Monday, April 6, 2009
A couple of days ago was this blog's first birthday! A lot of new readers have come along since then, so I decided to spend part of this week reposting some earlier entries. For some reason (or reasons), the following, slightly updated post, from April of last year, has been viewed more times than any other one on this blog. There's a lengthy discussion thread at the original post.
Did you ever notice that white women can give birth to "black" babies, but black women can't give birth to "white" ones?
If a white woman gives birth to a baby that looks more or less black because the father was black, most people today still say the baby is black. But if a black woman gives birth to a baby whose father was white, that baby also becomes a black person, whether the baby looks black or could pass for white.
In 1996, James McBride published a popular book called The Color of Water: A Black Man's Tribute to His White Mother. Why is it that a white person could never write a tribute to his or her black mother?
Recently, I thought this paradox might be changing when I saw this headline: "Black Women Giving Birth to White Babies on the Rise." However, as the article explains, this phenomenon is happening in Europe, not America, and furthermore, it doesn't mean that the age-old idea that black women can't give birth to white babies is fading away, even in Europe. Instead, as the article also explains, the "number of Black women who are giving birth to White babies has been on the rise [because of] the increasing number of infertile White couples choosing cross racial surrogacy across Europe. . ."
Presumably it's still the case, then, that if a "Black" woman in Europe had a child through normal reproductive methods whose father was "White," the child would be considered "Black," and if a "White" woman had a child with a "Black" man that way, that child would also be considered "Black." (The comments below that article bear this out--notice how many people there were initially shocked by the headline.)
Such bizarre differences would seem to expose the absurdity of the whole notion of "race," and one might hope that we're moving beyond such double standards. However, despite the inclusion of a new check-box on the most recent (2000) U.S. Census, which for the first time allowed people to declare themselves biracial or multiracial, the tenacious grip of traditional racial categories remains strong. This racial conundrum also determines how we label and perceive our president, Barack Obama.
Obama's parents were a white woman from Kansas and a black man born in Kenya. He may well have checked the multiracial box on the 2000 census, but in the eyes of America, and no doubt the world, he is still America's first "black" president. A label that we almost never hear for him is the biologically accurate one, America's first "biracial" president.
Obama's mother is white, but we usually consider him black, especially because he looks black. But if his mother were black and his father white, we would still consider him a "black man," whether he looked black or white. We perceive our leader through the lens of this double standard because it's still the case that white women can have "black" babies, but black women can't have "white" ones.
Is your head spinning too?
Posted by macon d at 6:10 PM