Race still divides America
Is Barack Obama black or white? The last time that question came up about a public figure it was about Michael Jackson. While Jackson definitely comes from black parents, the president-elect of the United States, appearance and color of skin aside, comes from a mixed family.
I don't mean to spoil the party, but here is the bad news for African Americans: Obama is not black. Let me rephrase that. He is not all that black. To call the winner of Tuesday's election in the United States America's "first black president" is a complete misnomer, misleading, and unnecessarily perpetuates racial division.
A journalist in Hawaii, where Obama was born and grew up, reminded me two years ago, just before the 2008 electoral process got underway, that the Democratic Senator from Illinois is "as black as he is white". Born to a Kenyan father and a white American mother from Kansas, Obama grew up in a white family environment, but one that lived in multiracial surroundings in Hawaii (and for a brief time, in Indonesia).
So, here is the good news for white Americans: He is one of you too. You should rejoice at his victory as much as the black Americans do. Obama's victory should be celebrated by Americans of all colors.
Once the party is over, Americans have to look at themselves and question how far they have come in terms of the thoughts articulated in Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech.
Obama's victory proves that finally, some 40 years since the Civil Rights movement, a non-white (or a half white and half black) American can be elected as commander in chief. King's dream of an America as a land of equal opportunity and a land of freedom and justice is already fulfilled.
But have Americans fulfilled King's vision of a nation "where people are not judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character"?
This election shows that some Americans have been able to get past the racial division that has colored American politics (the pun is intended). But the majority has not. In spite of Obama's mixed race and upbringing, he is still widely regarded as black. He is still judged by the color of his skin and not by the content of his character.
The African Americans who turned up in mass numbers to vote on Tuesday (and in early voting on previous days) because he is a "brother", the white Americans who voted against him because of the color of his skin, and the overwhelming pronouncement after Tuesday of the "first black" American president, testify to the unchanging attitude of most Americans when it comes to race.
Institutionally, racism may no longer exists because of tough laws against discrimination, but when it comes to attitudes, racism is as alive as it was during King's days. The fact that Obama was touted as a black candidate, rather than the great, visionary and promising statesman that he truly is, is a sad reality that racism is still embedded in the American mentality.
That a mixed race person in America is still treated as a negro is a racial prejudice that can only have come from the white supremacy mentality. What does it take for a person in the United States to be a "white", and thus enjoy the full rights and privileges of an American citizen?
Asian Americans, especially those from Japan, Korea and lately India, are more integrated and more accepted in white neighborhoods, and are considered "white". Arab immigrants and their descendants were, for a time, also considered white, perhaps because of the color of their money. Of course September 11 changed all that, and now Arabs, whether Muslim or not, are considered as blacks and subject to racial profiling.
Fortunately, there are enough (white) Americans who see past a presidential candidate's skin color. Exit polls showed that the while African Americans overwhelmingly voted for Obama , 43 percent of white American voters voted for the "black candidate". The racial division in America is not as black and white as it was some 40 years ago.
And Obama seems to have played along and lived up to his racial designation, perhaps more as an election campaign strategy to win black votes rather than as a conviction of his racial identity.
At the start of the Democrat primaries in January, most African-Americans were not convinced of his black credentials because he is not a descendant of African slaves. In fact, he had predominantly white family upbringing, though admittedly, like many African Americans, he was raised in a single parent family and did not come from a privileged family. Okay, he does attend a predominantly black church and is married to a black woman -- that makes him black.
But it is clear from his campaign oratories, including Tuesday night's acceptance speech, that his politics and his vision of America transcends the racial division and the racist attitudes still prevailing in America.
If change is his platform and is also the main reason why many Americans voted for him on Tuesday, then Obama would do a great service to America by revealing his true mixed color and start fighting to eliminate racism in America once and for all, and try to fulfill Martin Luther King's dream of America to the fullest.
At the personal level, the first order of the day for President-elect Obama is to shed the racial identity currently designated to him. The American mainstream media could help and stop calling him a black president.
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