“People think they dis my person by stating I’m darkly packed/I know this so I point at Q-Tip and he states ‘black is black’.” –De La Soul, Me, Myself, and I

I was surfing the Internet when I ran across a LiveJournal community for “oreos”. Made up of black folks insecure in their “blackness.” Their stories start to sound alike after a while. Some variation on “I grew up in the suburbs and ‘lost my way’”: My whole life I grew up in “white” settings–school, church, neighborhood. So I don’t sound or act black. What’s ironic is that white and Asian people who act black or ghetto give me just as much grief. (OR) I never seemed to fit in with anyone. In high school, I read a lot and listened to whatever music interested me. I had friends, but I wasn’t hung up on color. The black kids teased me a lot.

So here’s what’s been bugging me: this rising/steady chorus of people who insist that “the first black president” is actually not black. This is exactly one of the reasons I spend so much time thinking about various ideas like ontological blackness. We inherited this screwed up idea we call race, we suffered through things like the “one drop rule”—that one drop of black blood in you was enough to declare you black—and played by those rules (btw, try explaining those rules to a six year old). You can’t just up and change them simply because you suddenly want to define someone’s blackness down so that you can suddenly stake a claim.

Obama has said, “I identify as African-American — that’s how I’m treated and that’s how I’m viewed. I’m proud of it.” That’s the end of the discussion. Period. Just like Tiger Woods can call himself a “Cablinasian” and be as “We are the World” a Negro as he wants to be. We all have to balance how we choose to define ourselves vs. how society defines and treats us.

Maybe I’ve been spending too much time on the Racial Slur Database, but I’ve never liked the idea of calling oneself or anyone else an “oreo”, to denote that one is black on the outside and white on the inside. It’s one of those epithets like “sell out” or “house Negro” or “Oreo” whenever someone breaks with our accepted group think, be it via philosophy, idea, or political agenda. And like “nigger”, I don’t believe anything is reclaimed by using it yourself to describe yourself.

People always find themselves having to define blackness (I know I’m about sick of being asked “what exactly is “being black”?”), but it’s another symptom of how the idea of race has us twisted up. What does “being white on the inside” amount to? “You talk like us. You look like us. You act like us.”

Like being called bougie, it’s an attempt to pigeonhole a group, people who don’t fit perfectly into some predetermined cultural box, and not allow for (even the biracial among us to) split cultures and interests. As if no one is allowed to like things not seen as “black”. It points to a level of assimilation, having grown up in the dominant culture. It points to how large our class problem is, often trumping our race problem as we assume that only one group can have middle class values or any kind of middle class culture … as opposed to redefining the boundaries of that culture.

Ok, Obama is half white. The next racial draft should be interesting, white people: just how many picks are you willing to give up to get him?