More of that Transracial Talk

1 12 2008

If he loses, he’s black. If he wins, he’s a post-racial figure.  Before then-Senator Barack Obama became President-elect Obama, that how I imagined the narrative would play out. So far, I have to say I have been more wrong than right, but its still too early. We have at least four and potentially eight to find out.

Of course, the first signs of it are starting to emerge. Case in point Marie Arana. The Washington Post’s Book World editor has made the latest attempt to alert the rest of us to the fact that “Obama is not black, but transracial or even postracial.”

The phrase was repeated in much the same form by one media organization after another. It’s as if we have one foot in the future and another still mired in the Old South. We are racially sophisticated enough to elect a non-white president, and we are so racially backward that we insist on calling him black. Progress has outpaced vocabulary.

To me, as to increasing numbers of mixed-race people, Barack Obama is not our first black president. He is our first biracial, bicultural president. He is more than the personification of African American achievement. He is a bridge between races, a living symbol of tolerance, a signal that strict racial categories must go.

Perhaps, it was repeated because that is how Barack Obama frequently described himself even as he reminded people of the white side of his family. After all, its still possible for someone to recognize himself as a biracial black man or even for someone biracial to describe himself as simply black, which is what he often did. Case in point here is what Obama told the New York Times as a 28 year old in 1990 what it meant to be elected the first black president of the Harvard Law Review:

But it’s important that stories like mine aren’t used to say that everything is O.K. for blacks. You have to remember that for every one of me, there are hundreds or thousands of black students with at least equal talent who don’t get a chance.

Maybe this is too vague for some, but it seems to be abundantly clear how Obama sees himself here.

Of course, some pundits are still confused, and will continue to push the whole “Obama as transracial figure” media narrative for whatever reason. Fine. Knock yourself out.

But for those who insist on it I only make one recommendation. Please read Ta-Nehisi Paul Coates piece on Barack Obama in Time Magazine in 2004.

Here’s the money quote:

Back in the real world, Obama is married to a black woman. He goes to a black church. He’s worked with poor people on the South Side of Chicago, and still lives there. That someone given the escape valve of biraciality would choose to be black, would see some beauty in his darker self and still care more about health care and public education than reparations and Confederate flags is just too much for many small-minded racists, both black and white, to comprehend.

Barack Obama’s real problem isn’t that he’s too white — it’s that he’s too black.




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