I don’t get it. I mean, am I the only person in the world who’s noticed that Barack Obama isn’t black? He’s bi-racial. I don’t see why his election has prompted such an orgy of self-congratulation in America. (For an example, see Anne Applebaum’s piece on the front of today’s Telegraph.) How can the election of a light-skinned man of colour assuage the guilt white Americans feel about slavery? Slaves were black. Barack Obama isn’t descended from slaves. He was born in Hawaii and raised by two white people. He looks like a skinny white guy with a tan. If America had elected a guy who looked like Robert Mugabe to become President, then I’d be impressed. But this guy? My Jewish father-in-law spends a week in the sun, he goes darker than Obama. I married his daughter. Does that make me a non-racist?
If this sounds a bit begrudging, I don’t mean it to. Obviously, electing Obama is a step in the right direction. Americans deserve approximately half the praise they’ve been heaping on themselves because, after all, Obama is half-African-American. But nearly all the so-called “black” people that now enjoy high-profile positions in America — Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, Tiger Woods, Tyra Banks, Beyonce — are at the light-skinned end of the spectrum. It is almost as if America lined up every citizen with any African-American blood, putting the darkest at one end and the lightest at the other, and said to all the people on the far right-hand-side, “Okay, you can sit at the front of the bus, but the rest of you, stay in the back.”
If I was a caramel-coloured American, I’d certainly be pleased that Obama had been elected. It proves that white people are prepared to embrace light-skinned men of colour. But I would probably know that already. If I was a dark-skinned American, on the other hand, I’m not sure I’d take much comfort from this. It would simply confirm something I have long known, namely, that the extent to which African-Americans are the victims of racist discrimination in America depends, to a very large extent, on how dark-skinned they are. White Americans have finally come around to the idea of having a coffee-coloured President. Great. But when are they going to stop discriminating against people who are actually black?
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