Conflicted Identity as Commonality in America

Andrew Sullivan’s cover piece "The Case for Barack Obama" in the latest Atlantic contained these interesting sentences:

To be black and white, to have belonged to a nonreligious home and a Christian church, to have attended a majority-Muslim school in Indonesia and a black church in urban Chicago, to be more than one thing and sometimes not fully anything—this is an increasingly common experience for Americans, including many racial minorities. Obama expresses such a conflicted but resilient identity before he even utters a word. And this complexity, with its internal tensions, contradictions, and moods, may increasingly be the main thing all Americans have in common.

Could be. A "mongrel" sense of self as the predominant form of identity is a case G. Pascal Zachary makes forcefully in The Global Me: New Cosmopolitans and the Competitive Edge. I finished it yesterday and recommend the book to anyone interested in globalization, cosmopolitanism, and hybrid identities.

7 comments on “Conflicted Identity as Commonality in America
  • Andrew Sullivan writes compellingly in the case he makes for Obama, but his words have that odor of the East Coast intelligentsia– full of nuance and verbally deft, but unheard and meaningless in the one place they should count most– the minds of black voters in the U.S.

    Surely the number of blacks who will ever read his high-flown words is minuscule.

    I don’t believe that many blacks, of whatever complexion or racial background, are going to let themselves be lectured to about race in America by a white intellectual, or any white person.

    I’d say the influence of a senior editor at The Atlantic on black voters’ attitude toward Barack Obama is effectively nil.

    Blacks are simply too smart to listen to him, even in the unlikely event that more than a few thousand ever read his screeds, or even know who he is.

  • Obama must have struggled a great deal with that biracial identity of his, to reach where he is today.

    After all the “what are you” quizzes, not being able to fully identify with either groups, living an ambiguous life and finally overcoming it all to make a bid for the highest office – quite a tall order…

    Certainly, as Andrew Sullivan says, Obama can’t let go off this opportunity though he has age on his side – the iron is hot and he’d better strike it now.

  • Vince: Isn’t it interesting that although Obama is half-white, your comment is focused on the relevance and influence of his message to black Americans?

    Since he is half-white, what about his influence on white Americans?

    Or is it simply that he is simply not white enough for white people to claim him?

  • Vince:

    It was a simple question. Your note suggests you think it was some kind of an attack on you when I know nothing of your racial identity. Well, what can I say?

    The general debate – beyond this blog too – focuses on his part-blackness and not at all on his part-whiteness, which I find a little strange. Which is why I asked the original question.


  • Shefaly,

    I take your point. I was being sarcastic; my apologies if it reads more harshly than I intended.

    I think the debate focuses on Obama’s part-blackness because so many blacks in the U.S. may feel that his experience isn’t close enough to theirs growing up black in this country.

    They might expect him to claim his identity as a black man, and yet find his ‘blackness’ lacking.

    Of course there’s no logical reason, outside the vagaries of politics, why he should ‘claim’ one part of his racial heritage over another.

    I’d like to see a person with a black identity become president of the U.S., I just don’t think it will happen unless blacks here get behind such a candidate en masse, which doesn’t seem to be happening with Obama.

    I believe that his mixed-race identity presents more of a challenge to his candidacy in the minds of black voters than in the minds of the non-black part of the electorate.

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