Thursday, March 1, 2007

Obama is right about one thing.

Looking over my site statistics recently, I discovered I got another hit from someone who searched Google. This time the query was, "color of baby with Mexican and Caucasian parents". In the process, he or she found a post in which I facetiously offer the color beige (somewhere between brown and white).

The fact that a person would even care about this enough to bother Googling it made me think of Barack Obama.

Ok, let me explain that.

Barack Obama's political views prevent him from being my first or any other choice for president*, but even a stopped clock is right twice a day, as they say. He has made one point during his campaign that makes sense to me.

If you are of mixed racial background, other people will identify you with whatever part of your heritage you look like. Part of it is probably just the way our brains work. It's easier for us to think about things in the simplest terms possible. Having categories helps, but it can lead to some unwarranted assumptions about people.

In the course of my own experience, only one person has ever figured out that I am "mixed" just by looking at me. The rest usually assume I am Mexican (which is half correct). Some think I look Italian, others think I look Persian. Still others just look a bit confused, and ask politely what my background is, when they have trouble placing my features.

When I am seen in public with my German-Irish mom, people who don't bother to look at us too closely are surprised to find out we are related.

Much to my amusement, a junior high schoolmate of mine once found it difficult to compute the idea that people of different ethnicities could actually have a child that could be both of something at the same time.

Fortunately, my parents had the good sense to raise me with a sense of myself as an individual.They married one another in the first place because they loved each other as whole people, not to prove something about multicultural relations. So their respective backgrounds were simply there, as a fact of my childhood, like my dad's after-dinner peanut butter sandwiches. No fanfare, no trumpeting. Just a cozy-comfy part of our family.

It makes sense, really. Parents are supposed to take the best of what they are and what they know, and pass it along to their children. Mine have done their jobs. Now, the most important thing for me to think about is not simply what they gave me, but what I am going to do with it.

Now, Senator Obama has taken himself into politics, which means he has to know how voters' minds work. And he knows that if he tells people he's white, he'll get the same reaction that a red-headed-fair-skinned person I know gets when she identifies with her Native American side. The same reaction I, with my brown hair and somewhat olive skin get if I tell people I'm Irish!

A really confused look. "She's making a funny, right? Should I laugh? But what if she isn't? I'd be so rude!! Auuuggh!"

Senator Obama has simplified the matter by identifying primarily with what is visible.

Ultimately, this serves a dual purpose. On the one hand, he is playing the race card to help his campaign. "Hey, people, I could be the first black president!". It also attempts to answer to the ridiculous question of whether he is "black enough".

There are those who assume that people who look like him will identify with him, and others who assume that he doesn't look enough like them to be able to relate to them. Some criticize him for allowing public opinion to influence ethnic identity too much, others criticize him for not letting him do it enough. It doesn't matter if he identifies himself as black or biracial. Someone won't like it.

So here's a revolutionary idea for you: why don't we worry about more important stuff?

I don't hear nearly as much talk about what kind of president he will be.*

The thing is, Obama and the rest of us with biracial heritage are walking proof that at least a few people in this world have figured out that they don't have to look alike to be able to understand, work with, or even love one another.

But racial tension gets better ratings, so nobody in the media seems to be talking about that, either.


*Question: Do you really want the same government that invented FEMA and the IRS, can't deliver your mail, doesn't even take proper care of hospitalized soldiers to run a national health care system?

I didn't think so.


Tito said...

Obama is a coconut as we say in Hawaii (where he apparently was born- I think). Brown on the outside, white on the inside.

Seriously, he has absolutely NO IDEA of the black experience. I know many real Africans who happen to live in the US and they don't identify with the black experience (sons of slavery), not because they are divisive, but because they just don't. Many people of color from the caribean don't associate themselves with 'black' Americans because their heritage is a vastly different experience different experience than those of 'black' Americans. Many 'Africans' who live in the US think Kwanzaa is a joke to say the least.

Nonetheless, for Obama to state he is one of 'them' is a misnomer to say the least and a lie to state as a matter of fact.

God bless,

Tito the Whitexican

Christina said...

All of these are very good reasons for the Senator to present himself as himself, unique heritage and all. It's true that people who discriminate on the basis of race will treat him according to their perceptions of him, and he will share some of the "experience" with others who are supposed to be the same color. But he cannot say he shares "The Experience".

However, what should matter is that he doesn't have to be one of a particular group to serve them as president. I bet he knows this, but he'd rather pander to stereotypes to get elected.

Tito said...


A very belated welcome to Houston!

Tito, the thorn in Bill's side. (j/k)

Christina said...

Thanks. :)