1) What might an anthropologist have to say about the term black being applied to Obama?
“Black” as a term to describe Obama is inaccurate as it only describes skin color with the purpose of creating or maintaining social inequality based on the socially deceiving notion of race. Race, however, does not exist biologically or historically. “Black” also does not describe a person’s ethnicity, but it has and still does divide people into social groups regardless of continuous variation (which is a term that describes a phenotypes falling into intermediate grades between two extremes). “Black” also cannot be used to determine human subspecies, as they don’t exist.
2) What might an anthropologist have to say about the term African American being applied to Obama?
Barack Obama is the son of a Caucasian woman and a Kenyan man, and the term “African American” is also used to describe Obama. Using the term “African American” can be similar to using “black” as a descriptor in regards to continuous variation in that it is imprecise. Obama can be more accurately described as a midpoint between the extremes of white and black, therefore “African American” is also inaccurate, as hypodescent occurs, meaning that a mixed-race child is given the status of the more socially unequal parent. However, the term “African American” can be a better description of ethnicity, as part of Obama’s cultural, ancestral, and biological roots from his father.
3) Which might be a more `valid` term anthropologically? Why?
Because race has no evolutionary, and therefore biological or genetic basis, plus the idea of race has not existed until modern times, and race is a social construct rather than any other, a more valid term to describe Obama would have to be based on human evolution and biology. This term would avoid the practice of hypodescent, avoid divisive actions based on the social construct called “race” and therefore avoid racism, and take into account subtleties in ethnicity and the phenomena of continuous variation. Such a term would be Homo sapiens sapiens.
4) What does each term, separately, say about our nation?
The term “black” is used socially; it may be considered less “politically correct” than using “African American”, but what is says about our nation is that it draws dividing lines between people by skin color, as “black” is primarily a descriptor for color. The term “African American” is used when the speaker or writer wishes to convey ethnic heritage and cultural-national ties, yet at the same time it also is a divisive word that our nation has accepted to group people along racial lines. However, both are inaccurate in describing Obama because of his mixed heritage: both terms ignore Obama’s maternal ancestry.