Obama as a Multi-racial Candidate

Jul 15, 2008

My take on Obama as a multi-racial candidate (this was written in response to a reporter’s questions to me on this topic):

So far, Obama has mainly been seen as a “Black candidate”–but as one whose “Blackness” is problematic because his father is not African American but Kenyan, and his mother is White. What is the difference between seeing Obama as a Black man with a White mother vs. as a person of mixed African and European heritage? To me, as a mixed Asian American, it is a question of the difference between identity and heritage. Heritage is your ancestry–it is what you inherit–but it may have little to do with how you identify yourself. Identity is not just about your personal identity–and I don’t pretend to know how Obama truly identifies himself for himself–identity is also about the communities with which you identify. In that sense, identity–particularly for a mixed race/mixed heritage person like Obama–is also very contextual and situational. This doesn’t mean that mixed people can’t be loyal or “authentic” in their identities–it just means that loyalty and authenticity are more complex that one might imagine, and also that they must be much more consciously constructed than we generally realize.

Obama cannot afford, politically, to identify himself explicitly as “mixed race” rather than as “Black” or “African American,” however, having seen headlines like “Is Obama Black Enough?”–as though there were a kind of Platonic Ideal of Blackness against which his “Blackness” could be measured, I created a poster reading “Is Obama Mixed Enough?” to advertise Variations, the Mixed Heritage Student Club at SFSU. Critical Mixed Race Studies scholars are looking closely at how the dialogue and journalism around Obama seems to be flirting with the idea of mixed race, though it does so mostly in terms of questions of his authenticity or his position as a kind of global citizen or “New American.”

You may have noticed that I identify myself as a mixed Asian American–there are two main communities with which I identify: 1. the pan-ethnic Asian American community (as opposed to a specific ethnic community, like Chinese, though I have strong ties to Chinese American communities and strongly identify with my Chinese American heritage), and 2. the general mixed race/mixed heritage community. Of course, there is also an overlap of these two specifically in the mixed Asian American community (which, for a while, had been known as the “Hapa” community).

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