Media coverage has focused on whether Barack Obama, 2008 presidential candidate, is Black enough for African-American voters.(1) The fact that he is not descended from African-American slaves has caused some Blacks to hesitate in supporting him. On the other hand, little analysis has been made about Barack Obama’s Whiteness. This non-partisan report will evaluate whether Barack Obama’s White ancestry and White background will make him sufficiently White to appeal to Caucasian-American voters.
Race is an important issue in American politics. Most of the other major presidential candidates have adequate WASP (Whiteness Assessment Standard Percentile) scores, even though Bill Richardson is partly Mexican and John McCain was born in the not-quite-so-White Panama Canal Zone. Whether Barack Obama passes the WASP threshold is unclear. Since race is just a social construct with limited basis in genetics and appearance, an accurate gauge of Barack Obama’s Whiteness level requires a totality-of-the-circumstances analysis of his cultural history and background. Fortunately, his past behavior has revealed that he is qualified for the White social construct.
Barack Obama is the son of Ann Durham, a Caucasian-American born in Wichita, Kansas. Barack Obama himself was born in multicultural Honolulu. His African father, also called Barack Obama, was already married at the time of his American marriage. When Barack Junior was two years old, Barack Senior left the family and eventually returned to Kenya to be with the original African wife, another Caucasian-American woman, and at least one other woman.(2) Barack Junior later saw his father only once until the elder Obama died in a car crash. Barack Obama grew up mostly in Honolulu with his liberal Caucasian-American maternal grandparents. Barack Obama’s grandparents enrolled him in the private college preparatory Punahou School, where he was part of the slim majority of the diverse student body that is White.
Like most of the other presidential candidates, Barack Obama grew up in a White, middle class family. At the 2004 Democratic National Convention, he glowingly described his White maternal grandfather’s experiences as a World War II veteran and a beneficiary of FHA and G. I. Bill programs. Nevertheless, Barack Obama managed to be exposed to a few instances of African culture through stories and photographs. According to his book Dreams from My Father, he used alcohol, marijuana, and cocaine during his teenage years, controlled substances that tragically sometimes afflict Whites. Unlike his half-brother Roy, who converted to Islam, Barack Obama embraced the White-majority religion of Christianity.
After Barack Obama studied at the historically White colleges and universities (HWCU) of Occidental College and Columbia University, he worked at a non-profit in Chicago. His most important success in Chicago was his victory over the majority-Black Chicago Housing Authority in enabling asbestos to be removed from public housing projects. Like other White authors with regrettable memory lapses,(3) Barack Obama’s autobiographical tale of his Chicago triumph excluded mention of the credit that should have gone to the veteran local agitator, Hazel Johnson.
Barack Obama started attending Harvard Law School in 1988. In February 1990, he was elected to the historically-White position of President of the Harvard Law Review. After graduation, he returned to Chicago to work on voter registration and civil rights litigation. Barack Obama’s civil rights experience may be due to the discrimination he witnessed during his Hawaiian days. No Whites held Hawaii’s top elected jobs as Senator or Governor in the 1970s; Barack Obama’s fellow Whites sometimes even suffered discrimination. One charming Hawaiian custom in some schools is to call the last day of school “kill haole [Whites/foreigners] day.”
Barack Obama’s federal political career began in 2000 when he lost a House of Representatives race to former Black Panther and African-American community activist Bobby Rush. Rush received 61% of the vote to Barack Obama’s 30%. During the campaign, Rush suggested that Barack “wasn’t black enough” for the Chicago congressional district, which is the most heavily Black (~65% of the population) of all House districts in America.
Barack Obama is in many ways similar to the multi-ethnic celebrity Tiger Woods. Tiger Woods turned down Nike’s suggestion that he should identify himself solely as Black, even though he would make more money as African-American celebrities are so popular today. He did not wish to forsake his mother’s heritage. Likewise, Barack Obama’s personal history shows that he has fully embraced his White cultural background. It is commendable that Barack Obama has chosen not to pander to American racial politics and liberal guilt by trying to identify as solely Black.
Therefore, it should be no surprise to the reader that Barack Obama has a relatively high WASP (Whiteness Assessment Standard Percentile) score. The WASP score is a weighed average of many different factors. Some of the factors include peer assessment, LSAT score, undergraduate GPA, usage of African-American Vernacular versus Caucasian-American Vernacular, support of gay marriage and other issues popular among White liberals, number of ancestors who were slaves versus slave-owners, and possible personal liability should White America pay reparations for slavery.
Barack Obama’s score of 0.74 is slightly less White than Bill Clinton or Clarence Thomas, but he has far more Whiteness than his 2004 opponent Alan Keyes or Mobutu Sese Seko.
A sample of Whiteness scores of select people:
Trent Lott – 0.98
Eddie Murphy’s Mr. White character on SNL – 0.98
Wayne Brady compared to Bryant Gumbel – 0.96
Dave Chappelle (white mode) – 0.86
Condoleezza Rice and Colin Powell combined – 0.84
Rashida Jones (racially-ambiguous Karen from The Office (U.S.)) – 0.83
Carlton “C” Banks of Bel-Air – 0.79
Strom Thurmond’s daughter Essie Mae Washington-Williams – 0.55
Cleopatra during Black History Month – 0.10
With concerted effort, Barack Obama could achieve a score of greater than 0.80, and approach the scores of persons with comparable ethnic backgrounds like Mariah Carey (0.81) and Malcolm Gladwell (0.84). Barack Obama can increase his score by dyeing and straightening his hair, dancing to Tom Jones, attending more Ivy League schools, and joining the Republican Party. However, for most Americans, Barack Obama has exceeded the satisfactory WASP score threshold of 0.70.
Thanks for reading, and stay tuned for next issue’s analysis on whether Senators McCain, Clinton, or Obama can reverse the trend of Senators Kerry, Gore, Dole, Mondale, McGovern, Humphrey, and Goldwater, and actually win the White House.
The author prefers to remain anonymous since any mention of race at Harvard Law School may cause protests and Harkbox flyers. He also would like to not jeopardize his Senate confirmation hearings after he is nominated to the federal judiciary by President Bill Richardson in 2011.
1 Stanley Crouch, What Obama Isn’t: Black Like Me, New York Daily News: “[W]hen black American refer to Obama as ‘one of us,’ I do not know what they are talking about. In his new book, The Audacity of Hope, Obama makes it clear that, while he has experienced some light versions of typical racial stereotypes, he cannot claim those problems as his own – nor has he lived the life of a black American.”2 Obama writes in his memoir on his own parents’ marriage: “How and when the marriage occurred remains a bit murky, a bill of particulars that I have never quite had the courage to explore.”3 See, for example, White author James Frey’s A Million Little Pieces.