At any rate, their conversation has touched on the issues I was writing about in yesterday's post "Mutts-R-Us" (for the edited transcript and a link to listening to this piece, click here).
But what I was really interested in, was a discussion that the voters had about a letter to the editor in their local paper in which a writer complained about Barack Obama's self-identification as a "black" man. The letter writer noted that no other U.S. President self-identified as a "white" man and goes on to accuse Obama for placing undue importance on his "race," and THEN goes on to accuse Obama of being blind to his mixed-race status:
"Where does he come off saying he's a black man?" The letter asked. "Is he that confused on color, or does he want to discredit his mother's color as a white person?"
[NOTE: The letter writer is correct, in one way: no other U.S. President has probably self-identified in a self-conscious way as a "white" man--and there's a reason for this: white privilege. In other words, "race" has been used as a code of "difference"--with the "normative" established as both "white" and "male" throughout much of U.S. history. In other words, who got counted and who continues to be counted, by many, as an unqualified "person" is a white man (and I may as well add "straight" white man). Anyone outside this category, by virtue of gender, sexuality, race, religion, ethnicity, class, etc... is noted with the "hyphen"--literally or figuratively. What the letter writer does not understand or acknowledge is this long history of white privilege in terms of basic subjectivity. Of course Obama identifies,publicly, as a black man and of course President Bush does not identify, verbally and continuously, as a white man. This is how our society has reinforced how we SHOULD identify.]
The responses of the York, PA folk, is also very interesting--and insightful:
That provocative letter started the voters in the group wondering what was really on its author's mind. Maribel Burgos, 46, who's Hispanic, thinks the letter writer, presumably white, was seeking what Orr had finally found: a sense of inclusion.
"They want [Obama] to now acknowledge the white part of him, so that they're now included in his administration, too," Burgos says.
And that, of course, has had me thinking. Because there is virtually NO ONE in national politics who "looks" like me or who "identifies" as me. There isn't a single Asian American, man or woman, on the Supreme Court bench. There is only ONE Asian American (Elaine Chow) in the upper echelon of the Executive Branch (she's the Secretary of Labor--and I'm not a fan, but that's another story and has to do with her silver-spoon pedigree and Republican ideology). And there are a HANDFUL of Asian American Congressional figures, and I believe just one Asian American governor (that'd be Republican wunderkid Bobby Jindal).
So. Do I feel alienated from the U.S. government? Should I play up Obama's upbringing in Hawaii (over 60% majority Asian American population) and his mixed-race Indonesian sister to feel like he is "one of us" (with "us" being Asian Americans).
My personal answer is no. Don't get me wrong. I want more representation in our government--I think it should LOOK like America, and America is much more diverse than any of the three branches of government currently reflect. But just because Obama isn't an Asian American woman doesn't mean I don't believe that he can't be my president. And his identifying as "black" or "mixed-race" doesn't make me feel alienated. It makes me feel PROUD, especially knowing the long and troubled history of race in America, that he is unashamed to talk about himself in the complex ways in which he is figured, racially and not.