Is Barack Not Black Enough? DJ Chuck T, Spike Lee, and…me.

Prologue: Don’t get me wrong – this is absolutely not a personal attack on DJ Chuck T (he’s one of a few people that is actually willing to speak their mind on this and he should be respected for that). Nor is this even directed at him – it’s more directed at anyone with a similar opinion on the subject. What I am doing here, here though, for sale is using this as an opportunity to bring something up because Chuck brings up something that serves as a counterpoint to something that has been in my head for a minute.

Okay, Let’s Get Into It…

Like anyone who is even somewhat involved in the music world, I get a lot of e-mail. Demos from people hoping for some airtime (can you say airtime for a podcast?), mail from people who hate/like the show, promos from major labels, promos from indie labels, and general “blasts”.

Last week, I got an email blast from DJ Chuck T, who most of you will recognize as being a ridiculously prolific (as in drops two tapes a week) North Carolina mixtape DJ, the man behind the Down South Slangin’ and Sexxplicit R&B series. And yes, this is the same dude that aired Lil Wayne out after badmouthing mixtape DJs.

The Original Video

Anyway, in an email titled “DJ Chuck T Blasts Barak Obama On MTV! OUCH!!”, DJ Chuck T posted a link to this video (sorry, I can’t embed it – just click here, it’s short)

What doesn’t come out in the video, though, is this (excerpt from the email sent out):

“[...]the self-proclaimed “Malcolm X of Hip-Hop” DJ Chuck T has unleashed his fury on the Presidential Candidate! “He’s not black, he’s bi-racial! And he wasn’t even raised by black people…” DJ Chuck T stated to MTV’s Shaheem Reid on the Red Carpet of the 2008 Ozone Magazine Awards. Chuck T went even further and said “Barak doesn’t embody the values and characteristics we as black people are raised with…”

That “bi-racial” section definitely didn’t sit right with me, so…I wrote dude an email.

And as expected, I got a pretty thought out (considering the dude is preparing for a speech in DC) and respectful email, where Chuck elaborated and stood by his opinion. No issue in particular with that.

And I was about to leave it at that, until:

A Challenger Appears

Spike Lee came out and pretty much said what I had said, minus a few points here and there. Dig the article, then come back: Spike Lee has Sharp Words in Denver.

So compare that to the original email I wrote a few days before this article came out. Obviously I’m not claiming that Spike Lee jacked what I’m saying – this is just for comparison. Also, I’m posting the full unedited text of this mainly because I don’t feel like paraphrasing, but I’d appreciate it if you took it as a token of my honesty and openness.

What I Think, I Guess

My original response to the original email blast:

Peace DJ Chuck T -

I’m sure your email inbox is flooded on a daily basis, and you may well not be able to get to all of your mail directly, but I just read this and felt like I should respond.

As far as lashing out at Barack Obama the politician, I don’t really have much beef with that. To me, the dude is a politician. Maybe a good one, maybe a bad one, but a major league politician who plays by major league rules, which means he is going to pretend that certain people don’t exist, go back on his word when it is convenient, etc – that is what politicians do. He is just another politician, scheming for votes, because that is what politicians do. I’m not sure about being the biggest Uncle Tom in the history of Black America – but I don’t think you meant that literally. I did an episode about the primaries a long time ago but refrained from outright supporting Obama because I didn’t feel it was appropriate given my mixed feelings on him. I personally will probably vote for the man – not because I am terribly excited about him bringing some sort of change to society because I don’t think change comes from the top – if you look at our history, particularly Black history, it never has – but because McCain is a scary dude and I do not want him bombing anyone else.

What I do have a problem with, though, is how you referred to Barack Obama – “He’s not black, he’s bi-racial! And he wasn’t even raised by black people…”

That, to me, doesn’t make any sense, no matter how you look at it. If you want to look at things from a historical angle, then you’ll remember the “one drop” rule. Beyond that, before Obama was all over the TV, I’m pretty sure that when he walked into a 7-11, just like when you or I walk into a 7-11, the person behind the counter did not see a “biracial” man or a “guy who wasn’t even raised by Black parents”, they saw a Black man, and they acted accordingly.

And it makes even less sense to say something like that considering that exactly one sentence prior, you referred to yourself as the Malcolm X of Hip-Hop. I’m sure you know this, but Malcolm X himself was ‘biracial’. One half African-American, one quarter Grenadian, and one quarter white. So maybe you are making a distinction between 25% white and 50% white, with the former being “black” and the latter being “not black”. If not, then maybe picking another historical persona would make your argument more coherent.

That said, though, unless your family came to the US independently, if you look at your own family tree (and I know that this is hard for the descendants of the slave system to trace back more than a few generations – if you’re able to do this, then count yourself as being very fortunate – on my side, we have no idea what went on beyond 1900 or so), I’m pretty sure you’ll find that you are not “100% Black”. I’m not sure what the statistics are, but there are very few African American individuals who are not mixed with something or other – including me, yourself, and Ludacris.

For me, trying to slander someone by saying that they aren’t “Black”, or “Black enough”, is about as counterproductive as you can get. If you have beef with someone’s actions, particularly another Black man’s actions, address his actions. If you feel that he has turned his back on his people, that’s fine. But when you try to exclude him from the population based on some illogical, fuzzy numbers game, you also start to exclude some very important historical figures – and you start to fragment the Black population and cause friction and fighting where there should be cooperation and positive movement.

As you know, most kids, particularly minorities, do not listen to what politicians have to say – but they will listen to what people like you and me (you, obviously, much more than me) – people who either make or distribute music, have to say. That’s why I was concerned. And I realize some of this may have been a “publicity stunt”, and it seems that the “he’s not even black” statement didn’t go on the air anywhere, but the approach is what worried me.

Anyway, I’m sure you have other mail to get to, so I will end this here. Peace.


So, let me make a couple of points here.

First, while I respect their individual opinions, I don’t agree with either DJ Chuck T or Spike Lee. I think Spike is going awfully easy on Obama. And on the other side, I think the whole “bi-racial” thing is a mass oversimplification.

What does get me worried is this whole “Black enough” argument. This isn’t a recent development, and I don’t expect it to die out any time soon, but with the fact that we are currently facing the very real possibility of a Black man sitting in the Oval Office, this issue takes on a new kind of urgency.

Blacker Than Thou

Classifying someone as simply “biracial” is next to useless. Where’s the line between “monoracial” and “biracial”? 25% “mixed”? 12.5% “mixed”? Same thing with offering a “biracial” bubble on an application form – do you mean to tell me that there is no difference between a kid with Black American and white parents and a kid with Korean and Indian parents? Sure, there is a possible common experience of “Jesus Christ what am I” for the kid’s childhood (or their whole life, who knows), but you can’t tell me that our Black/white and Korean/Indian kid have any inherent cultural commonality. Excluding Barack Obama from the “Black” category because of 50% of his bloodline or the complexion of the people that brought him up is a scary notion.

What’s Blackness? Is it the music you listen to (rap)? Is it your IQ (low)? Is it your economic background (poor)? Is it how many gold chains you can fit on your wrist (a lot)?

The Effect Abroad

And yes, any Black person knows that the above have nothing to do with your being Black. Unfortunately, though, there are plenty of non-Black people out there that don’t get this. I’m not just talking about white kids here. The whole “Barack is not Black” line is not limited to the US, kids. Dig this topic from popular Japanese social site Kotonoha:

オバマ氏は日焼けしすぎた白人 (Obama is just an over-tanned white guy).

So somewhere, ladies and gentlemen, we have shown the rest of the world that being smart/well-spoken/successful is the antithesis of Blackness. It’s not just the police in LA and Atlanta that think this, it’s not your middle school principal, it’s the general, global populace (remember when Davey D said something similar?) (bonus points: Same Japanese website, different topic: “ 目の前に黒人がいると怖い / I’m Afraid of Black People“)

I’ve said this before, and I still believe it – America has one of the most uniquely screwed up race complexes I’ve ever seen (not that I’ve traveled that much, but still). This isn’t helping anybody. And the further that this thing goes, the more that this is going to come out into the open. I can’t say that that’s a bad thing.


Enough of me, though – what do you think?

Bonus closing joke – I don’t know any Black people that use words like “bamboozled” or “hornswoggled”. I hereby call Spike Lee’s Blackness into question. Can I get an amen?

okay, okay, a funky drummer?

13 thoughts on “Is Barack Not Black Enough? DJ Chuck T, Spike Lee, and…me.

  1. Dj Chuck T is just trying to gain some fame through snappy sound bites that generalize a particular man or movement. He’s got his own gimmick just like Barack (e.g. Change You Can Believe In) and he’s working hard to make money off it. Like you said Dex, he’s pumping out tapes all the time. And it worked didn’t it? He got one of the most respected black men to respond to him. Truthfully, I can’t wait till this whole world is bi-racial so all this tomfoolery is squashed.


  2. I would believe people could have intellectual arguments when the argument has some logical truth

  3. So if you’re black and can’t relate to that black man on tv, then he mustn’t be black. So, what is he? HE’S BI-RACIAL! Yeah, that makes him not black.

    …uh, no.

    Like MLK Jr’s dream, people should be judging individuals by the content of their character and not the color of their skin. Some people, like Chuck T, are not fully understanding that concept yet. He’s still mashing color + content together. If the content doesn’t match the color, it’s not fit. He’s seeing them as a pair that must always stick together. But what makes the pair? There is no basis–that’s why Chuck T’s comment doesn’t make sense to me.

    And I agree with you, Dex. Color and the content of character are two separate unrelated traits. What makes a person black and what makes a person some other color are simply visual. What the person does, believes, likes, hates, etc does not label a person to a color. They are two different things. They shouldn’t be mashed up.

    on a different note, I’m still waiting on asian americans in mass media. stereotypes of asian americans are EXHAUSTED, but apparently not enough.

  4. I don’t know how to feel about this issue honestly, I guess you could say I’m biracial or not (25% Hungarian and 75% african american). But, I guess my issue is how do we change the way people see us ?(when I say us I mean black people). I mean what really bothers me, we can get educated, break all sorts of records, and be the 1st black person to do this or that. But at the end of day, we still get judged in a negative way. I mean we have a BLACK man running for president with a legitimate chance to win but we still get judged negatively.What will be enough? ( Dex, you just got me going when you spoke about how we are looked at globally). As far as Dj Chuck T, I listen to alot of hiphop and have never heard of this cat. So to me no offense, he’s not even relevant to even be talked about. Especially since he said that stuff about Barack not being black. Question, I always thought Barack calls himself a African American, let me know if I’m wrong and if he’s biracial isn’t he allowed to class himself as either race he’s mixed with?

  5. I think F-Diesel is right I think people think it’s still not enough even when a legitimate black man is running for president, and yes, he is BLACK! Why? because we are not all truely 100% BLACK but are still considered BLACK! I’m part white part black and part native american, I couldn’t say i was white, I don’t look white, I could say I was native american but my african features are more prominent so people really wouldn’t jive well with that (they were less prominent in my grandmother) . I would say Dj Chuck T is trying start an argument over something that isn’t worth having an argument about. My question is what did he right back? and when is he making his speech cuz I wanna be there!

  6. Iain are you suggesting a new nickname for me?

    Sundar – you’ve got a point. Both these dudes are certainly doing their jobs.

    F-Diesel -
    fam, as far as how to change things, I have no idea. Well, maybe I do. Oddly enough, I got an email from my father this morning (shout outs to my dad, by the way), and I quote:

    You know, he’s making it cool (positive) to be BLACK AND SMART… that should make you smile. Can you imagine your kids wanting to be like Barack?

    If nothing else, even the fact that the man has gotten this far is at its base a positive thing if you look at it for that reason. If it wasn’t for my own father, I would not have had very few (positive) Black male role models growing up (and trust me, I had plenty of negative ones. Plenty).

    So perhaps, perhaps we have that to look forward to. I mean, white kids get to look up to Reagan/Bush/Clinton/Kennedy/whatever, regardless of how good they actually were (not that we couldn’t, but we’re told from a pretty young age that those are not options for us).

    Really, what scares me is this:

    There are people out there that really enjoy drawing things along race lines, and using that to explain things away. For example – take a kid with Black and white parents who does well in school, is well respected, well spoken, whole nine – there is a significant portion of the population that will explain his success away by the fact that s/he’s “part white”. Trust me – I’ve seen this in person.

    Basically what I’m saying is this – if we continue dividing ourselves along stupid lines like this, people are going to start doing the same thing – saying that the reason behind Barack’s success is his “white half”.

    Regardless of what we do on our side, I can guarantee that this is happening and will happen until something drastic happens. I’m really just hoping that we don’t add fuel to the fire.

  7. Brer – can’t answer your first question, Brer as I gotta respect a minimum of privacy. Mainly he stood by what he put out on the video. But as for the last question – check this.

    Mamiko – yeah. Well, I mean, there’s the issue of commonality of background, but that’s more a culture thing than anything else. There are connections, but not definite, absolute, or concrete.

    And as far as Asian Americans in mass media? Keeping in mind that I actively encourage anyone and everyone with any sense, regardless of their race, creed, or color (okay especially minorities in all senses of the word) to drop mass media and worry about the battlefield that independent media is soon to become, hell. Yes.

    You all need to get on the ball with that. I’m not sure I forsee anyone giving the APIA community a free ride.

  8. I’d like to weigh in a bit because I think i have a unique perspective of Obama. I’m black and i grew up in Tennessee then i moved to Hawai’i for almost 2 years. I can honestly say the mentality of someone who is “black” in these two locations are completely different. You could never judge Obama’s “blackness” by the standards someone might have from another state. I saw first hand that black people in Hawai’i dont grow up with the same negative outlooks on their skin color like black people have in other states. I know in Tennessee most black people, including my family, have negative thoughts about themselves and their culture. I’d say alot of them honestly believe there is a glass ceiling to what they can do and they cannot aspire to be something great without acting “white”. Now Obama probably never had thoughts like this. I think thats a good thing. Hawai’i is really what america should aspire to be. Its a melting pot of cultures with everyone thinking they are on the same ground. Obama probably never thought he was “acting white” or not acting “black enough”. I’m sure it may of come up every now and then but never like in other states where the black culture beats up on themselves. I think Chris Rock explained it so well when he said a black kid might go to college and come back home and get made fun of. Thats how it is in other states but Obama would never experience something like this in Hawai’i. He’s just being Obama. Everyone else needs to be real and be themselves and everything should be good. Thats my two cents.

  9. First. A couple useful links:

    Analysis of genetic ‘ancestry markers’ finds ~20% European ancestry in U.S. blacks, although this varies greatly on the individual level. There is a lot known right now about the genetics of skin color and a huge stream of information about geographic origin and genetics is flowing now due to the HapMap and related projects. To the extent that race is defined by ancestry, we can get a number and set a threshold and be done with it.

    On the other hand, I think Chuck T is probably concerned more about whether Obama can identify with his experience as a black male in america (particularly in the area of discrimination). My guess is that American blacks are discriminated against based on two categories of information: physical appearance and behavior. You could probably rate someone on both of those for ‘blackness’. Obama looks pretty black to me, but he’s really relatively light as far as the population goes. He probably gets a physical blackness score of ~4/10. Behaviorwise though, he does not act close to the average american black man. I’m talking about just the basic things you would use to make a snap judgment and discriminate. I’d say one of the main factors here is language. Looking black and talking like you are from the south equal the same salary deficit in the U.S. Sometimes he listens to Jay-Z. Maybe he gets like a 1-2/10 on behavior. This is just distance from the average. If there is such a thing as ‘blackness’ presumably the majority of black people have it and they will drag the average away from Obama-type blackness.

    Chuck T is probably right that black people shouldn’t expect a ton of solidarity from Obama. Obama probably feels more conscious of his race now than ever before. I haven’t read his book though, did he have some formative moments that are all about suffering as a black person in the u.s.?

    I keep wanting to say something else about race-solidarity as a qualification, but I can’t get the words just yet. I think there are other important traits to evaluate a candidate on. If everyone voted the way Chuck T does, we’d have a white president for the next 40 years and then a latino one. Categorical imperative daaawg..

  10. as a white person i don’t understand why at this point in american history why blacks should question white support for obama. isn’t King’s litmus “judging a man for his character and not his skin color” paraphrase of course- what black america is getting right now(from white america- as much as can be expected)? Regardless of McCain’s shitty campaign even my inherently racist father is considering obama. Considering! the man(obama) has energized millions of non participants and may get a few crossovers. what else more do you want? Jessie wants his balls cut off because he is a threat to the old civil rights power structure but don’t you want to be equal? Isn’t that the cause? obama represents that. win or lose. hopefully win. again i’m white so i can never claim to come close to understanding what it is like to be black in America. i am hopeful however that the obama registration drives will unite both blacks and whites who are sick and fucking tired of these tired asses turning our so called democracy into a so called theocracy and when the rich people fuck up socialist backbone for the crooks. i don’t know anymore. i’ll finish my rant wuth this. lincoln only had a few years in the House of Reps and Kennedy only had a few years in the senate. intellect trumps stubborn experience.

  11. All I know is that I am eployed at a large Pharmaceutical corporation in Clayton NC and I endroce Barack Obama with all my being. I invite all my friends and colleagues to re-elect Obama in 2012!! I LOVE YOU OBAMA

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