Whilst browing the selections of blogs that I usually read to keep up to date on what’s going on in the cyberworld, I came across a post by a black blogger about why he wasn’t sure whether or not he should vote for Obama.
I was with him until I got to this:
“I’d argue that Bill Clinton is blacker than Obama on any day!!! Blackness is an experience not a skin color. Whiteness is an experience not a skin color. Blackness and Whiteness only exists in America. Both are used to describe a uniquely American experience. That’s why when people come here from other countries they gravitate to becoming either Whiter or Blacker with White meaning that you identify with the white American experience more than you identify with black American experience.
Obama grew up in Hawaii and Indonesia. Bill grew up in Arkansas. Now you tell me, who experienced (saw) the realities of being Black or White in America. The white kid from Arkansas saw racism first hand even if it was to his own benefit. Obama on the other hand was raised by a white mother in Hawaii. Mother’s generally shield their sons as much as possible. So how much racism do you really think Obama saw (experienced) living with his white mother in Hawaii and Indonesia?”
I’m baffled… and confused. What does he mean that ‘blackness is an experience not a skin colour’? Your experience as a black person is instrinsically linked to your skin colour. How can you separate the two?
You’d think that those who insist on making judgements on other people’s ‘blackness’ have insider knowledge about some kind of scale by which you can objectively measure racial identity. According to them your life’s experiences are the qualifications which determine your entry to the black world. The worse your experiences, the more black you are. Such people usually say things like “you haven’t experienced/done [insert stereotype] so you are not really black”, whatever that means. I have had this said to me a few times. Apparently, my private school education, well-spoken English accent, Cambridge University degree and having parents who are professionals all disqualify me from really being black. ‘Luckily’, I am given an extra 10 points on the blackness scale for having lived on a council estate in inner city Peckham. Sad really, isn’t it.
I guess what such people are trying to say is that my life experiences more closely resemble (their narrow view of) the experiences of a white person as opposed to (their narrow minded view of) the experiences of a black person. However, inherent in that point of view are a number of stereotypes and misconceptions. I think we should know by now in 2008 that not all black people are badly off, and not all white people are hugely successful. Or maybe not.
We all know that fundamentally, race is a social construct and that skin colour in itself means nothing apart from the meaning that others ascribe to it. But unfortunately that is precisely where race has become a solid, and real, entity in society: my skin colour is given a meaning by others and this has an effect upon me and my interaction in the world. That is a fact regardless of where I live, where I went to school or how I speak. Every black person has a black experience by virtue of being viewed by the world as black. You cannot take this away from them.
As far as I’m concerned, nobody has the right to deny another person their racial identification. I am black because I say I am (well actually, because the world says I am) and that’s where that conversation should end.