February 22, 2008
OBAMA AND MY SON:
WISDOM ON A POST-RACIAL WORLD
By Mohammad Ali Salih
I wasn’t ready for my son’s harsh words when our family went
out for dinner last week. We were talking about the elections and,
specifically, the competition between Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama for the Democratic
I asked my son, a twenty-something Democrat and Obama supporter: “Why do you favor Obama?”
With his mother and two sisters listening, he offered the usual arguments about
“change,” “unity” and that Obama didn’t vote for the Iraq war. Unconvinced, I
asked: “Aren’t you supporting Obama because he is
bi-racial like you?”
His angry response: “I knew you were going to ask about race.
... And I understand that, because of your age (I am in my 60s) and your
background (an immigrant from Sudan). But, Dad, you need to
wake up to the new thinking about race in America.” He added, “It is not
about being racial; it is not about being bi-racial; it is about being
I twice repeated the question. My wife, a white
Southern conservative Republican, intervened: “Don’t you understand what your
son has told you? Why do you want him to think the way you think?”
My college daughter, in few words, agreed with her brother,
but the high-school one didn’t want to talk about race or politics, but about “Cloverfield,” “Hannah Montana” and other new movies.
I have always wanted my children to be proud of their mixed race.
Since they were young, I’ve read them books about bi-racials,
told them to write “bi-racial” whenever they filled out forms and paid special
attention to the other bi-racial kids they hung out with.
But, before teaching them about their identities, I had to
find mine. When I came to Washington, D.C., in 1980, I was
ambivalent about the racial divisions in America. After I became a U.S. citizen 10 years later,
I started searching for my identity. I didn’t want to be part of the
“white guilt - black victimization” syndrome. It took me 10 more painful years
to realize that the color of my skin is not part of my identity. And that
faith (Islam) is the core of my identity. Then my culture
(Arabic) and my citizenship (American).
Yet I didn’t think about the contradiction that, although I
had “liberated” myself from having race as part of my identity, I wanted my
children to belong not only to one race but to two — until my son’s lecture.
His message is now clear: not only that race doesn’t matter, but mixed race
also doesn’t matter. And the new “post-race” thinking could be equivalent to
A country without racial divisions. What a concept.
Mohammad Ali Salih has been a correspondent in Washington,
D.C., for major Arabic newspapers and magazines in the Middle East.