If you call yourself mixed, biracial, multiethnic, or a mutt, or what, there was less to applaud than what you might anticipate. Many people saw 2009 as year of great change – some seeing it as grave because of Pres. Barack Obama’s inauguration and his choice of Sonia Sotomayor for the U.S. Supreme Court.
We want progress. I suspect that young bi-“racial” people want more. Mr. Obama could have been more than “simply” the first African-American president. If Pres. Barack Obama hadn’t chosen a group, but had more consistently emphasized that was not “simply” African-American…we don’t know what. But at least he would not have conspicuously, if subtly, omitted part of himself.
The first sign lays in how Pres. Obama describes himself – African-American – and the mass political and cultural realities that informed or dictated that choice. Barack Obama being black was an historical and epochal challenge for his ambition and his presidential candidacy. Had he been more emphatic about not just being African-American that would have opened up a whole nother aspect to the conversation…and more political peril.
In a documentary some 15-years-ago, Harvard’s Prof. Henry Louis Gates, Jr made an observation about a pop cultural phenomenon – “The Cosby Show’s” cultural imprint on America – he said that you can’t expect any one phenomenon, no matter how dramatic or charismatic, to up-end and K.O. North America’s bigotry.
That is a historic pattern of engrained attitudes and behaviors. Just as that show couldn’t be expected to accomplish this feat, nor must we expect that from the Obama phenomenon. That’s too much of an effect to expect or demand.
At some point, many people want for the time when color and features do not mark against you. Ethnically ambiguous people want to be accepted as a blur without questions, confusions, and accusations.
In that Pres. Barack Obama is a harbinger, you might ask whether he is enough for the myriad Americans who seek a highly individual symbol in him or from him.
Of course the fact that few people probably note his features and confuse them for something foreign is a valid counterpoint. He isn’t ethnically or physically ambiguous; most people would just “know” that he’s Black. His features stoke no questions. Just like with Anglo (North American “whites”) people whose features are obviously “white.”
Still, that “said,” many young, ethnically ambiguous people are probably hungry for the president, for a U.S. President to stand in as an explicit bi-“racial” or multi-“ethnic” role model. Some people rely him as an icon and inspiration about how little bi-racial identity matters.