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Sunday, March 2, 2008

American Blackface: Tragic Octoroon

Jack Lynch

Is Obama black enough, is Obama any more black than white…for the most part it hardly seems to matter. But is he signifying to white America, and playing to black America? Who can judge such a thing when we all recognize our common mongrelized cultural heritage mixes, half German, half Irish, what of it? Certainly black voters are voting in approval of Obama and rejecting the undercurrent of assumptions in the Clinton's approaches to them.

Now a tragicomedy of pundits are weighing in on the supposed 'blackfacing' of a half white, half Asian comedian on Saturday Night Live playing Obama. A mixed race actor playing a mixed race politician hardly seems to be appropo to a post racial American identity.

In pre-Civil War literature, the role of the tragic octoroon was a romanticized story of a woman of mixed race who passed as white until a tragic unveiling of her true identity via an ancestry the state of Louisiana codified and delineated endlessly. The secret racial codes determined your place in society. Their lives would be happy, but for their mixed raciality -

Identity politics played in abolitionist tales too, characters whose racial identity rest somewhere between black and white, passing characters have the potential to subvert racial categories by proving the falsity of the black and white racial binary.

We could be close to realizing the Martin Luther King vision, "I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character."
Or we could be struggling still with inner psychological conflicts – and political symbols of those deeply rooted prejudices and experiences built upon their expressions.

What will be the outcome of our Light in August?

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