BY RON DU BOIS
Barack Obama’s skin color is similar to that of many Latinos yet we don’t call Latinos “black.”
The skin tone of Native Americans can be pretty dark yet we don’t call Native Americans
Koreans have a tan skin color, yet we don’t call them “black.”
Strangely, the term “black” is reserved for anyone whose racial origin is in the smallest degree African. Surely this is racism embedded in language at the deepest level.
The part any society occupies on the long cultural spectrum dictates the words it uses. Those words in turn rule our attitudes and thinking. Isn’t our cultural bias expressed with terms like “black” to describe anyone with the smallest amount of African blood? What does “Black-American” mean? Doesn’t this term dupe us into believing that persons of various degrees of African-Caucasian ancestry and a wide range of skin color are all “black”?
Isn’t “black” a dishonest description of skin color that may range from very light to medium brown? Doesn’t “black” negate optical truth by insisting that anyone with African features and light skin is “black?” Doesn’t it express a kind of racist disrespect?
Doesn’t it say that for African-Americans there’s no need to bother about distinctions of skin color? Doesn’t it tell us that for those with any African ancestry we need not believe the evidence of our eyes?
According to the fable an Emperor decided to prove a point by walking down the street naked. His point was to prove that the public could see and hear only what was already in its collective mind. He was correct. His public could only see him as fully and royally dressed.
Only a small boy with unclouded vision saw the truth.
Back to objectivity. What is the appropriate term to describe Barack Obama’s skin color and racial identity? With a white mother, surely he is as “white” as he is “black.” His skin color is light yet the English language insists that he is “black.” Connoisseurs of color would hardly agree.
“Mixed race” is a much more accurate term yet fails to identify the particular racial blend.
Isn’t there anything better? Why can’t the linguists come up with 50 words to accurately describe color in the same way the Inuit have 50 words to describe all the varieties of “snow?”
One’s own culture selects terms to describe its view of the world. Is there any doubt that words control our thinking? We neither speak nor see anything outside our own experience.
Let’s encourage those who respect language to invent new terms to accurately describe blends of races and skin color. New terms will have the power to change our thinking and our attitudes.
It’s a worthwhile linguistic effort.
Until then, maybe the best we can do is to call Barack Obama a “Kansas-Kenyan American.”
– Ron du Bois lives in Stillwater, OK and is a regular contributor to The Oklahoma Observer