Racial mathematics: 50 percent is more than 50 percent.

It’s regarded as self evident that Barack Obama is “the first black president in US history”. Sometimes it looks as if his adversaries think he should be content with that, and put up with the rather derogatory treatment they often have bestowed him with (as they at the same time have been tainting the very presidency).

But it’s something murky with the racial labels in the first place. As far as I know, Barack Obama is conceived by an American (“white”) mother and an African (“black”) father. With the mathematics I have learned he hence is 50 percent “white” and 50 percent “black”, in other words just as much “white” as he is “black”. Still everyone always calls him “black”, without a hint of hesitation, much less of discussion. That kind of thinking has obscure roots. (The term “African-American” is not a rescue here, since it’s synonymous with “black”, according to Wikipedia.)

Germany harbored some 80-90 years ago the very champions of racial thinking. In their world Aryans constituted the highest and purest race, the perfection of human development. If an Aryan intermingled with someone of an “inferior” race it was seen as a contamination of the more precious lineage. So, if one of these heroes fathered a child with a Jewish woman, the offspring became a half-Jew, not a half-Aryan. The Jewish “pollution” determined the taxonomy.

The same fishy thinking seems to underlie western parlance on race. Someone with three “white” grandparents and one “black”, and with dark enough skin, can’t call himself “white”, I suppose. And the mystery is why this embarrassing paradox isn’t discussed more (or at all) in public media. We seem to have inherited the thinking of primitive folks we otherwise wouldn’t touch with a barge-pole.

The US obsession with ethnicity is in general puzzling for many Europeans, experienced already in the paperwork necessary for traveling to the US. That’s not to say that racism and xenophobia is less common and rampant in Europe than elsewhere, but the manifestations are certainly different. (We all have a lot of cognitive therapy to do on this aberration).

Apart from the dubious grounds for racial categorizations of human beings mentioned above there are fundamental blows to racism served by modern molecular genetics. For one thing there are very small systematic differences in the genetic material between different “races”, smaller than incidental differences between individuals of the same “race”. Varying skin colors, eye shapes etc. accounts for minor genetic variations. (That’s why I’ve put “white” and “black” between quotation marks above.)

Consequently there may be characteristic diversities of appearances in different parts of the world; of course also varying cultural, religious and other habits, but no other “race” than the human race.

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