The Obamas Are Tired Of the Blackness Question

Tuesday, August 14, 2007


The Obamas Are Tired Of the Blackness Question

In case it wasn't clear enough the first time, Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) and his wife, Michelle, have each said repeatedly -- and increasingly forcefully -- in recent days that they're fed up with the "black enough" debate.

Their offensive against questions about the biracial Obama's appeal to African American voters began this month, when Michelle Obama told the Chicago Sun-Times that she was frustrated by the notion that her husband -- the son of a white mother and Kenyan father -- was somehow not authentically connected to the American black experience and that "we are still struggling as a people with what is black."

Her husband chimed in Friday in Las Vegas when Obama told the National Association of Black Journalists that "I think in part we're still locked in this notion if you appeal to white folks, there must be something wrong." A day earlier, the group had dedicated a workshop at its annual convention to debating the issue.

On Sunday, Michelle Obama weighed in with her strongest comments yet, calling on everyone to "stop that nonsense" in asking if he is "black enough" to appeal to African American voters.

"We are messing with the heads of our children," by raising the question, she told a group of women, most of them black, at a fundraiser in Chicago's predominantly black South Side.

Obama campaign aides said that the couple saw these forums, particularly Barack Obama's speech to journalists, as a way to move past the issue. "They are responding to the general dialogue," said Candice Tolliver, an Obama spokeswoman. "The senator thought it was a chance to put it to rest."

But campaign aides didn't cite a specific example of the criticism they hoped to put to rest, noting instead that reporters have questioned both Obamas on the issue.

When Obama entered the race, some commentators, most pointedly writer Debra Dickerson, questioned whether Obama's unique history and background made him so unlike most African Americans that he would not be the first black president. Obama's campaign has sought to appeal to black voters -- a key group in the Democratic primary electorate -- while also presenting him as a new generation of black leader.

"I can't think of any black intellectual or political or community leader of much substance who has questioned his blackness," said David Bositis, who studies the role of African Americans in politics at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies in Washington.

Ron Walters, a professor at the University of Maryland, wrote in a journal article that Obama's discussion of his upbringing in Hawaii and his comments on rising above racial problems may not be reassuring to blacks. "He ought to take it more seriously," Walters said of how Obama is appealing to blacks. At the same time, Walters said, "as far as I'm personally concerned, he's black enough for me."

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