If Barack Obama fails to become president of the United States, his race-his blackness-will be seen as a reason for that.
But ironically, in the 1990s Obama lost an election for a seat in Congress to ex-Black Panther Bobby Rush because Obama-a biracial person from Hawaii-was not seen as being “black enough.”
All of this raises the question: what is blackness? That topic has been the subject of heated debate among scholars, poets, and street people alike.
An interesting view of this subject comes from the book Achieving Blackness: Race, Black Nationalism, and Afrocentrism in the Twentieth Century, by Algernon Austin. Mr. Austin, who has Ph.D. in Sociology, is director of the Race, Ethnicity and the Economy Program at the Economic Policy Institute. He is also the founder and director of the Thora Institute.
Austin starts with the view that race and blackness are not about biology, but about society’s view of what blackness is and how blacks should behave. He then looks at the different-and sometimes competing-views of blackness held by groups like the Nation of Islam, the Black Panthers, and black America at large during the Black Power and Afrocentrism eras that stretched from the 1950s/60s through the 1990s.
He has a section in his book which is like a “Race and Blackness 101” primer. I liked the concise and provocative way he presented “the basics” of the subject of racial identity. I hope you will find the following passages from his book as engaging as I did.