No, no, I’m not referring to Obama’s sexual orientation!! Don’t get it twisted yo! However, I am referring to Obama’s ethnic background: Bi-racial. Or, as many would call it, “Mixed.” Black and White. Hmmm. African American & Euro-American. Hmmm. Or is he just Black as many people, including myself, have summarized him down to? It’s hard being mixed. Trust me, I know, I’m half Black and half Mexican. My mom is Mexican and my dad was African American. I’ve struggled my entire life trying to “fit in” with one or the other. But to have a “mixed” president, is a new and uplifting thing for me.
Back in the day Tiger Woods got a lot of slack for not identifying with his “roots.” In other words, Tiger was slammed by many in the Black community for not claiming his Black side. Tiger simply said that if he only paid attention to the Black side of him, he would be denying his mother. A lot of folk could not understand that, yet, I could. I’ve been forced to choose many times. And not just by “friends.” Take a notice on any type of professional application you fill out, there will inevitably be a section there to fill in your “race.” If it’s electronic it will typically only let you choose one box and they’ll make it clear: African American (non-Hispanic), Latino (Non-African American), etc. America does not do well with “multi racial people.” In most cases you are asked to choose between the two. When I’m with my Latino friends, it’s hard to have the Black in me come out because of the racial tensions. When I’m with my Black friends, those Brown tensions run deep too. Growing up, I was never called a spic, wetback, or greaser. I was called a coon, nigger, and a colored; I therefore began identifying with the Black side of me. Having a mom that loved Black culture didn’t help either.
It’s not been until recently (within the last 5 years) that I have begun to embrace the Mexican side of me. Now don’t’ get it twisted, I grew up in a Mexican culture, speak great Spanish, know most of the Mexican holidays, understand and participate in Mexican culture, and have relatives that stretch back to Santa Anna fighting at the Alamo. My Mexican heritage runs deep. Likewise, my African American roots run deep too, but, not having seen my dad since 1982 means I’ve had to find a lot of my Black roots on my own.
American in general does not like to deal with the mixed people of the world. We like absolutes and clear and present ethnicities—a relic of the modern mindset. Most of mainstream society does not deal well with people who are mixed. Look at our celebrities, we don’t really ask Jessica Alba her ethnic background. We look at the Roc and say, “What is he?” Halle Berry gets looked at with a mixed set of lenses too. We as a culture like it when someone is “full.” This bi thing confuses us. Obama being mixed presents a whole set of new issues we as a country have yet to deal with or wish to deal with. Yet, mixed people are growing. My daughter, for example, is mixed with German, Scottish, Black, and Mexican ethnic backgrounds. So, what does that make her? Black? In society we would most likely just call her that and lump her into that category. Moreover, what do you do with folks like Eminem? He talks “Black.” He dresses “Black.” But, dangit, he’s White—right? These are all deep conversations that I feel, and hope, that Obama is able to address within his tenure in office—we’ll see.
Obama is not just African American, as much as most of us would love to think—including me. Now, he is our first Black president, but that is because there is a fundamental difference between race and ethnicity. Race is a social construct while ethnicity is more the biological construct of a person. Yeah, it gets complicated. So, we do have a socially Black president, but we have an ethnically bi-ethnic president who has two sets up ethnic heritages.
I too hope we can someday get to a place where all this does not matter. But, I’ll be honest; I’m not holding my breath! We have a lot of work to do and when people have a hard time dealing with one ethnicity, it makes it even harder for folks like me to bring in my “other;” which is the title I usually get when filling out census forms: other. I’ll anxiously wait to see the next 4 years to see how some of this might break down and hopefully change!