Check out Robin Givhan’s column, Plunging Back Into Blackness. Robin talks about John McLaughlin’s comment about Senator Barack Obama being an oreo.
By Robin Givhan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, July 20, 2008
Last week on “The McLaughlin Group,” a show so fusty that plumes of dust waft from the television screen upon the first note of its brassy theme song, a curiously retro word floated into the Sunday morning blathersphere: Oreo.
Host John McLaughlin was not speaking of cookies. He used it while interrogating his guests about presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama’s blackness. To be exact, McLaughlin bellowed: Does it bother Jesse Jackson that “someone like Obama, who fits the stereotype blacks once labeled as an Oreo — a black on the outside, a white on the inside — that an Oreo should be the beneficiary of the long civil rights struggle?”
McLaughlin’s decision to dredge up a race-baiting slur, which historically was intended to suggest someone was self-hating and inauthentic, had the feel of a 1,000-year-old blowhard trying to be provocative and clever. It was delivered in a tone that spoke of anthropological curiosity — as if he had been chauffeured past a crowd of black people 50 years ago, overheard them talking, and picked up a bit of their odd patois.
The term oreo has been used as an insult by some blacks to describe a black person as black on the outside and white on the inside if that black person is successful, does well in school, etc. (Check out the term in the Urban Dictionary) Robin pretty much discusses how Senator Obama isn’t black enough for some (being Harvard educated) and too black for others (being a member of Trinity United Church of Christ).
Despite McLaughlin’s stilted tone, it was yet another reminder that the question of Obama’s blackness — too much or not enough — refuses to be put to rest. Obama has ping-ponged between not being black enough when he was mostly known as the Harvard-educated lawyer who gave rousing speeches, to being too black when his now former minister Jeremiah Wright was on the loose preaching about a racist America. Now he’s back to not being black enough because he’s been talking about personal responsibility among black Americans.
The debate has become absurd. When he plays basketball, is he blacker? Or, as the comedian Bill Maher joked: “He bowled a 37. . . . Is he black enough for you now?” And how about when he tucked in his polo shirt and went for a family bike ride? Was he only kinda-sorta black then?
Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.
It would be splendid if the man could simply just be in the same way as presumptive Republican nominee John McCain. (No one’s asking if he’s too white or not white enough.) But we have not arrived at that mountaintop yet and so, in the meantime, Obama must serve as symbol and trope. He must represent his multiethnic constituency and he must represent.
This is not a matter of skin tone. It’s about culture, sensibility and perception. While Obama’s ascendancy has brought many issues into the spotlight, one of the most confounding — at least for far too many pundits — is the notion of blackness, what defines it and who gets to determine whether the prevailing definition is correct.
You can read the entire article here.