sees himself in that way. This is a tempest in a teapot, and I, for one, am super duper tired of these tempests. I'd like to see us concentrate on more important ... wait ... even vaguely important issues instead of this nonsense, which has interestingly never reared its ugly head in the times we've had other legislatures check 'white' when they had other ancestors in their background. Ridiculous. Can we move on to something meaningful, please? Also, calling someone a liar about how he or she self-identifies is a pretty horrible thing to do. Plenty bad could be said about that.
To be honest, I feel it is a bit ludicrous to accuse Obama of lying. He sees himself as an African American, he is seen by most people as African American and, most importantly, his life experience has been as an African American. Quite frankly, given how much racial intermixing has gone on in the US, the criticism that people are not checking off all the boxes on the census form that they could might apply to millions of Americans going back generations. Most African Americans have European genes somewhere in their genetic makeup. Most Southern whites have African American relatives or genetic makeup themselves. Race is not a "real" category, it is a social construct. On that basis, Obama is clearly African American.
I beg to differ. Far too many Americans do not want the truth - they want a simplistic story confirming their beliefs. For example even the media and liberals refuse to debunk the "Saint Ronnie" myth.

Yesterday a liberal spokesman pointed out that our anti-government fringe started to grow in the 80's because we were told that government is the problem. Not one person on the supposedly liberal talk show dared to say it was Reagan who perpetrated that belief. Had the media not been seduced by Reagan's nice guy demeanor they would have never let that dangerous statement go unchallenged. Nor would they have allowed his something for nothing, tax cuts pay for themselves, trickle down economics, poor people are all lazy bums who want to take from the rest of us bullshit to stand. Pundits loved the Reagan as a great guy storyline too much to challenge it. Most kept their mouths shut and still refuse to tell the public the truth even though we are suffering greatly from Bush's implementation of Reaganomics.

Yeah, Americans hate to be lied to. Oh yeah and George Washington never 'fessed up to cutting down a cherry tree. That was a story made up by Parson Weems to mythologize our first president.
The problem for Americans is not how O-bomb-a identifies himself, but how he treats others who are black or white (or others). Briefly, he treats blacks as if he were a white-slaver: disenfranchising youth with his continued war on drugs and increasing their poverty through his favor for the financial and imperial elitists.

He treats whites in two sets of behavior: if they are ordinary Americans, as if they were blacks; if they belong to the ruling class as if he were Uncle Tom.
This is probably the most idiotic post I've seen on OS since I started reading it. Ms. Sorrentino has a problem with race.
This article reeally resonated with me. I have raised 4 children whose father was an American soldier in Germany, who married a German. The father certainly looked and identified as "black" but actually he had one white grandfather and one Native American Grandmother. Undoubtedly, since he came from a slave family, there was more in the history as well. One son -- the darkest in skin color but otherwise not African in appearance, but perhaps Native American or Indian calls himself a "black man." The others identified as white, although the two with "African" hair went through a phase in high school with huge Afros. Although they would have all -- and have done so -- identified themselves as having a black father, I imagine they were perceived as "white." So, it's been a part of our lives for many years. The "dark" child was constantly asked -- and he had a bit of public exposure because he was chosen as a Jr Rose Festival Price in Portland many years ago, "What Are you?" He always answered "human."

Now, I also (since I am remarried to a man of "pure" Japanese ancestry, have two grandchilden who each have one Japanese American parent and one white American parent. I also have three grandchildren from the "mixed-race" children, who both married white Americans, although one is 1/4th Native American. When I was a little girl, I remember telling my mother, maybe when I grow up, (this was more than sixty years ago --) everybody will just marry everybody else, and the children will all get mixed up, and people won't fight any more. I think my idea of a wonderful world, back then, was a non-racial world.

So, I think I would have been pleased if the president had checked off both the "black" and the "white" boxes. It would have shown some progress for my childish "we're all in this together" dream. But I also know that my darkest child has been forced to identify as other than white, because of his skin color, and the others with whiter skin, even if he has straight hair and they don't, have been perceived as white, and so they have self-identified as white when asked on various forms. I don't know what my "Hapa" grandchildren will do. One of them has a white father, and therefore a "white" name, and the other has a Japanese American father, and therefore a Japanese name. I wonder if that will make a difference as well.

I know this is just lengthy maundering on my part, but I was interested in the article, although I wouldn't have called Obama's answer a "lie." I do wish, though, for the sake of my grandchildren (and many nieces and nephews as well) and our acceptance of so-called "mixed marriages," that he had chosen to take advantage of the opportunity to check off two boxes, which was a choice.
The way I look at it....he had a choice, so why not? If I looked as black as he does, I also would have marked off "black." I did learn from a nurse friend of mine that on his birth certificate it should be marked caucasion since his Mom was white. Apparently, they mark the birth certificates whatever race the Mom is.
Thanks again for all the insights...lots to think about over a wide range of reactios.
Thanks Sharon for the thoughtful "first hand" observations
The rule in the U.S., formerly formal, now informal but just as rigid, is that if you are visibly of some degree of African ancestry, you are black (whatever the actual shade). Even if the degree of African ancestry is such that it doesn't show, if it is found out then you are black. Silly, but that's it. Obama didn't have a whole lotta choice, let alone latitude to "lie".
I think the spambot selling shoes makes more sense than you do.
It's not a lie, and it's his personal choice. If you ask any white person to identify mixed-race children of black and white parents, nine times out of ten they will say they are black, which is a biased perception. There is little real rationale to record race on a census IMHO, as it only serves as a device to record superficial differences of our species.
Birth certificates vary from state to state. While race is listed on my husband's birth certificate from Connecticut issued in the 1960s. Neither mine (NJ 60's) nor my daughter's (Mass 90's) lists race. Passports don't list race.

I've always viewed race as something you are asked to identify about yourself, not a Gov't verified fact. Among other things, the categories have changed slightly over time. Black and hispanic is now separate from black and hispanic.
Mary Ann - your post was intriguing to me because of my own bi-racial child. I tend to agree with most of the posters that I see no inconsistency in Obama's response on the Census. The issue that I don't think that you understand is that identifying as "black" doesn't really have anything to do with race or color. I am descended from a long line of "blacks" even though there were plenty who didn't look African because in all actuality they were mixed-race. My great-grandfather looked "white" but always self-identified as "black". Why? Because his culture and the community he chose to be a part of was "black".

Obama spent much of his youth and early adulthood trying to figure out what he was. He finally decided he was "black" especially after living and working in Chicago. Choosing a "black" wife also cemented this choice. He & Michelle are raising a "black" family. I would venture to believe his mother encouraged him to embrace this identity as well. While she was "white" in color, his mother made a choice not to live as a "white" woman so as to not separate herself from her children or husband.

Not choosing to mark "white" is not a renunciation or lie. It is an affirmation of his predominate cultural identification. Interestingly, I met several S. Africans of Indian descent who identified as "black". Why? Because during the apartheid era they identified more with the "otherness" of black S. Africans and they felt a solidarity with other "blacks".

Finally, when I filled out the census form for my family I designated my husband as white & Hispanic of Mexican descent. My designation was black - African American. My daughter as black, white & Hispanic. We have a latin surname but my daughter self-identifies (at age 7) as "black". She easily looks like a Latina but because I am the more dominant cultural force in our family that is the prism from which she views things. I don't discourage it either. I don't deny all her identity but we are mostly a "black/mixed" family. Sorry for the long post.
Mary Ann, can you give a source for the contention that Obama checked "Black" on the census? This entire post appears to be based on speculation. Census information is confidential. Did Obama disclose what he self-identified, and if he did, where is your source?
I, like Sheila's comment, also see NO ISSUE HERE. Why make something into one? Don't we have a few more important issues floating about to deal with and take on? Yawn.
Sure, Voicegal,
Here are only three sources (below) of this story which, as I said in the post, broke about 4 days ago.

It was from this story that I originally asked the question about how people felt about this
in my previous post (20 Questions) in question #3.

It was a comment to that post from a reader who identified herself as "multi racial" that I decided to delve further into the discussion.



http://www.nbcwashington.com/news/politics/It_s_official__Obama_is_black.html

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/04/02/obama-census-choice-afric_n_524012.html

http://politicalticker.blogs.cnn.com/2010/04/03/obamas-census-form-signed-sealed-delivered/?fbid=2NQqeRP7e6i
I take it you did not read Obama's autobiography Dreams of my Father. During his youth, Obama struggled with his racial identity. Finally, when he was in college, he embraced his African-American roots. He also married an African-American. So, it is understandable he would see himself primarily as African-American. There's no issue here except perhaps that the census makes you have to choose your racial background.
Oh, Mary. I will not be used that way. I checked Black on the Census. I am a mixed-race person who checked Black, just as the President did. I tried to be civil and logical with you, unemotional.
Don't hide behind me just because you have struck a lot of nerves. Stand in your own truth.

Folks, this is my comment from the now infamous Question #3 of Mary's previous post:
3. Is it okay that the presidents lied about his race on the census form or are we, in fact, what we look like?
Re: #3 -- Let's say that you and I are standing in a lineup of people. The focus group is asked to classify each person according to race.
I am literally a mutt, just like President Obama, except that I'm even more diverse, with at least three major categories in my bloodline. Although we have no idea what your gene pool includes, you will be called white and I will be called black if we are in America. If the President decided that from now on he would call himself white, after the African American community got through with him, he couldn't be elected to clean erasers after school, and there would probably be calls for impeachment from all corners of the halls of government. If I were to make the same decision, after the laughter stopped, I would be hauled off to the psychiatric ward of Grady Hospital here in Atlanta. But if you were to say that you are part African American or anything else, you would be believed.
Sometimes I want all the critics to move to Kyrgyzstan. This is about as intelligent article as a bag of rocks. Let's just dumb this down a bit.

If Obama looks black, and feels black, and thinks black, and is the President of the United States as well as having a black daddy, he damn well can check the black box and be 100% honest.

Whose your daddy?

Read Harv: http://TheHarvView.blogspot.com
As the white mother of two mixed children, I checked off white and instead of "black," "African-American," or "negro," for my kids, I put down "other" in addition and wrote in "African," as my husband wished to be counted. He wa born in Ivory Coast. I was very sorry to hear he didn't count himself as a mixed-race person. Their experiences are unique as people of color, and racial gap they bridge is undeniable. It's sad to me that Obama feels he has to cater to a political group or racial group even as he fills out his Census form. Whther he "feels" it or not, he is mixed race, and it makes ALL the difference in who he is and how far he's come. Would whites have elected any other? Maybe not. He should 'fess up that he is racially priveleged through his white upbringing, and honor his black side--which we are all so proud of--at the same time by checking BOTH boxes.
About 15 years ago, I told two of my co-workers that my brother was dating a mixed race woman. One of them dismissed the whole mixed race thing. She subscribed to the "one drop of negro blood" (see "Show Boat.") Perhaps Obama wants to make a point about his own success. Of course technically, since his father was from Kenya, does that make him a true African-American as most peple think of that designation. The whole race thing is sillier and sillier in the end. I have three Italian grandparents. At one point they were not considered white.
The "issue" that everyone seems to be missing is that this "Obama is not black" meme has been circulating since long before the election.

It is all part and parcel of the "post-racialist society" myth that says that discrimination is a thing of the past and has been so for decades; that Obama is an "empty suit" who got where he is strictly because of affirmative action, and earned none of it; that the only people who voted for him were racist blacks and whites who were practicing "reverse racism" to prove they were, um, n****r-l****s.

It by necessity claims the lie that most blacks in America are 100% African in origin, and that you can tell by looking at someone exactly what percentage of each race their blood contains.

The question has been asked at least 36,000 times in the Politics&Government category of Yahoo Answers. Google on "Obama black" and you will find 90,000,000 pages to peruse, many of them hatefully racist.

There is nothing original in this post. It is just an attempt to legitimize something that is inherently illegitimate and bring it to those of us who have not frequented sites like red state, free republic, storm front, etc, where post-racialism occupies a place with birtherism, southernism, and other such philosophies.

You should be ashamed of yourself, Mary Ann.
There seems to be a litmus test for stupidity in this country akin to those people who do NOT believe in evolution. The condition is called Fecalis Mentalis.

The new "test" is finding anything and everything they can to criticize President Obama.

We have the first NON-alcoholic as President in 17 years who prides himself on respect, responsibility, and results. The man even taught Constitutional law for twelve years. And he has his mother-in-law living with him!

It the so-called Moral Majority wanted a Role Model, our President should be worshiped by them. Instead we have Mary Ann's latent bigotry and Reichnut hypocrisy from Beck, Limbaugh, Morris, and others preaching a form of government called an Idiocracy.
~r. For articulating yourself with graciousness under fire, proving that there is greater strength in responding to arrows with a civil head and respectful heart than angrily defending yourself to folks who think dowsing you with verbal boiling oil is an effective way of communicating anything beyond their own contempt.

It took me a day to even open this post because of the inflammatory title that Judy assigned your post when she put it on the cover. On the other hand, you did reference your sense that Obama was guilty of lying at least three times, so she wasn't too off-base. I'm thinking ol' Judy has more sense than we sometimes give her credit for. She knows that alot of folks love to watch train wrecks, and she called this one right. I am referring not so much to the post as to some of the comments. Many of the comments were equally gracious in their dissent with you. And then there were those who simply wanted to cast their own stones.

I actually agree, in fact though not spirit of communicating, with many of these comment. I agree that he has the same right as any of us to check whichever box he selects, that he has the same right to identify himself racially as the rest of us.

My sister and I share a black great-great-great grandmother. When we learned this, only a few years ago, she recoiled in disgust. I was elated at the thought of having even more diversity in my blood, though it is, admittedly, but a mere drop or two.

In short, I'm not at all concerned which box he checked on his census. I do not care how he identifies himself racially.

I also think the notion that he would not had been elected president if he had been white is hollow since there is no way we can ever know.

I guess we're going to have various flavors of racism as long as we have various races.

I am still so naive that my heart breaks a little every time I see someone who disagrees with another's view point with such raw vehemence. Am I too thin-skinned? Perhaps. Ignorant? Maybe. Am I simply not bright enough to appreciate that criticism wrapped in smug mean-spiritedness is a holy, sanctified right and the mark of an "intelligent" heart? I wouldn't be at all surprised!

I would so like to see the talent for demonstrating respect to those with whom we disagree at least as prominently represented as the talent for demonstrating disrespect toward those with whom we disagree.

Of course, I'm still waiting for a reunion special of Roseanne!
As the white mother of a biracial child I had so much to say. But Chauncey, Bonnie, Sheila and several others said it for me. My daughter is free to identify herself exactly as she wishes.
So many well-worded opinions here. This has been bugging me. I commented already, but forgot to include the fact that this man has already been written down in the history books as America's First African-American President. It would be somewhat conflicting for him to check off "White" on the Census Sheet, wouldn't it?
Mary Ann
Great discussion about this. I think Obama's experiences as a black man may be serving him very well as president - especially in dealing Republicans in Congress. He knows how to maneuver in the white male club. Enjoyed your post.
I can't believe the debate this post has engendered. It seems so obvious that it was simply another of these now-popular attempts to find SOMETHING with which to discredit President Obama. Come on! does anyone really believed that the author thinks he 'lied'? What? Are we being asked to think that he was trying to decieve people into thinking he was 'pure' black? That his checking the box was an attempt to hide his white ancestry?
To claim that he lied, unlike those presidents she claims are loved for their honesty(quite laughably because those myths we tell our children are not accurate) is simply an effort to plant a negative thought, any negative thought, into the minds of the people. It falls into the same category of those statements made by the 'birthers'. So all the talk about how he sees himself and its validity is really irrelevant.
Let us focus on what she claims: He lied! He said he was black! He was trying to fool us!
Do we really dignify this with discussion?
Seems to me this entire post could have been cut back to these three sentences and still make her primary point, such that it is.

>Respondents can also select more than one category under the general race question, so Obama could have checked off both “Black” and “White” had he cared to be honest about it.
Some worry that if the president had done that, the Black community would have been offended. Well, whites have an equal right to be offended in this case.

Defensive and deluded but rated for sparking discussion.
Right on, Mary. I'm a half jewish, half german-american who is DISGUSTED by Obama's hatred towards his white half. You seem to be a liberal in the stage of awakening. I'm an ex-liberal myself. You see Mary, the whole point of Obama's checking "black" was to do just that- disrespect whites. Could anything be more disrespectful than having your black african father abandon you, your white mother and grandparents raise you, going on to write 2 books about how much you hate your white family and whites-at-large and then refusing to credit your white family for anything? I mean, Obama's advisors had to practically remind him he was fucking raised by white people. He's an INGRATE.

I know Obama likes being "hip", but you're 45, start showing your white family some kudos without being forced to by your white aids. Also, it's time to get over petty family issues. His white family was imperfect, but, shit, at least they were there.

And let's face it. IS OBAMA'S BLACK AFRICAN FATHER NOT A STEREOTYPE OF BLACK MALES THAT ABANDON BABIES?

WAKE UP. OBAMA HATES WHITES.

And ps... I knew many, many mixed race people whom I viewed, and viewed themselves as mixed race. And by the way, the only racist experiences they reported having in life was among blacks.
I think it's time white people and people in general just said it; I WON'T VOTE FOR OBAMA BECAUSE HE'S A FUCKING RACIST who has shown it in every way; racist church, 2 racist books, denigrating his white family all the time, the gates-gate fraudently blame a white police officer in the most unprofessional manner incident, "America is the world's largest Muslim country", etc.

He hates whites and the western world.

Oh, and HE'S DESCENDED FROM SLAVE-OWNERS. I'M NOT. FIRST IN LINE FOR REPARATIONS, BARRY! (I know he's gone on record supporting those).
The point of the census is to determine where federal funds go according to demographics, and to figure out representation. It's not for making political statements. Things like race, which are self determined (the census will accept Italian American as a race, even Martian, if that's what you declare yourself to be - they don't judge) only serve to inform where funds that are associated with minorities go.

On race: this is a something that was made up fairly recently to identify the other. In the 17th C, the French and English were considered different races. In the 18th C, it became a way for zenophobics to create a social status. It was here that Caucasian, Negro, and Asian first became concepts and they were defined solely by looks, not by science. Who your parents were had nothing to do with the classification. If you looked too dark, you were black. If you were light skinned, you were white. So, Obama claiming Black is completely honest, because it's really about how he looks.
if his little check mark had been in the black box, your whining would have been about the same, only the placement of the words black & white would be different.
there is only one "race" that is real, the human race. all this creating & fretting & yakking & fetishizing about the subdivisions is just an excuse for elitism.
President Obama is free to self-identify in any way he chooses. He has never denied that he was born and raised by a white woman, but let's be realistic. There's no way he is a white man. The culture doesn't support it, history doesn't support it, and his physical features do not support it. He is black or I would say African American just as every biracial person of his mixture born in America is. They share the same struggles, face the same obstacles, and a similar history.

This country has NEVER accepted biracial African Americans as anything other than black unless they could pass. And most biracial people I know prefer to self-identify as black and in fact are proud of that side of their heritage as they should be. African Americans have a rich history that transcends the struggle.

Whites certainly can "claim" Obama, but not fully. And its up to him to decide with which culture to self-identify when faced with that - dilemma. I do not he has never not recognized his white heritage, loves his mother and his family. So, in short, get off his back. He knows who he is.
Below is a link for the Bill of Rights for People of Mixed Heritage, which makes a lot of sense to me & my family. (My children's father is Asian & I am white. My own children identify themselves as Asian American.)

http://www.drmariaroot.com/doc/BillOfRights.pdf