On being “black” in Australia and the U.S.

Culture Matters

Here in Sydney as well as in Egypt, people have often commented to me on the strangeness of the American logic of race. “Why do you call Barack Obama black? His mother was white. Why don’t you call him white?” I explain the cultural logic of the “one-drop rule” of attributing race in the United States, but often people just shake their head at the absurdity of it. I tell them that yes, it’s absurd, but it’s how our culture popularly imagines race. Everyone knows that Obama’s mother was white, and yet everyone “knows” that Obama is black.

I’ve read enough of the work of my colleagues who do work in Brazil, and I’ve lived in Venezuela (where the racial imaginary is closer to that of Brazil than to that of the U.S.), to have some familiarity with different cultural logics of “race.” When it comes to Australia, though, I…

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