General Question

leifmichelsen's avatar

Why do people say that Barack Obama is black?

Asked by leifmichelsen (26points) October 16th, 2008

Barack Obama is half white and half black. In Europe we would call him mulatto, but in the US people call him black. Why is that?

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34 Answers

eambos's avatar

He has dark skin.

I feel that, here in the US, black has become the term for anyone with dark skin and of African descent.

leifmichelsen's avatar

I agree. There are people that probably don’t know he is half white half black?

Harp's avatar

You mean he’s not an Arab?

cooksalot's avatar

LOL! I was going to say he’s not black he’s Mulatto! I see you had that on the inside of your question. I guess because not many know the definitions. That could be it. In Hawaii he would have been called Hapa Houli. I’m sure that’s what he thinks of himself as too, “Hapa” since he grew up there.

MrItty's avatar

This goes back to the idiocy of the American past. Look up the “one drop of blood” rule. Basically, if a person has ANY African ancestry at all, that person is/was considered “Black”.

While we’re not quite that moronic any more, the general philosophy holds. If someone doesn’t look European, we’re more likely to term him “black” than “white”. Americans, in general, don’t deal with the reality that people are of mixed ancestry.

Magnus's avatar

Blacker than McCain.

robmandu's avatar

Is Mulatto used at all in the U.S.?

Anyone of that descent here on Fluther that would use that term for themselves?

cooksalot's avatar

I honestly don’t know if it’s used at all anymore. I do believe in the old south there used to be quadroon balls for the mixed women. More history there than I want to bother typing about though. And to clarify quadroon’s were not mulatto’s but the children of mulatto’s and whites. 1/4 black in other words.

tinyfaery's avatar

Mulatto has negative connotations here in America. I’m sure if I called someone a mulatto I’d be considered prejudiced and/or racist.

wundayatta's avatar

See, Black blood is much more powerful than the weak white blood. It only takes one drop to overpower whiteness. This is because whites are inherently inferior. No strength. This is also because everyone is descended from a black african way in the deep past. It is highly ironic that white supremicists give up so much power unwittingly. It goes to show that idiocy is highly correlated with white supremicist ideology.

tonedef's avatar

@tinyfaery, Yes, “mulatto” is considered pejorative by many. And “Black” is more of a social group than a scientific phenotype descriptor. I’m sure that Barack Obama has faced adversity due to his African heritage, no matter the proportions of his racial composition. It’s a matter of personal identity, not of scientific classification.

critter1982's avatar

Because he’s not white.

flameboi's avatar

is that important? I mean, why do we have to pay attention to the skin color or ethnicity???

critter1982's avatar

@flameboi: To your comment “is that important?”. The answer should be no, but racism still exists in the US. So as long as you have a black (simply based on his color) presidential candidate, people will inevitably talk about his color, no matter how hard the candidate tries to steer away from the conversation.

robmandu's avatar

What does he call himself? That’s the only term we should use.

susanc's avatar

They call him black in order to remind racists to vote for McCain.

robmandu's avatar


There are racists who will vote for Obama, too, @susanc.

galileogirl's avatar

In the movie ‘Cry Freedom’ a scene takes place in a courtroom where Steven Biko is called as a witness in a case against ‘Black Power’ activists. The judge asks why he calls himself black since he is clearly brown. Biko replies “Why do you call yourself white, when you are clearly pink?”

tinyfaery's avatar

Obama looks black. I’m sure his experiences have included the racism and prejudiced that blacks experience, like driving while black, or having old ladies grab their purses when he walks by.

mea05key's avatar

The US knows only 2 types of color: black and white.

flameboi's avatar

Someday, this will change… is not about color or beliefs, or if you are a legal alien or not, we are all people that’s it…

tabbycat's avatar

This indeed goes to the “one drop of blood” rule, which is inane and will be forgotten one day. Obama is indeed both black and white. A friend in England refers to him as the “Tiger Woods of American politics.” As America (and indeed the world) becomes more mixed, it will be more apparent that putting one ethnic label on people is inadequate.

jasonjackson's avatar

I wondered this too. I think of Obama as black, and one day thought to myself “but why, if he’s also half-white”? I thought about it for a while, and here’s what I came up with:

First, he “looks” black to me; had I not been told, I wouldn’t have even thought to wonder if he had one white parent. So I think it’s safe to assume that he is now, and has been in the past, perceived by most Americans as black (whether that’s really correct and enlightened, or not). So symbolically, regardless of his actual genetic make-up, he’s “black” to most Americans, and will certainly be called our first black president if he’s elected.

Secondly, he married a black woman. That suggests (though it doesn’t prove, of course) that he self-identifies as black. I mean, it’s possible that he doesn’t think of himself as black, but rather as someone in an interracial/mixed marriage.. but I tend to think it means he thinks of himself as black (or more black than white, or something along those lines).

In any case, I have a tremendous amount of respect for the man, and I’d vote for him no matter what color his skin was.

susanc's avatar

@rob: true that racists will do many different things. What I wrote was bitter and mean-hearted, but it may also be real.

critter1982's avatar

Just a thought: Maybe it’s not racism that’s behind everyone thinking Obama is black. Hell I thought he was black until a couple of weeks ago. Maybe it’s the fact that people actually don’t care about his ethnicity that causes people to think he is black. If they truly didn’t care, they wouldn’t put any effort in researching it.

fireside's avatar

That’s a good point, critter. I think racism is probably the wrong term.

Ignorance is a more apt description:
The condition of being uninformed or unaware

wilhel1812's avatar

because he is kinda black

jvgr's avatar

Mulatto can be found here:

which is the source of this excerpt:

Mulatto is no longer commonly used in the United States. Some who prefer terms such as biracial, may consider it offensive. [16] It existed as an official census category until 1930[citation needed]. In the south of the country, mulattos inherited slave status if their mothers were slaves. As for free mulattos, in Spanish and French-influenced areas of the South prior to the Civil War (particularly New Orleans, Louisiana), a number of mulattos were free and slave-owning.[17] Although it is commonly used to describe individuals of mixed European and African descent, it originally referred to anyone with mixed ethnicities; in fact, in the United States, “mulatto” was also used as a term for those of mixed white and Native American ancestry during the early census years.[16][18][19][20] Mulatto was also used interchangeably with terms like “turk”, leading to further ambiguity when referring to many North Africans and Middle Easterners.[21]

critter1982's avatar

It’s obvious he’s not black. His wife dances like a white woman.



GuessWhoNow's avatar

There are some good answers here but the most ridiculous is “he looks black.” Obama doesn’t look any more (or less) black than he does white. He’s not as dark as native Africans and he’s not a white as native Europeans—he’s a brown mix and looks like a brown mix. As a 30-year-old mulatto woman, I’ve always been quick to correct people when they refer to me as black of African-American. I can’t be black; my biological mother is white. I wish people wouldn’t be so baffled by mixed ancestry—too many people (Americans in particular) have trouble acknowledging it for some odd reason. It’s not difficult, people: if one parent is white and the other is black, you’re mulatto and by definition you cannot be more black than white. Fifty percent is never greater or less than fifty percent.

robmandu's avatar

@GuessWhoNow, I imagine that, in some small part, the tricky part for many Americans is that the labels available to us to describe minorities and mixed ancestry are tied up with a lot prejudicial overtones.

Even earlier in this thread, we were informed that mulatto is not in common use in America for just that reason.

There are almost no universally acceptable terms. So, I’m thinking that’s why were stuck with black as an umbrella. I don’t subscribe to the 1% black is black definition… but when someone wants to acknowledge their mixed background, it’s hard for the rest of who might not not their personal preference in terminology to try and use a term like mulatto.

Catch my drift?

cooksalot's avatar

Well @GuessWhoNow my family doesn’t have a drop of black, but just a few hours in the sun and we could fool a lot of people. Matter of fact growing up in Hawaii we were darker than Obama, and he grew up on the same beaches and in the same parks. I remember Uncle Amos (that’s Famous Amos to you) laughing that my brother was darker than him.

critter1982's avatar

So will he not really be the first black president?

Lovely12's avatar

It has to do with the Black history of America. We did not make the rules. If you had a drop of black blood in you then you were considered black. Millions of “Mixed” blacks were enslaved and suffered through segregation and racism. Barack Obama would have been a slave regardless if he is 1/2 white. He would not have been allowed to drink out of the “White” water fountain, but the one labeled “colored”, nor would he had been able to ride in the front of a bus. He would not have been allowed to vote! Let alone run for public office. Many of us were bi-racial and not by choice, but by rape during slavery. And not matter how light or “white” you may have looked, you were still considered black. White slave owners made the rule hundreds of years ago, and unfortunately it still stands today. If you have brown skin and “black” features, then you are judged accordingly by many. Blacks are a mixed race and now that one of us has accomplished this amazing accomplishment, people want to point out the 1/2 white issue. In that case, none of us are black. We are all bi-racial or multiracial. Either way, we are a people of color. And it is a huge victory that finally a person of color is President. Finally racism is ending.

My great grandmother is 102 years old, the daughter of a mulatto slave, and she lived to vote for Obama. It was a very moving moment for her, because she is a woman and black. I am so glad that she lived for this historical event

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