On 5 November, 2008, Barack Obama became the newly elected President of the US (BBC, 2008). People around the world were talking about how Obama was America’s “first black president” and speculating on how this would change the country. However, whether or not President Obama fits the term of ‘first black president’ is questionable. Furthermore, it could be argued that in electing the new President, race should not come into it at all.
Typing the words “Obama first black president” into Google returns over returns countless webpages (Loki, 2009). This is strange as, however commonly the term is used, Barack Obama is not America’s first black president. In fact, there still hasn’t been a black president in the US (Loki, 2009). Obama’s father was indeed a black man from Kenya, but his mother was a white woman from Kansas (President). Therefore, Barack Obama is actually half black and half white, which means that it would be equally true to refer to him as a white president as it is to refer to him as a black president.
The implications of this rather loose terming are mainly negative. Firstly, it could be perceived as racist in an anti-black way. Deeming Obama black, even though he is equally white, implies that if a person is not one hundred per cent white then they must be black; in other words, a truly white person must not be tainted with any black genes. Conversely, labelling Obama as black could also be viewed as anti-white. The president has a white mother, but her genes are being ignored and discounted (Loki, 2009).
America has a well-known history of racial-divide and, therefore, calling Obama black is preferable to calling him white. However, it still promotes a racial divide by referring to his race at all.
In actual fact, if people really feel the need to label Obama, he should be referred to as “America’s first mixed-race president.” The term ‘Mixed race’ can be defined as: “having parents who differ in the physical features usually attributed to ethnic origin (science-dictionary). Terming Obama in this way would at least be modern and forward thinking, as well as factually correct (Loki, 2009). There are many mixed-race individuals and families in America today, whereas there weren’t a hundred years ago. America should be embracing its multi-racial society and not denying it. By ignoring Obama’s racial origins, the country seems to be doing just that.
Some Americans feel that instead of leaving behind its times of racial divide, the US has actually revived the idea in the hype of the 2008 Presidential election. Taken from a website which documented a conversation between two Americans shortly after the election, one man says:
“Well, it’s great that a black man can be elected President in America. But it doesn’t exactly expiate the great national sin of slavery does it? Martin Luther King said he dreamt about an America where a man could be judged for the content of his character and not the colour of his skin. But it looks like most black people voted for Obama because he’s black, not because of what he believes” (Denning, 2008).
This tone of this view sums the situation up nicely. What should have been a normal presidential election, where citizens vote democratically based on their political views, turned into an election based on race.
Denning, D. (2008). First Black President of America. Daily Reckoning. Retrieved from
Mixed-Race. Science Dictionary. Retrieved from
President Obama. Whitehouse.gov. Retrieved from
Reynard, L. (2009). Barack Obama is Not America’s First Black President. Oped News.
US Elections 2008. (2008) BBC News. Retrieved from