Hapa Happy Hour
A lively discussion and celebration of the mixed heritage experience.
Hello All!

A big thank you to Heidi W. Durrow, whose blogpost, "Obama's Biracial Background Makes Him Mysterious (Read Risky) to Southern White Voters," prompted this entry. Heidi, the co-host of the mixedchickschat podcast (along with the lovely Fanshen Cox), blogs regularly at www.lightskinnededgirl.typepad.com. Check it out!

In the New York Times article,"For Some, Uncertainty Starts at Racial Identity," (http://www.nytimes.com/2008/10/15/us/politics/15biracial.html?_r=2&oref=slogin&oref=slogin) James Halsey of Mobile, Alabama said of Barack Obama, “He’s going to tear up the rose bushes and plant a watermelon patch...I just don’t think we’ll ever have a black president.” Still another interviewee, a pipe-fitter who works north of Mobile, said, "“He’s neither-nor...He’s other. It’s in the Bible. Come as one. Don’t create other breeds.”

Other breeds.

Then, two of my students came to me this week and wanted to share with me a video they had found on youtube. The video, allegedly produced by a man registered as "independent" (He made a point of telling viewers this), claimed that Barack Obama was not a natural-born citizen, and therefore, should not be allowed to run for president. So convinced were my students that everything else on the yard fell away from me as they talked. I stood on the blacktop, utterly crushed, staring at these two intelligent, impressionable boys, and my mind was racing. Was this the culture they had inherited? How was I going to pry them from these political briars? How was I going to undo this abuse? In my mind, I was thinking, "That's absurd, you know. Barack Obama was born in Hawai'i. It's a state, you guys. A STATE," but I couldn't say that. I couldn't deliver the information with the sarcastic tone with which it was playing in my head.

He is that much of a threat to our national psyche? We could only be at the "bottom" to find ourselves voting for a Hapa? A Hapa, no less, and still our black and white society only sees the non-white.

I know I am not speaking for Senator Obama, nor do I mean to. I will probably spend three paragraphs describing what Barack would eloquently articulate in much, much (much) less. (One sentence.) But for my part, as someone of mixed heritage, here's what I want to say:

Barack Obama is white.

When you are a Hapa, you get to be the ethnicity of both parents. When you're a Hapa, you are.

I don't say that as if I'm trying to lay claim to some ancient parentage, some forgotten inheritance that would afford me something if I could only prove it were true.

People don't understand that, and because they don't, they dismiss me. It's not important. What's important is only what they can see. Folks immediately retort, "But he's African-American, too," as if that takes care of the conversation. If I persist, they look at me like I'm speaking another language or worse, attempting to practice ancestral voo-doo. They look at me as if to say, "Your magic won't work here."

Only folks who are multi-racial can understand what I mean.

It shouldn't matter, and perhaps it doesn't, but alas, here's the rub. If race doesn't matter, why is Barack's heritage so hard for us to wrap our minds around? Why is it such a paradigm shift? When my liberal friends say, "But he's African-American, too," and perhaps they mean, "and people won't forget that," they're still bearing witness to the fact that race does indeed matter.

I'm tired of people not acknowledging Barack's mixed heritage. It's true that he identifies with being African-American. I understand that. It's the way I relish being Filipino, the way I search for a box on the census to encompass all that I am. When I finally settle on Asian-Pacific Islander because all other choices fall short, believe me, I have not forgotten that I am Swedish and German.

We have no problem saying that Barack is black. Absolutely no problem with that. We're very comfortable with that box.

But, turn it around, and it's a huge mind shift. It's outside the box, and we don't know what to do with it.

Yet, Barack is just as much white, just as much, as he is black. And if we're comfortable letting him be black, we should be just as comfortable letting him be white.

When we do that, then race won't matter.

Barack Obama is a man of mixed race. His diverse background and global perspective in an ever-changing society, in the midst of a technological revolution, is exactly what we need in the White House. This world is smaller and more delicate than ever, and he understands that.

Just a few more days to the election! See you on the other side.

Category:blogs -- posted at: 12:24am UTC