Younge’s Mixed-Race Messaging Misses the Point

By Guest Columnist Oct 15, 2009

by Adebe DeRango-Adem, research intern for Applied Research Center In Gary Younge’s piece on the often race-heavy baggage brought to both sides of conversations about President Obama, he argues that a combined obsession with celebrity and rise of the individual have emphasized personality over political achievements, a statement that finds particular resonance over recent surprise about Obama’s Nobel Prize win. Younge opens by questioning the idea that Obama’s mixed race puts him in a position to lead and unite, saying that, by that logic, Tiger Woods should be president — suggesting that racial identity politics is irreconcilable with ‘real’ politics. It may be apolitical, or just absurd, to argue that any of Obama’s recent achievements are directly caused by his race. Even so, Obama is a symbol of a nation whose blood relations must be discussed honestly, by unpacking the effects of his mixed race identity — in particular, the absence of mixed-race figures that makes such an image so potent and important. Part of the declaration of cultural independence that occurred during the civil rights era involved a crucial polemic against the suppressing of Black and mixed-race voices. And today, Black intellectual infrastructures have been manifoldly strengthened by Obama’s basic and insistent presence in media. And there is also another transformation worth mentioning, a membership we of mixed race are happy to withdraw from: the discourse of the tragic mulatto, for the first time discussed and somewhat revised in politics, and not just university classrooms. Obama has transformed our image on a global scale. Of course, the reality that faces his administration isn’t all smoke and mirrors: the continued Afghan war; various controversial and exploitative immigration policies still in place; my recent consultation with an ER’s triage nurse that cashed in at about $100/minute of medical advice. To draw attention to Obama’s race may itself seem symptomatic of the ways in which, as Younge points out, we have attempted to measure the President’s intentions when it is his achievements that matter. But Obama’s heritage matters too. It matters because it speaks back to legacies of anti-miscegenation law and the one-drop rule – both historic attempts to ensure white America be kept “pure.” What Obama represents is not a utopian Presidential image, but the unravelling of that image, the rewriting of power relations historically formed by Eurocentric models and representations of what national leaders should look like. And I must admit that, for us mixed folks, it’s nice to feel that you’re no longer in a trapped gaze, wandering the colorline in a strangely DuBoisian fashion, attempting to identify with a nation that either refuses to see you or wants to know where you’re from at the outset. So images matter. For Obama is there looking back at us, and for the time being, our histories are affirmed.