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If Obama Wasn’t ‘Black’ Before, He Certainly Is Now

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If Obama Wasn’t ‘Black’ Before, He Certainly Is Now

U.S. President Barack Obama attends a meeting with the National Security Council at the State Department Washington

Today’s column is for the benefit of one Dr. Benjamin Solomon Carson.

He shouldn’t need what follows, but obviously does. No other conclusion is possible after his interview with Politico a few days ago.

The subject was Barack Obama and what the Republican presidential contender sees as the inferior quality of the president’s blackness. “He’s an ‘African’ American,” said Carson. “He was, you know, raised white. I mean, like most Americans, I was proud that we broke the color barrier when he was elected, but … he didn’t grow up like I grew up…”

Carson, the son of a struggling single mother who raised him in Detroit, and sometimes relied on food stamps to do so, noted that Obama, by contrast, spent part of his childhood in Indonesia. “So, for him to claim that he identifies with the experience of black Americans, I think, is a bit of a stretch.”

Lord, have mercy.

Let’s not even get into the fact that the man questioning Obama’s racial bona fides once stood before an audience of white conservatives and proclaimed the Affordable Care Act “the worst thing that has happened in this country since slavery.” Let’s deal instead with Carson’s implicit assertion that to be authentically black requires being fatherless and broke, scrabbling for subsistence in the ‘hood.

If a white man said that, we’d call it racist. And guess what? It’s also racist when a black man says it. Not to mention, self-hating and self-limiting. Carson denies the very depth and breadth of African-American life.

By his “logic,” Kobe Bryant, who grew up in Italy, is not black, Shaquille O’Neal, who spent part of his childhood in Germany, is not black, Miles Davis and Natalie Cole, who grew up in affluent households, were not black and Martin Luther King Jr., child of middle-class comfort and an intact family, was not black. According to him, they were all “raised white.”

Here’s what Carson doesn’t get: What we call “race” is not about neighborhood, class or family status. Though the African hostages upon whose backs this country was built shared certain common approaches to music, faith and art, race ultimately isn’t even about culture. Martin Luther King, for instance, was an opera buff; it’s hard to get further from “black” culture than “Lucia di Lammermoor.”

No, race is something Europeans invented as a tool of subjugation. The people who came here from England, France and Spain did not initially see themselves as “white,” after all. They declared themselves white — that is, a superior species of humanity — to justify in their own consciences the evil things they did to the people they took from Africa. Similarly, those Africans knew nothing about “black.” They saw themselves as Fulani, Mende, Mandinkan or Songhay. “Black” was an identity forced upon them with every bite of the lash and rattle of the chains.

In other words, to be black is not to share a common geography, class or family status, but rather, the common experience of being insulted, bullied and oppressed by people who think they are white. Want to know if you’re black? Try to rent a house in Miami. Try to hail a cab in Times Square. Try to win an Oscar in Hollywood. You’ll find out real quick.

And there is something spectacularly absurd in the fact of Barack Obama being criticized as “not black” by a Republican. Think about it: In the unlikely event he somehow managed to live the 47 years before his presidency without being insulted, bullied and oppressed by people who think they are white, Obama has sure made up for it since. Members of Carson’s party have called him “boy,” “uppity” and “ape” and have gone to extraordinary and unprecedented lengths to block him from doing … anything.

So the good doctor can relax. If Obama wasn’t “black” before, he certainly is now.

(Leonard Pitts is a columnist for The Miami Herald, 1 Herald Plaza, Miami, Fla., 33132. Readers may contact him via e-mail at lpitts@miamiherald.com.)


Photo: Barack Obama attends a meeting with the National Security Council at the State Department Washington February 25, 2016.  REUTERS/Carlos Barria

Leonard Pitts Jr.

Leonard Pitts Jr. is a nationally syndicated commentator, journalist, and novelist. Pitts' column for the Miami Herald deals with the intersection between race, politics, and culture, and has won him multiple awards including a Pulitzer Prize in 2004.

The highly regarded novel, Freeman (2009), is his most recent book.

  • 1


  1. Dominick Vila February 29, 2016

    Spot on Leonard.

  2. I of John February 29, 2016


  3. Otto Greif February 29, 2016

    Race is a product of evolution.

  4. Otto Greif February 29, 2016

    Blacks win Oscars proportional to the size of the black population.

    1. Insinnergy February 29, 2016

      Otto’s pee is proportional to the size of the wall he is peeing on.
      Do enough people hate you yet Otto?
      Do you feel like you exist yet?

      1. Otto Greif March 1, 2016

        No one wants to hear about your urine fetish, sicko.

  5. Paul Bass February 29, 2016

    you DO know that ALL “races” evolved from the blacks in Africa? Therefore “white” is a product of evolution, not “black” nor “race”.
    You better go take a beginning Anthropology course, or maybe just read 2 paragraphs in Wiki…
    Wait, you’re right, the Neanderthals evolved in europe…

    1. Otto Greif February 29, 2016

      All races didn’t evolve from “the blacks”. You should take your own advice.

      1. Dominick Vila February 29, 2016


        Most anthropologists reject the efforts of members of the Pioneer Fund to establish different and distinct races to enhance the superiority of the Caucasian race.

        In any case, President Obama’s ethnicity has not impaired his ability to solve problems that 7 years ago seemed insurmountable. His deeds and demeanor speak for themselves, and so does Trump’s immaturity, irresponsibility, and opportunism.

        1. Otto Greif February 29, 2016

          Race can be discerned from DNA.

          1. Otto Greif February 29, 2016

            Thank you for supporting my point.

      2. ray February 29, 2016

        Otto crawl back under your rock.

        1. Otto Greif February 29, 2016

          It’s funny science upsets you.

          1. ray February 29, 2016

            Sense when have you become a scientist.

          2. Otto Greif February 29, 2016

            When does the comedy happen with that guy? He’s painfully unfunny.

      3. Insinnergy February 29, 2016

        Sad troll… is sad.
        … and should really study harder.
        Or at all.

  6. Paul Bass February 29, 2016

    So NM you put ottos racist rants up all over, but a rejoinder back to him isn’t an “acceptable” response? Shame on you…

    1. Otto Greif February 29, 2016

      What are you talking about?


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