Tag Archives: multiracial

Barack Obama and racial authenticity

by Carmen Van Kerckhove

Update: Eric included extra comments from the folks he interviewed for this article on his blog, The Feed.

Today’s issue of The St. Petersburg Times features an article by Eric Deggans, who examines the discussion surrounding Barack Obama’s race. If Obama isn’t considered to be authentically African-American, then who is?

It’s a fascinating article that includes a multitude of perspectives: Al Sharpton, Julian Bond from the NAACP, Sylvester Monroe from Ebony magazine, conservative Elisabeth Lasch-Quinn, history professor Jonathan Holloway, anthropologist Peter B. Hammond, Monroe Anderson from the Chicago Sun-Times, and yours truly.

I really enjoyed talking to Eric for this article — I think we spent over an hour on the phone. One of the main points I made to Eric was this: How a multiracial person self-identifies is almost the least important factor in how others view that person racially. This phenomenon is especially obvious in Obama’s case. He has repeatedly stated that he self-identifies primarily as a black man and an African-American but still, everyone projects onto him what they want to see.

So if self-identification isn’t how racial authenticity is determined, then what is? Halle Berry and Nicole Richie both self-identify as black women, yet we think of Berry as somehow “blacker” than Richie. Eric’s attempt to create a list by which we judge “how black” someone is is really interesting:

Van Kerckhove, Hammond and other experts agree there is a long list of characteristics others often use to judge someone else’s racial identity. And these details can be crucial cues for others – sometimes given more weight than what the person actually says about his or her own racial identity.

Some characteristics: physical appearance/genealogy; language (do you have an accent or speak in a vernacular?); race of your romantic partner; race of your friends (an area which is often segregated in people’s lives); music you enjoy; your history of activism, if any; your name; where you go to church (churches are still highly segregated); your assertion of culture at your job.

Here’s my take on the multiracial angle:

While some may view race identity as something handed down through families, experts agree that race is a delicate balance between how society perceives you and how you perceive yourself.

Tiger Woods, for example, learned the folly of trying to carve a new race identity for himself without society’s permission – once insisting on Oprah Winfrey’s popular talk show that he was not African-American but “Cablinasian,” a mix of Caucasian, black, Dutch, Native American and Thai (both Woods’ parents are from mixed-race heritage).

But Woods quickly found trouble: Some black people assumed he was denigrating their culture by refusing to be a part of it, and white sports commentators didn’t seem to know how to handle a guy who didn’t want to be the first black golf legend.

“He came out too early on. … America wasn’t ready to take it,” said Carmen Van Kerckhove, a New Yorker of Flemish-Belgian and Chinese heritage who serves as president of the antiracism training company New Demographic.

“I think mixed-race people exist in this space where their legitimacy is constantly questioned,” said Van Kerckhove, who recalled a discussion with friends who insisted mixed-race people must “choose a side” when defining their racial identity. “Different communities try to claim you, depending on how well you’re doing at that point in your life.”

Woods, it seems, has learned his lesson: He rarely talks openly about race anymore. But Obama, in seeking to become the nation’s first black president, doesn’t have that luxury.

Tragic mulatta Jezebel in ‘Slow Burn’

by Carmen Van Kerckhove

I’m a fan of thrillers, but this movie looks kinda awful, judging by the trailer (thanks to Kimberly for the tip!). Here’s a summary from Slant Magazine:

The wackest film of 2007 stars James Todd Smith—LL Cool J if you’re nasty—as Luther, a record store employee who walks into a police station to defend the honor of his dead homie, Isaac (Mekhi Phifer). Luther claims to have some “short in his brain” that messes with the way he processes smell. This is meant to explain why he is prone to saying such lovelies as, “First night she walked in, I still remember it. City smelled like grapefruit.” But what explains his propensity for stretching out his metaphors? Later, when he relates how mixed-blood assistant DA Nora Timmer (Jolene Blalock) walked into a room stinking of tangerine—”ripe and ready to be peeled.” It gets worse: At some bourgie party where Isaac is confused for someone else, Nora (whose daddy was the cocoa and whose mama brought the milk) fills the room with her scent of mashed-potato, which doesn’t stop any of the men from wanting to be her—wait for it—gravy!

I could be wrong, but this looks to me like another blackface performance, right? It’s possible the actress Jolene Blalock is mixed, but they are definitely slathering on the bronzer here and it looks fake as hell.

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Barack Obama is AWB: articulate while black

by guest contributor Philip Arthur Moore, originally published at TheThink

Why do I keep finding news articles about Barack Obama that conspicuously mention how “articulate” he is?

Reality check: ‘Barry’ Obama attended Columbia University, Harvard Law School, and was the first ever black American to be elected president of the Harvard Law Review. His educational biography is impressive, to say the least, and when he stormed into the national spotlight at the 2004 Democratic National Convention (part 1, part 2), we should have taken note of how “articulate” Obama was with the English language (his native language, by the way) and moved on. Instead, writers, taking adjectives from the same play book and arranging them just slightly differently, are harping on how well Barack Obama can speak about as much as they harp on how well George W. Bush mangles the English language (which, incidentally, is also his native tongue).

Take, for example, the following news snippets that have come out in the past several days alone:

“Barack Obama and the Pertinent Precedents” (Townhall.com, January 18, 2007):

The way in which he resembles George W. Bush — his thin resume — is not one that will help him. It may be cancelled out, though, by the ways in which he conspicuously contrasts with the outgoing president — notably, being thoughtful, articulate and seemingly open to opposing views. Bush is the commander in chief. But it’s Obama who gives the effortless impression of command.

“Much buzz, many questions over Barack Obama’s bid” (Christian Science Monitor, January 17, 2007):

But his biggest advantage could be his persona – young, attractive, articulate, a fresh face.

“Iowa Blogger Thrilled At Obama’s ‘08 Ambitions” (KCCI 8, January 17, 2007):

“We have someone in Obama who is a wonderfully articulate speaker, and we should never underestimate the importance of public officials being able to move people,” Goldford said. “The danger for somebody like Obama is: he rouses such high hopes. I mean, it’s the puppy love. The crush phase.

“Obama may find his newness both help and hindrance in campaign” (The Financial Express, January 18, 2007):

Obama’s appeal as an articulate, intellectual, multi-racial candidate prompted supporters such as fellow Illinois Senator Dick Durbin to urge him to run in 2008. So far, Obama’s easy-going charm is the only thing most voters know about him.

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Kelly Hu plays high school valedictorian turned masseuse

by Carmen Van Kerckhove

kelly hu dara lee in case of emergencyHorrendous. Angry Asian Man reports on a new sitcom that brings us a stereotype double whammy:

I’ve been seeing commercials for this new ABC midseason comedy In Case of Emergency, starring Kelly Hu. As reported here previously, she plays Dara Lee, a once-high school valedictorian, now a hooker in a Korean massage parlor. WONDERFUL. Indeed, it is possible to portray not one, but two opposite Asian stereotypes in one role. And man, don’t get me started about the red dress they have here wearing in the photo here. For the curious, the show is scheduled to premiere on January 3rd.

Nicole Richie was white in 2003, black in 2006

by Carmen Van Kerckhove

black and white cookieFunny stuff, from MollyGood:

Three years ago, Nicole Richie was arrested for heroin possession, so following this morning’s DUI arrest, The Smoking Gun was kind enough to compare the changes in her booking sheets from 2003 and 2006. Wheee. The picture accompanying the 2006 sheet is her mugshot, while the 2003 pic is just a photo of Nicole from around the same time.

Here is how she’s changed (I mean, other than her drug of choice). In three years, Nicole Richie has:

1. Shrunk one inch.
2. Lost 5 lbs. (That’s all? Seems fishy.)
3. Changed which race she identifies with (White in 2003, Black in 2006).

Well, at this rate, when she’s arrested in 2009 she’ll be a 5’0”, 80 lb Latina.

Interview with ‘The Wire’s’ Sonja Sohn: Not ‘Your Typical Black Girl’

by guest contributor Wah-Ming Chang, originally published at Tripmaster Monkey

Like all the characters on the acclaimed HBO drama The Wire, Lieutenant Kima Greggs is a fascinating mix: an ass-kicking black lesbian cop in a department dominated by men. And as it turns out, the actress who plays her—Sonja Sohn—is just as complicated. A husky-voiced woman of African American and Korean parentage, Sohn (who’s straight, in case you’re wondering) got her start in the New York slam-poetry circuit (including the Def Poetry Jam) before moving on to the TV and movie game (check her out in Shaft). TMM’s Wah-Ming Chang recently caught up with Sohn to pick her brain about poetry, gay cops and why she’s not “your typical quote-unquote black girl.”

TMM: One of the things that really distinguishes you is your voice. It’s so sexy and husky. Most of us can sound that way only when we have colds, but your voice is just so sexy. Does it help you get roles?

SS: I think that everyone has a certain kind of energy that places them, and I think that my voice helps me in how people perceive me in the business. So, I guess you can say that it does.

How do you use it for effect in slam poetry? Does it help you in your acting and your performance in having that background?

I think every poet, no matter what type of voice they have, has to use their voice for different kinds of emphasis. I just think that’s a part of performance they should own. When it comes to acting, though, I don’t think it can be a conscious kind of thing, unless you’re just having a problem with projection, unless it’s a technical issue, like working with mikes and in theater. Other than that, it can’t be something that you’re conscious of, otherwise you’re just taken out of the character and out of the moment. Depending on the kind of poet that you are and your material, you use your voice as an instrument, whereas in acting, you use your whole body. But you definitely use your voice as a tool.

You work with the mike when you’re doing poetry, you do have to know your voice, and you have to know how it carries over the mike and how close you should be to it, and how to work with the mike. Because all you have at the end of the day onstage is your voice. If you are someone who uses your body, uses a lot of body language, you have that, too, but I was pretty much just a vocal person. I was very dramatic, which is pretty much how I think I segued into acting. My type of performance lends itself to the craft of acting. Continue reading