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Sellout Randall Kennedy

Sellout

Randall Kennedy

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Chapter One: Who Is Black?How difficult it sometimes is to know where the black begins and the white ends.--Booker T. Washington, Up from Slavery (1901)Soon after declaring his candidacy for the presidency of the United States, SenatorMoreChapter One: Who Is Black?How difficult it sometimes is to know where the black begins and the white ends.--Booker T. Washington, Up from Slavery (1901)Soon after declaring his candidacy for the presidency of the United States, Senator Barack Obama was asked on the television program 60 Minutes when he had decided that he was black.[1] One of the reasons the interviewer posed this question is that Obamas mother was a white American and his father a black Kenyan. Obama, moreover, had had little contact with his father- he was raised mainly in Hawaii by his mother and her relatives, in settings far afield from conventional black American communities.[2] Against this backdrop, some observers have questioned Obamas racial standing. Obama isnt black, the journalist Debra J. Dickerson asserts, because in our political and social reality [black] means those descended from West African slaves. Rather, Dickerson continues, by virtue of his white American mom and his Kenyan dad . . . [Obama] is an American of African immigrant extraction.[3][4]Obama responded to the question on 60 Minutes by distancing himself from the idea that he had decided to be black. He focused on three other considerations: his appearance, the response of onlookers to his appearance, and his shared experience of those responses with others also perceived to be black. [I]f you look African American in this society, he remarked, youre treated as an African American.[5] In 1940, W. E. B. DuBois quipped that the black man is a person who must ride Jim Crow in Georgia.[6] Obama updated that view, noting that when he tried to catch taxis, drivers were not confused about his race- they all too often refused to pick him up for racially discriminatory reasons, just as they all too often sped by other black men.Discussion of Obamas racial identity is a highly publicized instance of a feature of American race relations that is often ignored or misunderstood though it has deep historical roots. Many people believe that determining who is black is rather easy, a task simplified by the administration of the one-drop rule.[7] Under the one-drop rule, any discernible African ancestry stamps a person as black. A principal purpose of this doctrine was to address the problem of children born of interracial sex who would bear a mixture of physical markers inherited from ancestors situated on different sides of the race line. White supremacists hoped that by definitively categorizing as African, black, Negro, or colored anyone whose appearance signaled the presence of an African ancestor, the one-drop rule would protect white bloodlines. It mirrored and stoked Negrophobia by proclaiming that even the tiniest dab of Negro ancestry was sufficiently contaminating to make a person a nigger. Many white racists have believed what a character exclaims in Thomas Dixons novel The Leopards Spots--that a single drop of Negro blood kinks the hair, flattens the nose, thickens the lip, puts out the light of intellect, and lights the fires of brutal passions.[8][9]Many champions of black advanc