Obama Changes View of Racial Identity

March 2, 2009

But then she saw an upstart presidential candidate named Barack
Obama giving interviews saying he was African American even though his
mother was white and his father was from Kenya. And then this candidate
became the first African American president, and she realized, "Obama is
black. And so am I."

Read her essay, now featured on our homepage and here.

If you would like to comment on the essay, do it below. Our publishing system doesn't allow comments on Web articles.

Illustration: Rusty Zimmerman

Harry Mok

Editor in chief

Editor in Chief Harry Mok wrote about growing up on a Chinese vegetable farm for the second issue of Hyphen and has been a volunteer editor since 2004. As a board member of the San Francisco and New York chapters of the Asian American Journalists Association, Harry has recruited and organized events for student members. He holds a master’s degree in journalism from the University of California, Berkeley, where he was also a graduate student instructor in the Asian American Studies Department.



"Wanna dance?" a tall, lanky black guy with a closed-shaved cut asked me as I stood against a cream-colored wall. The guy was a junior, possibly a basketball player at USC. I was a sophomore, sharing a place with a fun-loving, black Jamaican student who decided to throw a party at our apartment. Nearly everyone at the party was black. I nodded to Mr. Basketball as his eyes twinkled under the dim lights. Without saying a word, the guy grabbed my hand and pushed his way through a circle of hot, sweaty students, many of who were holding plastic cups of cheap beer.On the dance floor, I began swaying my hips and bobbing my head left and right. The guy smiled at me, perhaps amused by my enthusiasm. Feeling carefree and happy to be in a crowd of clearly some of the coolest people on campus, I pointed my palms toward the ceiling, pretending to raise the roof. Some women, standing behind me, started laughing. Loudly. Intrigued, I turned around to find out what was so funny. The women, slender and curvy, stopped laughing when they saw me looking. They turned away. My body froze. Were these women laughing at me? Was I dancing like a geek? I turned back around, hoping to re-connect with Mr. Basketball, but he was looking the other way.I tossed my long curly hair behind my shoulders, hoping to get I try to get back into the rhythm of music, but the guy leaned over, and whispered, "Thanks."
i don't understand this story. what happened? what does it mean to you? why is it important?
I think it means she felt like she didn't belong.
i don't get it, either. what exactly is the guy thanking her for? or what're we supposed to gather that he's thanking her for?
I dont think this is because of Obama. Racial identity started centuries ago, if you study Black American history the "one drop blood rule" was coined and it meant that if one rop of black blood flows through your body you are black. Landmark cases such as Plessy vs Ferguson reinforced this attitude in America, but our post racial President is sparking debate on this old rule
The people dancing were laughing because her style of dance was way different than theirs (or she couldn't dance). At that age, we are still young even though we claim to be mature. She felt as if she didn't belong to that group.I really liked this essay. I choose to be Black, even though I'm mixed (I do have a dark complexion). I guess mixed is Black. I don't really consider myself African American because I'm not 100% African. I'm 100% American though, so the African part is just silly for me. I do find that I respect others who are "white" more when they refer to me and others like me as African American. I'm not sure why though. I guess I need to examine that one.I tend not to call Irish people who are Americans Irish Americans, or Italian people who are Americans Italian Americans, so why should I be called African American??
The guy thanked her because "he was done dancing with her." It's like, "thanks for trying."I primarily identify as Black. But I also have indigenous ancestry.I'm Red Black & Green. (the green comes from my Earthly origins)
they were probably laughing,, cause your dancing was cool if you were swaying your hips and moving your head sounds normal to me,, i have done dancing deliberatly to amuse people and it works, ""a merry heart doith good like a medicine"" says the bible,, lastly if you go around in life trying to please all people,, your life will shorten,lastly,, i allways thank a woman for the dance,, sound like you were dancing with a gentleman
Although I am not of mixed race, I appreciate Yumi's essay. I like that she is resolved in claiming both her Japanese and Black heritage. Ultimately, I think that your experience with people and life helps YOU to define who you are. I'm Cambodian by birth. I was a young immigrant to this country and lived in a very, very white part of the U.S. I am proud of my Cambodian roots but I can't say that I fully identify with my culture. I feel as though I am of a mutlicultural background because my experience has allowed me to identify with White, Black, and Asian America. I think maybe Obama is allowing for people to talk more freely about race and identity than ever before because he is in the "highest" position and has the platform to speak of it. Just my two cents. :) Peace.