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Barack Obama and Multiraciality

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This is a brief essay I co-authored with Reg Daniel (forthcoming).
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  Barack Obama and Multiraciality Barack Hussein Obama, Jr. (1961  –  ) is the forty-fourth President of the United States.He previously served as the junior U.S. Senator from Illinois (2005  –  2008) and stateSenator in Illinois (1997  –  2004). Obama is the first American of color and African-descent American elected to nation‘s highest office .Obama was born August 4, 1961 in Honolulu, Hawaii to a white American mother, Stanley ―Ann‖ Dunham , and a black Kenyan father, Barack Hussein Obama, Sr.At the time of his birth , Obama‘s parents were students at the East-West Center at theUniversity of Hawaii, Manoa. Obama has eight half-siblings, including Maya Soetoro  Ng from his mother‘s second marriage to an Indonesian, Lolo Soetoro, and seven half-siblings from his father‘s marriages to other women ( Kezia Aoko and Jael AtienoOnyango who are Kenyan and Ruth Nidesand who is Jewish American). Obama wasraised primarily by his white mother and grandparents in Hawaii after his father left topursue doctoral studies at Harvard, and later returned to Kenya when Barack, Jr. was twoyears old. Obama‘s parents divorced in 1964. In 1967, Obama‘s mother  married LoloSoetoro, another student at the East-West Center. The family relocated to Jakarta,Indonesia after Soetoro was forced to return due to social unrest in Indonesia. Obamaattended schools in Indonesia until 1971 when his mother sent him back to Hawaii to beraised by his grandparents. Obama and his father maintained correspondence with eachother. Yet Obama would only see his father once more during a brief visit to Hawaii in1971. His father died in a car accident in Nairobi, Kenya in 1982. Obama‘s educational achievements helped groom him for the presidency. He enteredthe prestigious Punahou Academy in 1971 and graduated with honors in 1979. Uponleaving Hawaii, Obama attended Occidental College in Los Angeles, California. Aftertwo years, he went to Columbia University where he graduated in 1983 with a B.A. inpolitical science. In 1985, Obama moved to Chicago where he worked as a communityorganizer in the Roseland community and the Altgeld Garden‘s public housingdevelopment on Chicago‘s South side. He entered Harvard Law School in 1988 where he became the first African-descent American elected as editor of the  Harvard Law Review . In 1991, Obama graduated magna cum laude from Harvard. His political careerbegan in 1992 while organizing voter registration drives for Bill Clinton ‘s Presidentialcampaign. In Chicago, Obama would subsequently become a civil rights attorney,professor at the University of Chicago Law School, and politician.In 1995, Obama published his bestselling autobiography titled  Dreams from MyFather: A Story of Race and Inheritance . Obama‘s multiracial background has imbued his consciousness with wide ranging sympathies in forming an identity. Yet for all his hybridity, Obama‘s identity is situated in the African American community and extends outward from that location. This differs from a multiracial identity, which manifestsits elf ―betwixt and between‖ traditional U.S. racial groups. It extends outward from thislocation depending upon individuals‘ orientation toward the groups that compose their  background. Nevertheless, the expression of a multiracial identity has historically beensuppressed in the United States through the rule of hypodescent. This social codedesignates group membership of the first-generation offspring of unions betweenEuropean Americans and Americans of color exclusively based on their background of color. Successive generations of individuals who have European American ancestry  combined with a background of color, however, have more flexibility in terms of self-identification. The one-drop rule of hypodescent designates as black everyone with anyAfr ican American ancestry (‗‗one - drop of blood‘‘). It precludes any choice in self-identification and ensures that all future offspring of African American ancestry aresocially designated and self-identified as black. Attitudes toward the offspring of unionsbetween African Americans and other groups of color (e.g., Native Americans) havevaried. More often than not, these individuals have been subject to the one-drop rule.Moreover, the rule has had some unintended consequences, particularly for AfricanAmericans. By drawing boundaries that excluded Americans of color from havingcontact as equals with whites, it legitimated and forged group identities among the formerthat have become the basis for collective action in the antiracist struggle.In 1961, when Obama was born, twenty-one states still maintained laws againstinterracial marriages. Furthermore, Obama grew up in an era when a multiracial identitywas not an option. Yet since the late 1960s, growing numbers of individuals havechallenged the rule of hypodescent. This is related to the dismantling of Jim Crowsegregation and implementation of civil rights legislation during the 1950s and 1960s.Specifically, it is attributable to the 1967  Loving v. Virginia decision, which overturnedstatutes in the remaining sixteen states prohibiting racial intermarriages. Moreover,increasing numbers of offspring of interracial marriages born in the post-civil rights era,including black-white individuals, identify with more than one racial background.Beginning in the late 1970s, this phenomenon was reflected in a movement thatsought to change standards in official racial-data collection that have required individualsto identify with only one racial background. By the 2000 census, this movementsucceeded in making it possible for individuals to express a multiracial identity bychecking more than one box in the census race question. If, therefore, Obama hassignificance for African Americans, he has special meaning for the growing population of multiracial-identified Americans. His extended interracial family and presentation of himself as an African American who acknowledges his multiracial background allows awide range of individuals to feel comfortable with him. Obama is an iconic figure whoembodies and at the same time seeks to transcend race and speak to the nation‘s common destiny. Further reading . G. Reginald Daniel,  More Than Black?: Multiracial Identity and the New Racial Order  (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Temple University Press, 2002); KerryAnne Rockquemore and David Brunsma,  Beyond Black: Biracial Identity in America  (Thousand Oaks, California: Sage Publications, 2002); F. James Davis, Who Is Black? One Nation’s Definition   (University Park, Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania State UniversityPress, 2001).  —  G. Reginald Daniel and Hettie V. Williams
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