For those of you who are fans of Murphy’s Law and its many corollaries, you may have heard that “The more you hear the same misconception, the more true it becomes”. I believe the power of America’s free press is a leadership force that shapes ideas and perceptions in many aspects of our collective lives and culture. During the current presidential race it has occurred to me that the American press, at all levels, is guilty of perpetuating the misconception that Senator Barack Obama is the first African-American to be the presidential candidate of a major political party.
If Senator Obama’s racial makeup is viewed without factoring in the racial history of the United States, then I believe I could refer to him, with equal accuracy, as a white man or an African-American man. I think it would be more accurate, if it really mattered, to identify him as a multi-racial man instead. Even though it is still a historical first for a major political party to choose a candidate of mixed racial background, using the label African-American instead of multi-racial garners more attention.
I am old enough to have witnessed changes in our nation’s race relations that makes it possible for a multi-racial individual to be a major party candidate for the highest elected office in our country, and as some may argue, the world. When I was 4-years-old, Mrs. Rosa Parks decided not to give up her seat on a bus to a white passenger. Later, while in elementary school, I learned about our rights under the constitution that said we could speak freely, peacefully assemble, and redress our grievances to the government. At the same time, I watched television newscasts in disbelief as police attacked peaceful Black freedom marchers with clubs, teargas, high-pressure fire hoses, and dogs.
At the age of 13, I heard Doctor Martin Luther King, Junior share a dream with us. The line, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but the content of their character” stands by itself as a powerful and profound statement. During the following year, President Lyndon Johnson signed the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
Did the signing of this law signal an end to the struggle for Black civil rights? It would be incredibly naïve to think so. Ever since the 13th Amendment of the United States Constitution was ratified in 1865, Black people have had to overcome many obstacles in claiming their civil rights and equality. The particular obstacle I refer to is the definition of the racial identity of a person born of two or more races, and where did this definition come from?
One source of defining racial identity, as I have read, is a result of the more extreme White Supremacist view of racial purity that says if you have a drop of Black blood in your ancestry, you are Black. Is that the definition we accept? When I have read or listened to interviews with people who appear to be White, but have some Black ancestry, they are not forthcoming about disclosing it to outsiders. The reason given is to avoid possible harassment or discrimination.
In the wild west during the 1800’s there were people being born of a White parent and a Native American parent. They were called Half-breeds. They were not accepted by White people and sometimes ostracized by the Native Americans, depending on the particular tribe. These mixed-race children had conflicts about were they fit, if at all, in either society, and were subject to harassment and discrimination.
Turning to the present, I ask if anything has changed in this regard? Even though I have witnessed significant improvements in racial issues since the 1960’s, I still hear people of mixed race identifying themselves with one race or the other; not both. I ask whether people define themselves this way because of an outdated racial purity definition fostered by White supremacists, or does pressure from society to identify with one particular race enter in the equation?
In any case, I challenge the news media to review the way it defines an individual’s racial identity. Will the media continue to perpetuate an old racist definition of racial identity, or will it choose accuracy in reporting it? I think that choosing accuracy in this matter will help remove yet another stumbling block to attaining Doctor King’s dream.
Embracing and exercising my rights to free speech and a free press, this is Michael David Miller of Madison Heights, Michigan……and I approve this message!
Even with improvement in racial issues over the years, Senator Obama will still have an uphill battle for president because of racism. The “political correctness” of recent years has suppressed, but not eliminated racism. When citizens step into the voting booth in November, the “political correctness police” will not be allowed to accompany them.