Black History Month: it’s for all of us

| Staff Columnist

All right kiddos, it’s Black History Month! I’ll write my report on Harriet Tubman; why don’t you do George Washington Carver? Or maybe Nelson Mandela or Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.? How about Barack Obama? Is it all right that he’s only half-black?

Some would say President Obama is black. He married a black woman, his father was from Africa; clearly he’s a black man. This statement, though, harkens back to a time when the one-drop scheme ruled supreme. Not to mention it denies Obama the part of his heritage passed on to him by his light-skinned mother and grandparents.

Obama’s victory in the presidential election is without doubt groundbreaking; it’s wonderful that the lily-white line of 43 presidents before him has been interrupted. His presidency, though, is a symbol of hope for all people, especially people whose families have been oppressed throughout American and world history, regardless of what color they appear to be.

What does it mean to be black, white, brown, yellow or red? We’re all mixed; we’re all a blend of genes dating back thousands of generations to our African mitochondrial Eve. In today’s population, there is genetically more difference within people of the same area of origin, like Western Europe, than between the people of that group and the people of another group from a different area, like eastern Asia. So there we have it: Genetically different races don’t exist. Culture, however, does.

Culture is one of the categories we constantly find ourselves using to try to distinguish people. Maybe this is an effort to be politically correct; maybe it is easier to cite “black culture” or “white culture” to skim over personal differences than to uncover and discuss the differences themselves or maybe people actually think that cultures cannot be at least partly bridged. I once had a professor who made references to “talking black,” and he used phrases that are considered part of Ebonics. He felt the need to explain the terms to the mostly light-skinned class as though we were encountering an entirely new language. Excuse me, professor, but I grew up hearing and using quite a few Ebonics phrases myself, probably many more of them than you even know of.

Culture, unlike physical coloring, is about where we are as individuals, not where we originate as groups or lineages. Each of us has an individual past of which we must be both ashamed and proud. Each of us is pressured and guided by our environments and each of us has different opportunities and sources of motivation. Barack Obama has acknowledged that he identifies with the love and strength of his light-skinned grandparents and mother as well as the love and strength of his dark-skinned father and his father’s family. Let’s honor him as a black person, a white person, a person.

As you reflect on some of the remarkable dark-skinned people in the world this month, remember to celebrate their connections with, influences on and oneness with their amazing dark-, light- and medium-skinned brothers and sisters from every nation and way of life.

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