The United States of the United Races: A Utopian History of Racial Mixing

The United States of the United Races: A Utopian History of Racial Mixing

The United States of the United Races: A Utopian History of Racial Mixing

The United States of the United Races: A Utopian History of Racial Mixing

Excerpt

In April 2010, the White House publicized Barack Obama’s self-identification on his U.S. census form. He marked one box “Black, African Am., or Negro,” settling one of the most prevalent issues during his 2008 presidential campaign: his racial identity. This choice resounded with the monoracial ways of thinking so prevalent throughout U.S. history. People who believed he was only black because he looked like a black person or because many others (society) believed so or because of the historical prevalence of the one-drop rule received confirmation of that belief. The mainstream media had been calling him the black president for over a year, so they received confirmation of this moniker.

Many people who had followed the adoption of multiple checking on the census found his choice surprising. Surely, as president, he would be aware of the ability to choose more than one race. To pick one alone went against everything activists wanting to reform the government s system of racial categorization had worked for in the 1990s. Many found it surprising that the man who had called himself “the son of a black man from Kenya and a white woman from Kansas” would choose one race. After all, he had used this construction far more times than he had called himself black, giving the impression that he embraced his mixture along with identifying as black. That snippet, along with images of his diverse family, had been part of what endeared him to mixed-race supporters. Similarly, his campaigns deployment of his white relatives built sympathy with white voters. Some people argued that he had failed to indicate what he “was” by choosing one race. He made the diverse backgrounds in his immediate family a footnote. But, recalling Maria P. P. Root’s “A Bill of Rights for Racially Mixed People,” a pillar of contemporary thought on mixed race, they had to respect his prerogative. He had the right to identify himself differently than the way strangers expected him to identify.

Three lessons emerged from this episode: How one talks about oneself can be different from how one identifies from day to day. How one identifies from day to day can be different from how one fills out forms. And on a form with political repercussions, such as the census, one may choose a political . . .

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