Monday, March 24, 2008

Discussing race

The we'll-always-have-Selma-Alabama folks want to have a "discussion about race" because they think that they have the advantage.

But as Peggy Orenstein writes in yesterday's NY Times "Mixed Messenger .. What it means to have a biracial candidate running for president", it's time to think before we talk.

... Most Americans watching Barack Obama’s campaign, even those who don’t
support him, appreciate the historic significance of an African-American
president. But for parents like me, Obama, as the first biracial candidate,
symbolizes something else too: the future of race in this country, the paradigm
and paradox of its simultaneous intransigence and disappearance.

It’s true that, over the past months, Obama has
increasingly positioned himself as a black man. That’s understandable: insisting
on being seen as biracial might alienate African-American leaders and voters who
have questioned his authenticity. White America, too, has a vested interest in
seeing him as black it’s certainly a more exciting, more romantic and more
concrete prospect than the “first biracial president.” Yet, even as he proves
his black cred, it may be the senator’s dual identity, and his struggles to come
to terms with it, that explain his crossover appeal and that have helped him to
both embrace and transcend race, winning over voters in Birmingham, Iowa, as
well as Birmingham, Ala.

Mixed-race marriages were
illegal in at least 16 states when Obama was born, though the taboo was
historically inconsistent — white men could marry Asian women in some places,
for instance, while marriages like mine, which go the other way, were forbidden.
Since 1967, when those laws were declared unconstitutional, the rate of
interracial marriage among all groups has skyrocketed. And those couples have
children. Of the seven million Americans who identified themselves as mixed-race
in the 2000 census (the first in which it was possible to do so), nearly half
were under the age of 18. Almost 5 percent of Californians now identify
themselves as mixed-race; by comparison, fewer than 7 percent are
African-American. Hawaii, Obama’s childhood home, is the most diverse state in
the Union: 21 percent of residents identified as “Hapa,” a Hawaiian word meaning
“half” that has gone from being a slur against mixed-race Asians to a point of
pride — and has increasingly been adopted by multiracials of all kinds on the

But the rise of multiracialism is not all
Kumbaya choruses and “postracial” identity. The
N.A.A.C.P. criticized the census change, fearing
that since so few in the black community are of fully African descent, mass
attrition to a mixed-race option could threaten political clout and Federal
financing. Mexican-Americans, a largely mixed-race group, fought to be
classified as white during the first half of the 20th century; during the second
half, they fought against it. ...

In this morning's LA Times, Gregory Rodriguez writes "A brilliant bad speech ... Obama's rhetoric entangled him in race in exactly the wrong way"

In some ways, Barack Obama's speech on race last week was as
brilliant as it was nuanced. But for all its rhetorical beuaty, it was also an
enormous step backward and, in the end, a rather self-serving call for more
discussion about racial grievance in a country that has already done too much
talking. ...

But the race hustlers have embraced the one-drop rule. A real discussion would follow Orenstein's lead. Tiger Woods is not African-American. In America, we have cultural and "racial" blends that are much more interesting than we find in most places. Tribalism is poison and mixing "race" and politics is toxic. Discussion indeed.