Saturday, April 3, 2010


The U.S. Census is supposed to be confidential. That's true...unless you happen to be the President of the United States [above].

I have to shake my head about this "news" that Barack Obama identifies himself on the 2010 U.S. Census as 'African-American'. People of mixed races are up in arms over the fact that Obama did not select one or more of the other options available to him and every American. Obama's autobiography, Dreams From My Father, deals extensively with the inner-struggle he faced - and faces - being multiracial and finding an identity. So, I don't mean to make light of that struggle - his or others' - by any means. But I do think it a bit ridiculous for people to be so focused on having Obama self-identify himself with the their particular group.

Why? Well, I guess it's because of the way I see the world. Since I fall into one of the following groups, I can say this: my general rule of thumb is this, if the Klan wants you dead, then you're African American [or Jewish, gay, Catholic, or literate]. You can identify yourself as whatever the hell you want, but in the end, as far as the Klan and the rest of the racist world, you're African American. Well, actually, that's not what they'd call you but I won't repeat what they'd call you.

So, the fact that the queries grew so loud that the White House felt compelled to issue an official statement on Obama's Census response - remember, that information is supposed to be confidential - seemed a bit too much for me. The White House's confirmation was simple: "President Obama checked only the racial box that says 'Black, African Am., or Negro'."

The queries were whether he checked other boxes as well. According to the rules of the Census, he could have checked "White", "Some other race" or even written in "Multiracial". That he didn't do so has a lot of people upset, particularly those who self-identify as multiracial. This despite the fact that the whole point of the question on the Census is to "self-identify". Apparently, the information is to be confidential for everyone but the President of the United States.

Fortunately - at least to this point - no one has sought to know how Obama - whom the White House said actually filled out the document - identified his daughters Malia and Sasha. I suppose that would be going too far - even for 21st century media hacks. Just to keep the record straight, Obama added his mother-in-law, Marian Robinson, who lives with the family in the White House.

As a private citizen - before his successful run for the U.S. Senate in 2004 - Obama always self-identified as African American. The First Lady is descended from a South Carolina slave, and Obama himself reportedly takes great pride in being the first African American President of the United States, even if he refuses to publicly display it [in the interest of removing race from his political identity.

While Obama has struggled with the issue of self-identification, he also has a famous sense of humor and dry wit. At the White House Correspondents' dinner last year, he nearly fell over laughing at the opening remarks of comedian Wanda Sykes. Turning to face the President, Sykes said, "You are a black President. I'm proud to be able to say that. That's unless you screw up. And then it's going to be, 'What's up with the half-white guy?'"

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