A Mixed Blessing

Last night the United States of America elected its first African American president. It also elected its first mixed-race president, which to me, holds a very special significance.

When I was 18 and worked as a hostess in an Italian restaurant on the Upper East Side all the servers and busboys there called me “Tiger Woods” because they thought I looked like him. I don’t. But he is half Asian (and one-quarter African American, one-eighth Native American, and one-eighth Dutch) and I am half Asian (and a quarter Russian and a quarter Polish). My coworkers saw the resemblance among two people who did not fit into one racial category.

Now that Barack Obama, who is of both African and Caucasian ancestry, has been elected, multicultural references will not be dependent on a single champion golfer. Hopefully with all Americans’ eyes on Obama, the stigma’s brought forth by politically-derived categories of race will dissolve as we begin to recognize that those categories do not hold the way we hoped they once would. White does not negate black, black does not negate white, and perhaps we will begin to view those with a multiplicity of racial and ethnic backgrounds as a composite of everything they embody and bring to the table rather than as pieces of outdated and inaccurate categories.

In The Audacity of Hope Obama writes: “I’ve never had the option of restricting my loyalties on the basis of race, or measuring my worth on the basis of tribe.” He said that he has “blood relatives who resemble Margaret Thatcher and others who could pass for Bernie Mac.”

Whether Obama’s leadership brings the country closer to a post-ethnic America, or a more representative America remains to be seen, and eventually it may do both as history spirals. But regardless of how America’s conception of race plays out, Obama’s victory yesterday has fundamentally redefined the role of race in this country and has reframed the discourse from black and white, something more dynamic. Similar to Obama’s platform, the conversation about race will now have to be inclusive rather than polarizing by virtue of the fact that Obama is comprised of two races: black and white. He is also the son of a Kenayn and the step-son of an Indonesian. He will hold the highest office in the land come January and will be one of the most powerful people in the world, and for the first time, we will not be able to put the American president into a census box with any kind of accuracy.

–Jamie Wong