Saturday, May 19, 2012

Barack Obama, American

With a father from Kenya and a mother from Kansas, President Obama was born in Hawaii on August 4, 1961. He was raised with help from his grandfather, who served in Patton's army, and his grandmother, who worked her way up from the secretarial pool to middle management at a bank. The White House

On the sociology and economics blog, OrgTheory, I had the opportunity to misunderstand, Dr. Kieran Healy of Duke, who wrote: "And thus did we start down the road toward the unlikely spectacle of a Black President endorsing gay marriage. Nice—counterintuitive, compelling, and more than a little ironic." (See the entire essay and comments here.) I still take issue with the claim that Pres. Barack Obama is "Black." He is indeed an "African-American" on his father's side, but that ignores the perhaps more important considerations on the distaff side.  His mother claims to be from Kansas; and Kansan-Americans are known to have Ozmian connections.  Maybe that needs to be investigated more closely... or maybe not... 

Stanley Ann Dunham
While completing my master's at Eastern Michigan, I had the opportunity to attend a guest lecture on race by Agustin Fuentes professor of anthropology at Notre Dame University. (See here.)  Dr. Fuentes's thesis is that "race" is ascribed, and only ascribed.  Race has no objective existence.  Moreover, other people define your race: you do not.  He showed a picture of Pres. Obama, and asked, "What is his race?" Some people said "Black" and others "African-American."   But his mother is white.  No one said "Caucasian-American."  That was Prof. Fuentes' point.  Later, he showed pictures of Micronesians.  Again, several people in the audience identified them as African, or Black. (I don't think anyone said "Negro.")  But, Fuentes corrected them all by saying that any genetic metric you can find would place them within the populations of Asians, not Africans.  

(An interesting conjecture, not presented then, is that the people we call Africans inherited their darker skin tones from these Melanesians who emigrated back to Africa in an interglacial period.)

We glide easily over the fact that the elder Barack Obama is from Kenya.  Kenya is in Africa.  But, again, the people among whom the elder Obama grew up were not Negroes or Negroids or whatever. They emigrated into Kenya from the north about 1000 years ago, about the same time that the Magyars (my mother's father's ancestors) were entering Europe from Asia. (I have B-positive blood, like many other people who happen to come from western Siberia in the Ob-Irtysh river basin.)  People move.  We walk. We run. We ride animals; and we ride in carts; and today we still measure internal combustion engines in horsepower.  In Indo-European languages many r-words denote running: Rhine, Rhone. rhino-, rhizo-...  Now we fly, flee, flow...  The first horror of any concentration camp is that you are not allowed to leave.  It is the one thing everyone wants to do.  Even if we settle into cities and onto farms, none survives isolated and self-sufficient. Trade is life.  And so some footloose herders from the Nile followed the flocks to Kenya... and one of them thought that America sounded interesting.

He was not alone.

We too commonly think that so-called "native" Americans came here from Asia by crossing a land bridge during a glacial period.  Maybe they did. Maybe some did while others found other routes.  It is interesting that the iconic totem pole is known among the peoples of the Pacific Northwest and the Maori of New Zealand.   Atlantis is not the place we all came from, but the place we all came to.

Atlantis: the Lost Continent (MGM, 1961)

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