Race is notoriously one of those topics on which Americans (and we are certainly not alone in this) get a bit squirrely.
One of the things that's been striking me as very odd as I read more of Obama's speeches (since we're going through this campaign season without a TV, this is a campaign strictly of the written word for me -- which is an interesting experience) and selections of his autobiography is his tendency to talk about his mother and grandmother as being of another race, and thus not fully understanding him.
Now clearly, he's half Kenyan, and they're not, but I still can't help finding it rather odd that he in some ways seems to place more of a premium on his skin tone than his ancestry -- especially given that his father abandoned the family when Obama was two. To the extent that race is a matter of biology -- his father is as much "of another race" from him as his mother. And to the extent that race is a matter of experience and culture, you would think that his mother's would predominate, since she raised him. Yet he seems to identify entirely with the "minority" half of his ancestry, while considering his mother and maternal ancestors as somehow alien.
Clearly, he's not at all alone in this. One of the very odd experiences I had growing up was in dealing with a family among our set of close long term friends who had adopted a son from Korea. He was adopted as an infant, and they already had one biological daughter. Now the family was "liberal" in their leanings in a general sort of way and felt very strongly about ethnic identity. So as their adopted son grew up, they were always at pains to make sure he got enough Korean culture. He was always enrolled in Asian-American activities in school. As a teenager, they enrolled him in a separate Korean youth group (they were Methodists, I think). Eventually, he joined a separate Korean church.
Now clearly, they saw this as making sure that he wasn't cut off from the culture he was born in (though I can't imagine he soaked much up in the six months before he came to the US), but to me, as another kid, it always seemed like he was being treated as the outsider in the family. They were WASPs; he was Korean. To me, as the admixture of an Irish-ancesty father and a Mexican-ancestry mother (though admitedly, those are two cultures that may not be seen as very distinct in modern American society) the whole idea of identifying with one ancestry or the other seemed silly. So why treat an adopted child of another national origin as if he were somehow "other" than the biological child?
African ancestry has traditionally been cause for incredible amounts of discrimination and oppression in the US -- though I think one is justified in saying these have got much better over the last 40 years. So I can certainly see how Obama might well feel that he's faced challenges due to his skin color that his mother and grandmother did not face.
But at the same time, consistently referring to your parent and grandparent -- who were the ones who actually raised you -- as "someone of another race" seems very odd to me...
Fortnightly Book, November 29
3 hours ago