Monday, February 12, 2007

Is Barack black?   posted by p-ter @ 2/12/2007 04:57:00 PM

I've mentioned before that the concept of race has both a biological and social component. Now, a case study: Barack Obama. In this clip, one Debra Dickerson makes the case that Senator Obama is not "black". What to call him instead? She suggests "African African-American", while personally I prefer Mr. Colbert's suggestion: nouveau black. Trop chic !

Based on what we know about Obama's heritage--a Kenyan father and a white American mother--it's doubtful that any genotypic information would place him in a well-defined cluster (like those in this analysis). First, there's the 50-50 European/African admixture. Though estimates of the amount of European admixture in African-American populations vary by geography (in New Orleans, this estimate is about 22%, while in Charlston, SC, it's about 12% [cite]), 50% is a bit above average.

Further, there's the fact that his father is East African, while most African-Americans (as Dickerson points out) are descended from West Africans. As allele frequencies vary within Africa, this would add a further complication to any attempt at clustering. So Obama does, indeed, lie at the fuzzy intersection between African and European, at least from a genetic standpoint. From a social standpoint, I had assumed he would just be called "black", but perhaps the ultimate arbiters of "blackness" are waiting for some concessions on his part before they give him their approval.

In any case, if he's going to get his own label, "nouveau black" is as good as any; who knows, perhaps it'll catch on.