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The current media driven controversy over the ethnicity of Santa Claus, reminds me that back in 2008, I annoyed some and amused others by claiming that Obama was white.
After all, he was born of black and white parents, grew up in a white culture, had a white extended family and was educated in, among other things, the eminent whiteness of the Harvard Law School.
The definition of Obama as black is based on our cultural rules of race, which is itself a racist concept. This is why I use the term ethnic whenever possible to distinguish between true cultural heritage rather than a gross misinterpretation of DNA based primarily on skin color.
One of the interesting thing about the current rules is that they are accepted by both noisy opposing camps on the subject, albeit in Obama’s case as either a curse or salvation.
Although seven percent of new children in America come from multiethnic parents, there is remarkably little recognition or celebration of this. And it certainly seems to be largely ignored in the white liberal lexicon.
Thus it is rare to see in print thoughts such as these in the Washington Post last year by Joy Freeman-Coulbary:
Dr. King’s post racial society is not one of complete homogeneity but a celebration of its complete heterogeneity. Dr. King’s open and free society is a positive utopia in which diversity is embraced and people are not marginalized, ghettoized or isolated based upon racial and ethnic differences. Interracial love and unions are a metaphor for this progress as well as the convergence of “races” and cultures…
As woman of African, Irish, Mexican and Native American descent, married to a husband of Senegalese and Portuguese descent, I believe that intermarriage contributes to inter-cultural understanding and diminishes racial prejudices and tensions. The less we adhere to “race,” the less racism persists. Romantically, it’s also spicy and thrilling to defeat our hardwired biases and find love in the less familiar…
By coalescing around salient issues, instead of race, we can more effectively challenge unfair systems, demand accountability from our leaders and be more unified to fight elites and corporate interests. Breaking ourselves into racial subgroups dilutes our ability to unite aggressively behind issues that impact the vast majority of Americans.
After all, “race” is literally a science fiction. The U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science, Office of Biological and Environmental Research, Human Genome Program has found that “race” does not exist and that it is a fallacy not based in science.
I learned that latter truth decades ago as an anthropology major in college and have been stunned in the succeeding years how little progress we have made towards understanding it. It has strange effects on how we view things. For example, the fact that Barack Obama has a half sister who is half American white and half Asian gets virtually no attention because it spoils the “first black president” myth.
Obama, of course, gets to call himself whatever he wants, but as a political matter it’s interesting to consider how his story might have been different if he had been willing to run as our first multicultural president, representing in his own background the complex ethnic story of America and symbolizing how it is something of which we should be proud and not conceal.
I didn’t just learn about such things as an academic matter. I have a Puerto Rican sister-in-law with four children. And I have a godson who has white and black parents and watched him struggle with this as when in high school he declared his independence by becoming a Republican (and providing his godfather with Dole-Kemp signs on his lawn as well as membership cards in the GOP and NRA). Then, in college he became a socialist and now is teaching German at Yale and doing striking art of the side.
If I have an bias about such things it is that I dig multiculturalism. Which is why my CD of Chuck Brown and Eva Cassidy is one of my favorites. And why I love Treme and its tales of multicultural New Orleans. And one reason I felt so at home in my native Washington DC, the place where, in the days of segregation, blacks and whites from Virginia would take the train to Washington to exchange the marriage vows they weren’t permitted back home.
Those who want America to handle its ethnic variety better could help by reporting on and celebrating a country where seven percent of its children were born of parents who chose love over ethnicity.
So if you’re going to force me to define Santa Claus this year, I will argue that he or she is Cajun and Puerto Rican.
Sam Smith edits the Progressive Review.