What Exactly Is "Black Enough"?

Sunday Morning commentator Nancy Giles wonders what it means to be "black enough." Is blackness defined by how you talk or by where you grew up? Or by other people's stereotypes?


Is presidential candidate Barack Obama "black enough?" And does he appeal to white voters because he's only half "black?" And does his B.A. from Columbia and his Harvard law degree somehow make him "too white?"

And since his father was African and Barack Obama grew up with his white mother in Hawaii and Indonesia before moving back to the States, does that mean that he can't relate to the authentic African-American experience, and that black Americans would do better to vote for someone who truly relates to our unique history, like Hillary Clinton or Rudy Giuliani?

What does "not black enough" mean, anyway? Are you more black if you grew up in an all-black neighborhood, and less black if you grew up around a mix of cultures? Is hair part of the equation? If it's natural, does that make you more black? Then where does that leave Al Sharpton, or most of the black girl singers on the planet?

Is blackness measured in percentages, so that any white person in one's gene pool dilutes one's purity? So if you're half-black, you're mulatto; one-quarter black: a quadroon, one-eighth black: an octoroon? Do we really want to go back to that time in our history? And what about our natural talents at music, rhythm and athletics? I'm tall, but I've never been good at basketball. Where do I fit in?

Who knows? I've been told for years I don't sound black. Kids in school said I talked white. I've always been black and I've always talked like this. What they really meant was that I didn't sound like the stereotype that they were used to. But if sounding black means speaking one specific way, would Martin Luther King have been accused of sounding white? Would his speech have been more authentic if he "axed" us to march on Washington in 1963 to hear his famous "I Be Havin' A Dream" speech?

In his keynote speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, Barack Obama spoke about the struggles of family life in the inner-city. "Children can't achieve unless we raise their expectations and turn off the television sets and eradicate the slander that says a black youth with a book is acting white," he said.

"Acting white"? It's time to stop the "divide and conquer" speak and acknowledge that we can come from different places and still share something unique. "Black enough?" Black enough for what?
  • Caitlin Johnson

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