Post User Polls

Was Obama wrong to only check his race as 'black' on his census form?

Elizabeth Chang writes in today's Post that she believes that President Obama was wrong to only check his race as "black" when he filled out his census earlier this month. Read her full piece.

By Jodi Westrick  |  April 29, 2010; 10:53 AM ET  | Category:  National Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
Previous: Is Virginia license plate racist? | Next: Will move help or hurt Charlie Crist?


Please email us to report offensive comments.

Being black is a poison, one drop is enough to make you black.

Posted by: ravitchn | April 29, 2010 1:45 PM

I've always thought of him as biracial, but the media particularly (and the country's black community) do not - he is black. To those I spoke with prior to the election who admitted to not being able to vote for a black candidate, I suggested they vote for the white part of Obama. Of course, I think Obama feels a kinship with both communities. Why does it matter anyway?

Posted by: eal1 | April 29, 2010 1:52 PM

In many ways, President Obama was in a no win situation. In an effort to promote completing the census, he filled out his form in public, unlike the majority of us, whose answers will not be known for another 60 or so years. Now imagine if he had actually checked both black and white, the media would pronounced that Obama was indecisive, dithering about his own race (not that it matters). The President was right to check black: it is still the lens through which many view him and had he not been Barack Obama, the way he is treated trying to hail a cab or eat at a restaurant or when entering an elevator.

Posted by: ddzeke | April 29, 2010 2:24 PM

My question is: Why does it matter?

Posted by: ravensfan20008 | April 29, 2010 2:31 PM

I share Ms. Chang's views. The census doesn't inquire into one's self-identification or how one is viewed by others. It asks for facts, and the fact is that the president (whom I generally support) is biracial. By failing to acknowledge his Caucasian ancestry, he failed to honor his mother and her family, who raised him when his African father abandoned him. But he also failed to seize the opportunity to move the country away from racial categorizations that are not only inaccurate but perpetuate divisions in the society. That's why this matters.

Posted by: commenter14 | April 29, 2010 2:38 PM

Obama very clearly identifies as African American - Kenyan and Hawaiian. If you need this to be black, fine. Don't understand why people have trouble with bi-cultural. Bi-racial makes no sense.

Posted by: Reader4 | April 29, 2010 3:01 PM

I was born and raised in Hawaii where there are many variation of racial blending. In the past, we were asked to mark the various races that attributed to our ancestry. However, after moving to the U.S. continent, my children were asked to identify the race that reflected their physical appearance. Well, one child looked more like an asian/pacific islander, while the other children looked caucasian or even South-American. It's too bad we have to identify our race at all, since wasn't America the land to bring all Peoples to it for a better life, happiness and prosperity. Are we not all from different countries and cultural backgrounds?

Posted by: Multi-racialAmerican | April 29, 2010 3:02 PM

As the president has already explained--paraphrasing here--if you appear to be black and have been treated as such, then you are more than likely going to say that you're black. I think it is a good thing that he did what he did.

This admission is particularly comforting to black parents and their children, who often have conflicts with their race--some black children have been made to believe, at an early age (through the media), that being white is better than being black. It is about having pride in the black race.

Posted by: writer_33 | April 29, 2010 4:27 PM

Who cares how he identifies. If I had a checkbox for Italian I'd mark it, but I'm not full Italian.

Posted by: theobserver4 | April 29, 2010 5:12 PM

As an African American who has family that are Native American, Black, and White on both sides of my family tree, I think POTUS is well within his rights to identify himself as only African American. As a descendent of African slaves brought to America, it has been well-documented that our lineage is diverse. I recently found out that my triple great-grandfather may be white or bi-racial. I know that one of my triple great-grandmothers was Native American. I think that qualifies me as multi-racial or multi-cultural but I identify as a Black American. That is how POTUS sees himself. It is not a denial of his White mother or bi-racial lineage but an acknowledgement of the diverse racial and cultural lineage most Black/African Americans share.

As far as the census, the categories are for what you want to be identified as. Until you can mark 1/4 this and 1/2 that, it will never be fully accurate. The assumption is that if your parents are of different races than you're bi-racial. But what about those who know the richness of their ancestrial lineage and want to identify all of it?

I say let it go. He's an American who identifies as Black who will be seen by many as a myraid of constructs. Just respect what he identifies as- the perspective of most importance.

Posted by: jgadson5 | April 29, 2010 5:15 PM

I wonder if he would have self-identified as only "black" if his mother were still living. What a slap in the face to her and to her parents, who raised him. Does he really think the race of the woman who gave birth to him and brought him up, and of the grandparents who loved him and the grandmother who stood by him until literally the eve of his election as president, is not a part of who he is? I'm very disappointed in him.

Posted by: WiseOldWoman | April 29, 2010 5:43 PM

Oh cripes people. He was damned if he did or didn't. If he checked Bi-racial someone would have been all ticked that he didn't proudly declare he was black.

He's friggin tooty-fruity. Who cares? We have serious problems in this country and you are worried about how he self-iddentifies on the form? I identify as a French American, so where was that on the form? They pay you incompetards to write these kinds of articles? You are overpaid and underworked.

Posted by: jacquie1 | April 29, 2010 6:08 PM

Who cares????

Posted by: jimbom | April 29, 2010 7:19 PM

Beige wasn't in the list. Neither was tan, sand, mud or yellow. I'm of Scottish decent and didn't find pale or plaid available as an option.

Do the different races get different treatment? How about different senators for your race. Anyone care to tell Lindsey Gram he can't be the elected senator from South Carolina because he isn't black?

I prefer my butter side up, if you please.

Posted by: BigTrees | April 29, 2010 7:28 PM

Chang's piece was arrogant trash, devoid of sound logic and of course it's no accident that comments on that original piece have now been shut down. I guess, if you can't take the heat, just turn of comments and go home.

I'm a biracial woman who identifies as Black. I was born in the early 70's and adopted by White parents. Obama was born in the 60's. Wanna take a guess at what race a biracial (B/W) child was labled with at birth (and even on their birth certificate) during those time periods? Neither one of my biological parents raised me-Black or White, yet I was 'born' a Black woman and I don't see any reason to change it to make anyone else feel comfortable.

Regardless of who he was born to and where he grew up, Obama was born a Black man and was treated as such. Being raised by White (adoptive) parents doesn't make me anymore White or biracial than it makes my parents black or biracial for parenting me. I'm from Iowa. Being raised in a 95% White state still doesn't make me White.

My White parents raised a strong Black woman. They did a helluva job and don't feel put out because that's exactly what they set out to do. They chose not to raise me in a racial prism exclusive to them in exchange for the cheap consolation of being able to pat themselves on the back for their contribution of Whiteness having been acknowleged.

And finally, Chang, an Asian-American, failed to articulate one credible argument as to how she is in a unique position to demand how Obama should identify himself other than the fact that she popped out some White guy's kids. She should be embarrassed for pressing the "send" button on that piece.

Posted by: crankandroll | April 29, 2010 7:39 PM

How can he be the first African-American President if he checks some other box?

Anyway, it's a stupid article.

Posted by: RedBird27 | April 29, 2010 8:43 PM

What an absurd notion. Over the years I've been in DC, I've known a number of people who I assumed were white, until they told me, or I learned through some other source, that they identified as African American. I've also known folks who I assumed were black, until I learned that they identified as Latino. Isn't it Mark Twain's book Pudd'nhead Wilson that turns on the idea of a white boy and a black boy being switched at birth because they looked so much alike, and the black boy's mother wanted her son to grow up with the advantages that would only be available to a white boy?

As long as there have been human beings, people of different races have produced children together, to the point that the concept of anyone being just one race is absurd. So when I put on my census form that I'm white, I had no idea whether that is entirely true or not. I was tempted this year to answer accordingly, only I didn't know which races to pick. If a person can't check the box for the race with which s/he identifies, there's no point in even asking the question.

Posted by: MichaelDCQueer | April 29, 2010 10:00 PM

If I were Obama, I would check black too. His kids and his wife will be identified as black. He must suffer derision for the color of his skin. It seems to me that it would take a purely racist ideology to separate him from his family. I don't believe in race, but I understand that there are social consequences for the color of our skin. I don't like that, I'd like to change that, I hope I can help to. In the mean time, until color really doesn't signify in any way to any one, let the man check his own box.

Posted by: shhgray | April 29, 2010 10:12 PM

Bottom line: Why do we have this question on the census? But...since we do, it is asking for factual racial background, not "feel good" what you want to identify with. As such, the Pres was clearly in error.

Posted by: silencedogoodreturns | April 30, 2010 5:16 PM

Let HIM define who he is and not some damn columnist.

Posted by: linroy62 | May 5, 2010 12:38 PM

The comments to this entry are closed.

RSS Feed
Subscribe to The Post

© 2011 The Washington Post Company