Black Enough? Obama’s Dilemma and Mine
March 8, 2007Is he black enough? Is he black enough? Is he black enough? Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. As a biracial person, I too, like Senator Barack Obama, have known the pain of rejection by those who say I don’t belong, and that I’m not “really” black. It is a hurtful thing to be rejected by one’s own people. Of course we know that our experiences are not representative of the group as a whole. And yes, it does seem a bit unfair to complain about being rejected by other African Americans when the welcome mat into white America has always been laid out far more readily for us, than for darker-skinned blacks. Obama tried to bridge this gap himself last weekend in Selma, when he claimed a kinship with the city and its heritage. “Don't tell me I don't have a claim on Selma, Alabama,” he told members of Brown Chapel A.M.E. Church. “Don't tell me I’m not coming home to Selma, Alabama.” And while Obama has both a right and, might I add, a responsibility, to embrace his African American roots, his candidacy and public persona are also forcing all Americans to come to terms with the fact that we are a society that is shifting fast, and some uncomfortable adjustments need to be made. By 2050 whites will be just 50 percent of the population. The rest of us will have so many mixtures that single race identity will become increasingly passé. To sniff at any part of Senator Obama’s heritage, therefore, is to miss out on new ways of seeing ourselves. It’s like turning a crystal in different directions; you see different colors from different angles. If Obama’s experience is anything like my own, he has been forced to turn, and be turned, all his life; to see and be seen in countless confusing and complicated ways. Who better to talk to all the colorful dimensions of America? And we do need to talk. Color and cultural differences among mixed race youth has proven to be a cause of deep confusion and personal turmoil. A recent University of Washington study found that young people of multiracial heritage are more likely to smoke cigarettes, drink alcohol, and to engage in certain forms of violence, than other youth of all races. Adding to the usual teenage angst, they face a kind of psychic homelessness—despite Obama’s metaphoric claim to Selma. In fact, there are so many twists and turns to the whole biracial, mixed race, multiracial mess that it’s no wonder so many of us get tired of always, always having to think about it. I understand Obama when he says that he’s more than the sum of his race, and that blackness does not define him exclusively. I too have lived “elsewhere”—in Spain and Australia—and these experiences have taught me more about my own blackness than you might imagine. African Americans should embrace the global consciousness that Obama embodies. His ability to see nuance in geopolitical affairs could come in quite handy when shaping foreign policy. And yet, to acknowledge that we’re more than the sum of our race is to risk being seen as somehow abandoning the black cause; or not being totally “down” with the people. How ridiculous. We are multifaceted citizens of all colors, languages, and experiences. If Obama’s worldview is anything like my own, he’s not just interested in the plight of African Americans: he’s interested in justice. I hope he wants it bad. And I hope he wants it for all of us.