Have you noticed how the vulnerable, exploited, dysfunctional Anna Nicole Smith, has been elevated in death to a blond American goddess worthy of 24-hour cable worship. In life, she pursued wealth and fame at all costs and became a media darling through her promiscuous, hip shaking, bosom busting antics and accusations of being a gold-digger, yet I doubt anyone asked if she were "White enough," or "lewd enough" or even screamed "enough already, sit down."
In the current political soap opera, we have U.S. Sen. Barack Obama, a presidential candidate from Illinois, whose father is a Black African. In 1991, Obama graduated from Harvard Law School where he was the first African American president of the Harvard Law Review. With that on his resume he could have commanded big bucks from the prestigious corporate law firms. Instead, he opted to work at a church-based community center for $10,000 yearly in a Chicago ghetto.
And now some Black pundits are handing White pundits a club to beat the junior senator over the head. Their stereotypical critique of Obama, who championed the causes of the impoverished, maligned and marginalized in the Illinois state legislature, is that he is "not Black enough."
If you are blond Anna Nicole Smith, you are deified for doing a lot about virtually nothing. But if you are like Barack Obama, you are denigrated for doing much about a lot that should make folks proud.
What does "Black enough" mean? It can mean astuteness, pride in one's culture and paying one's dues for the improvement of the Black race. But who should decide who is in and who is out?
"Black enough" can also carry a negative subtext and symbolize internal oppression.
For example Black Ebonics-speaking students often deride those who speak
standard English as "not Black enough." I have seen how in Washington D.C., a politician who smoked crack, blamed a Black woman for his downfall and grossly mismanaged funds is lauded over a nerdy professional who pulled the city out of financial doldrums. Why? The nerdy mayor "was not Black enough."
Does the term mean, as New York Daily News writer Stanley Crouch wrote,
that "other than color, Obama does not share a heritage with the majority of Black Americans, who are descendants of plantation slaves?"
Can you see that standard being applied to Whites that none could run for president unless they could prove they were descendants of slave masters? Do you rule out Blacks who were indentured servants or were rescued from slavery by Native Americans? What about the millions of Blacks whose parents or themselves were immigrants from Africa, the Caribbean, Australia or other parts of the world, such as Shirley Chisholm, Gen. Colin Powell or Sidney Portier? Are their contributions invalid?
When the Rev. Jesse Jackson ran for president, he was disliked for being "too Black" because he had the audacity to raise issues critical to people of color, farmers and others locked out of the system.
Moreover, when you look at people like Tiger Woods, Alicia Keys, Mariah Carey, CNN's Soledad O'Brien, they are mere reminders that we are seeing the rise of a blended America. In the last few decades, the growth of ethnic minorities in America has been phenomenal. Since 1980, the Asian American population has almost tripled, Hispanic Americans more than doubled, Native Americans increased 62 percent and African Americans increased 31 percent — while the non-ethnic population has remained almost the same. The U.S. Census Bureau predicts that by the year 2050, people of color will comprise fully half the U.S. population.
More than any other national candidate, Obama's life experience may have intrinsically prepared him to represent a multi-racial, spiritually diverse America. He spent much of his childhood experiencing the cultural diversity of Hawaii and Indonesia with his Kansas-born Caucasian mother before he moved to Chicago. There he soaked up the daily indignities of being Black enough in America to be denied a cab ride home.
Actually, I think the question of blackness addresses the issue of context more than culture. Ever since Clarence Thomas, the paragon of self-hatred, was hi-jacked to the Supreme Court, Blacks have been rightly jittery about accepting Blacks that Whites like too much.
It has become increasingly difficult for politicians — and preachers — to talk about values and morality when both Republican and Democratic leaders are mired in charges of adultery, philandering and fornication. What has been revealed about Obama so far is a leader who has successfully integrated his public and private life.
The Rev. Barbara Reynolds, is an ordained minister, a professor at Howard University School of Communications.