O-nauguration in the Racial Nation (Pt1): The First Biracial President

obamasmother_2These are the people who raised our current president… Madelyn, Ann and Stan Dunham. Imagine if an Angel of the Lord came down then and told them… “Behold I give you great tidings of comfort and joy. You will bring forth the first Black president of the United States of America”… Crazy right!

The day after the inauguration I went to visit my good friend Michelle and her 15 month old daughter, Gabryel, who is also my goddaughter. Gabryel is the child of a white man of Eastern European heritage and Michelle, a Canadian born, black woman of Trinidadian heritage. As I sat on the floor with Gabryel, she began singing something. I discovered, at the third or forth round that she was chanting, “O-ba-ma! O-ba-ma!” And later I asked her, “Are you going to be the next bi-racial president of the United States?” “Yeah…” she replied in a very nonchalant way.

I sit here now, watching two very light-skinned black women talk about our new president. They are opposed to the notion that Barack Obama would be considered the first bi-racial president. They said that this valued a certain type of “pigmentocray” (valuing lighter skinned African Americans over daker skinned ones). They made the point that most African Americans were of mixed heritage and the historical boundaries of race in the US would have legally pushed Obama into a “black” identity.

While historically this is very true, racial politics have shifted greatly since the days of legal definitions of race. This is by no means an attempt to ignore the legacy of things like the one drop rule, the 3/5 clause, Jim Crow laws and many other laws of the sort. It is more to say that we live in a racial climate where children of parents from two or more racial backgrounds can more openly identify with all of who they are. We live in an era when I, child of 2 black parents and Gabryel, a child of mixed heritage can celebrate all of who we are and Obama together. If a person is raised by one black and one white parent they can have love and respect for both. We no longer live in the era of Imitation of Life. Bi-racial people no longer have to chose between their black or white parent, between oppression and passing.

Again that doesn’t exempt bi-racial people from the oppressive and often (emotionally and physically) violent legacy of slavery and Jim Crow. But this legacy shouldn’t make people born of two black parents stingy. We should share in the joy of this new president. We should share this victory with the bi-racial, the people born to immigrant parents, the kids of color raised by white parents and so on… it’s not just our victory black folk!

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