“A columnist examining Obama’s background summed up his racial identity into one equation: ‘white + black = black.’ For me, that said it all.”

Posted in Excerpts/Quotes on 2015-12-26 21:09Z by Steven

The media’s metadiscussion explicitly endorsed a definition of Obama’s race that was essentially intersubjective, basing its racial descriptor on a combination of self-identification and ascription by others. Their reasoning, while not to be taken as gospel, explicitly endorsed the use of racial descriptors which were intersubjectively agreed upon. For instance, the Associated Press, whose articles and analysis dominate newspaper discussions of politics and race through both reputation and sheer numbers, endorsed such a view. As Karen Hunter, the Reader Representative at the Hartford Courant, explained in 2008, “Because The Courant relies on the Associated Press for much of its national coverage of the presidential race, the AP plays a key role in how the newspaper presents the candidates.” In accounting for the AP’s decision to use of “black” and “African American” as the proper – and essentially interchangeable – descriptors for Obama, AP Senior Managing Editor Mike Silverman explained, “I would say the answer has to do partly with the way Sen. Obama has defined himself and partly with the way American society defines someone who is biracial.” While Silverman implied a static public definition of black and biracial individuals, and ignored his organization’s own role in creating and shifting these definitions, the AP relied on what it perceived to be the intersubjective consensus in order to determine Obama’s race, rather than any set of facts related to American rules regarding blackness. Nowhere in Silverman’s recapitulation of the AP’s behind-the-scenes discussions does he mention Obama’s parentage, hypodescent, biology, or other American rules of race, although they perhaps form the background of “the way American society defines someone.”

The Washington Post, Hartford Courant, and New York Times editorial boards were among the media to take similar stances. While endorsing and explaining the AP’s use of an intersubjective standard in deciding how to describe Obama, the Hartford Courant stated that,“Obama’s candidacy is a rare and riveting opportunity exactly because it is forcing conversations about issues that have been easier to ignore for centuries.” And in CNN’s “Behind the Scenes” look at it’s coverage of Obama’s race, Jay Carrol somewhat retrospectively summed up the media’s predominate position, writing, “A columnist examining Obama’s background summed up his racial identity into one equation: ‘white + black = black.’ For me, that said it all.” While the piece is entitled “Obama: Black or Biracial?” and Carrol continues with a discussion that claims the answer is complicated, the “accuracy” of the description is treated as an academic exercise attendant to the obvious conclusion based on an assumed social ascription.

Peter Geller, “Making Blackness, Making Policy,” PhD diss., Harvard University, 2012. 42-43. http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.InstRepos:9548618.

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Making Blackness, Making Policy

Posted in Barack Obama, Communications/Media Studies, Media Archive, Philosophy, Politics/Public Policy, Social Science, United States on 2015-12-26 19:01Z by Steven

Making Blackness, Making Policy

Harvard University
178 pages

Peter Geller

Doctoral Dissertation

Too often the acknowledgment that race is a social construction ignores exactly how this construction occurs. By illuminating the way in which the category of blackness and black individuals are made, we can better see how race matters in America. Antidiscrimination policy, social science research, and the state’s support of its citizens can all be improved by an accurate and concrete definition of blackness.

Making Blackness, Making Policy argues that blackness and black people are literally made rather than discovered. The social construction of blackness involves the naming of individuals as black, and the subsequent interaction between this naming and racial projects. The process of naming involves an intersubjective dialogue in which racial self-identification and ascription by others lead to a consensus on an individual’s race. These third parties include an individual’s community, the media, and, crucially, the state. Following Ian Hacking, this process is most properly termed the dynamic nominalism of blackness.

My dissertation uses analytic philosophy, qualitative and quantitative research, and historical analysis to defend this conception. The dynamic nominalist process is illustrated through the media’s contribution to the making of Barack Obama’s blackness, and the state’s creation and maintenance of racial categories through law, policy, and enumeration.

I then argue that the state’s dominant role in creating blackness, and the vital role that a black identity plays in millions’ sense of self, requires the United States Government to support a politics of recognition. The state’s antidiscrimination efforts would also improve through the adoption of a dynamic nominalism of blackness. Replacing the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission’s inconsistent and contradictory definitions of race with the dynamic nominalism of blackness would clarify when and how racial discrimination occurs.

Table of Contents

  • Introduction: Making Blackness Across Disciplines
  • Chapter One: The Dynamic Nominalism of Blackness
  • Chapter Two: Barack Obama and the Making of Black People
  • Chapter Three: The State and the Centrality of Black Identity
  • Chapter Four: Definitions of Race and Antidiscrimination Policy
  • Conclusion: Making Use of Making Blackness
  • Bibliography

Read the entire dissertation here.

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