Thursday, January 18, 2007

Here's an article from the Daily Telegraph on Barack Obama and the race question in the US. A few random thoughts:

1) Obama is certainly attractive and charismatic, and very intelligent. But are two years in the Senate enough government experience to run for President? Right now Obama is still a political amateur, and you remember what happened last time we elected an amateur--Jimmy Carter. Also, you'll remember that other outsiders, such as Ross Perot and Wesley Clark, have attracted attention and votes, but never came close to winning the big one.

2) There's no question in my mind that America is "ready" for a black or woman president. I don't think many people under about 50 are racist or sexist enough to refuse to vote, because of race or sex, for someone they think is a qualified candidate and ideologically compatible. I don't think that a whole lot of people between ages 50 and 70 are, either, outside Mississippi.

3) Obama's not culturally Old American Black, which is an ethnic category I just made up to refer to those who are descended from American slaves and suffered from discrimination within living memory. Old American Black people's families have actually been in the US much longer than most white people, descended from late-19th century immigrants. (Note: The Census Bureau uses the term Old American to refer to white people whose ancestors were in the US before the Revolution, and who don't have any ethnic group connection--e.g. they're not, say, Irish-Americans or Italian-Americans.)

I would divide American blacks into at least three groups: Old American Blacks, Jamaican- and West Indian-Americans, and New American Blacks, descended from 20th-century immigrants from Africa. Obama would be a New American Black, as would the community of Nigerian immigrants in Kansas City. Colin Powell is Jamaican-American--his folks came in the Twenties or so. Condoleezza Rice and Clarence Thomas are Old American Blacks.

You could further divide Old American Blacks into the old-line Southern urban middle class and the working class, who were mostly farmers or laborers, or went North. Martin Luther King, for example, was middle-class.

Of course, no ethnic group is monolithic. I would divide people living in Catalonia into five groups, for example:

1) Old Catalans. Origins in rural or small-town Catalonia. Speak a regional dialect of Catalan. Have few family connections outside Catalonia. Older Old Catalans may speak Spanish imperfectly.

2) Assimilated Catalans. Origins in Murcia, Aragon, Balearics, Valencia. "Rascas un catalán y salen sus antepasados bailando jotas."--Ivà. Immigrated to industrial areas, especially Barcelona, in the early 20th century. Speak a more standard urban Catalan. Often have Castilian surnames. Tend to be the most Catalanist of the groups.

3) New Catalans. Origins in Andalusia, Extremadura, Galicia. Immigrated to Barcelona suburbs in 50s and 60s. Second generation has adopted Catalan; speaks with a Castilianized "xava" accent. Have Castilian surnames and Catalan first names. Consider themselves Catalans. (Some Old Catalans may not consider them to be fellow-Catalans.) There is a good deal of intermarriage between groups 1, 2, and 3.

4) Non-Catalans. Similar to New Catalans, but have not adopted Catalan and do not consider themselves Catalans. Have Spanish first names. Tend to be less educated and of lower social class than New Catalans. Frequently do not intermarry with previous three groups.

5) Immigrants. From Pakistan, Morocco, China, Senegal, Romania, etc. Arrived here within the last 10-15 years. Normally don't know any Catalan, and do not consider themselves Spanish, much less Catalan.

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