I’ve alluded elsewhere to the fascinating way in which Obama parlayed his mixed African American (as opposed to African-American) heritage so as to occupy a space in American cultural and political life just ever-so-different from that occupied by black Americans generally and other black politicians in particular. Back in election season, I wondered aloud whether Obama could have risen to prominence, prestige, popularity, and power quite in the way that he did if he had to reckon with America’s — and black America’s — past, present, and future from squarely within the black tradition/community/what have you. I thought then, and continue to think now, that the answer is no. (The reasons are legion, and ‘blame’ freely apportioned.) In some strange way worth pondering, it turned out to seem fairly essential that our first black President was not the sort of guy who had, say, an unbroken lineage of black American ancestors traceable back into slavery and only then beyond. I do think Obama’s much-lauded ability to ‘transcend race’ has much more to do with his great remove from American slavery than with his mixed heritage . . . not (as I’ve also said before) that we don’t really need to kill the one-drop rule dead before the business of race-transcending shifts into proper gear. Because we do. The point is, all of this birther business would be dead in the cradle had Obama indeed been the descendant of all-American slaves. Somewhere else (yes, I need a research assistant) I claimed that black Americans are the most American of us all, and it seems to me on this day in irony that this perhaps strange idea rings more brightly to me than ever.

Articles by James Poulos

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