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Published:January 17th, 2008 15:02 EST
What Does It Mean To Be Black? Exploring Race with Obama

What Does It Mean To Be Black? Exploring Race with Obama

By Cherod Johnson

Earlier last year when Barack Obama announced that he would be running as a democratic candidate in the 2008 presidential election, it was not so shocking that many people were less concerned about his political agenda and goals than his racial heritage and identity-- and most important for many African Americans, whether or not he was black enough.

Born in Honolulu, Hawaii, Barack Hussein Obama was raised in a white household since his father left his mother when he was young. As did his father, Obama studied at Harvard University. Yet, due to his Ivy League school background and being raised in a white household, many African Americans often think twice about classifying Obama as one of them. Despite being considered black because he is biracial, many people often say that Obama does not identify totally with blacks because he did not necessarily experience the hardships firsthand that the majority of African Americans have experienced within the U.S.

For this reason, many people who realize this recommend and suggest that Obama should not use race or heritage to acquire votes from African Americans. However, the question, then, is what does it really take to be considered “black”?

“I believe that Obama should not play the race card to get black votes because many people would say, 'What does this Harvard graduate really know about what it means to be black?'", commented Cynthia Rogers, an African American Student at Owens Community College.

“Black people, for the most part, classify people to be black if they have been where they have been, done what they have done, experienced what they have experienced. Rogers said, “Someone who has lived the realistic lifestyle of a black man or women. The sad thing is that many of those who are considered to be realistic have done so much, but their capability of achieving such a position is often impossible,” states Rogers.

During the State of Black Union Address of 2007, Rev. Al Sharpton gave a speech about his thoughts on the upcoming presidential election and Sen. Barack Obama. When Sharpton opened his mouth to talk, he stated, “I think that politics should not be based on race, but rather based on agenda and based on policy." Rev. Al Sharpton continued, "I think that our determination must be based on who stands for our interest. That’s what everybody is going to depend upon to make their decision. Nobody is going to ask Hillary Clinton to be less woman, no body is going to ask Richardson to be less Latino, so he should not play into the race politics, he need to state-- Sen. Obama-- to black America as he would to farmers, women and others, what his agenda is.”

However, for those African Americans who were less informed about Obama’s agenda and goals for the future, without any doubt, were happy to say that they will vote for him because he is black. Like most people, whether they be black or white, we do not want to miss out on the making of history.

“When I first heard that Obama was running for president, I remember how my family was less concerned about his stance, but rather happy that things are really changing since the presidential candidates have always been white, male and old,” explained Brittany Jones, majoring in political science and ethnic studies at Ohio State.

While, on the other hand, for those many African Americans who choose candidates first based on agenda, realize that, just because a person is of the same ethnicity, it does not always mean they would make decisions in the interest of their people.

Rev. Al Sharpton may agree, since he states, “We cannot put our people's aspirations on hold for anybody's career, black or white; our people are suffering," Rev. Al Sharpton explained, "We still have, today, people who have health care problems, people getting shot down…”

Therefore, it must be understood that race should not be a focus point or strategy for Obama. But rather, he should let the American people know, regardless of race, where he stands.

In the words of Rev. Al Sharpton, “If you cannot accept the need to change and challenge, then you need to let us go on until you develop the ability to do so.”