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Sunday, February 27, 2011

The First Multiracial U.S. President: Leadership as Personified Symbol over Political Advantage

Barak Obama has a tendency to modify his manner of speaking, and even his dialect, to fit with his audience. Listening to his speech to the National Urban League, I was stunned; early on, he pivoted off from his ordinary manner of speaking to speak in what was surely a more familiar way to much of his audience. The crowd loved it. The audience must have been looking at him as the first black US President. It occurred to me while listening to him and observing his strategy to connect to his audience that although there would be less political advantage in it, he could have run for president by presenting himself as multi-racial (technically, mulatto). To be sure, there are less multi-racial Americans who would identify with him, but is that even the point? The multi-racial segment of the US population is small, but growing.  It points to what most states will look like in fifty or a hundred years from 2010, when I heard the multi-racial US President speak. Were Barak Obama to make explicit his multi-racial identity (his mother was caucasion and his dad was black), he could personify the leading edge of what America will become, and thus serve innately as a leader.  That is to say, he will have led through his person—as a symbol personified—as the a sign of things to come.  The USA  is finally becoming a real melting pot, transcending “black vs. white.”  Nature’s integration will solve the artificial problem of racism far more than any government program or even a US President who identifies himself with one “side.”

Perhaps it is the tacit duplicity in a multiracial man permitting himself to be labeled as black, presumably for political expediency, that lies at the core of why some people do not trust him (e.g., the “birthers”).  Such duplicity is like a subterranean fault-line undergirding the tension between campaigning for real change and then stocking people of the old guard, such as Larry Summers, in his administration.  The duplicity of promising systemic change then dropping his insistence on a public option and no mandate for health coverage—essentially guaranteeing a new mass market to the same health insurance companies that actively purged people with pre-existing conditions—finds a resonance in the multi-racial man using the term “black.”  Were it to be said that the “one drop” criterion still applies so he really is black, we would need to start calling a whole lot of caucasions black as well. Moreover, to use an antiquated and faulty criterion as though it justified Barak’s practice is itself a mark of duplicity.  Barak Obama is as much white as he is black.  Were he to “run with this,” he would instantiate a leader on the forefront even though there is little political capital to be made on it.  However, the US Presidency is an office that is geared to representing the people of the US—the office does this most tangably when functioning abroad. As an explicit multi-racial symbol, President Obama would show to the world where America is headed, and that we are facing that future with our heads held high and with  pride. While perhaps not helpful in elections here at home, such a function, which can only be done by the US President, is sorely needed, given America’s image abroad. We are finally becoming the melting pot that has been proclaimed for so long—finally getting past the need for duplicity.  President Obama can symbolize this in his person, and thus do America a service far more valuable than any legislation.