I want to offer up this passage by Senator Obama, on his racial and ethnic background and experiences, and implicitly, how he tends to view race and ethnicity in our society:

As the child of a black man and white woman, born in the melting pot of Hawaii, with a sister who is half-Indonesian, but who is usually mistaken for Mexican, and a brother-in-law and niece of Chinese descent, with some relatives who resemble Margaret Thatcher and others who could pass for Bernie Mac, I never had the option of restricting my loyalties on the basis of race or measuring my worth on the basis of tribe.

— Senator Barack Obama, The Audacity of Hope, p. 231

For one thing, I do believe strongly that this is ultimately the direction in which U.S. society is headed — not just the objective facts of genetic and demographic intermingling, but also the genuine choices about personal identity which this statement reflects.

And while this perspective could, of course, be taken too far, to suggest that racial and ethnic divisions in our society are no longer salient, the senator’s views come closer to expressing my own experiences of race and ethnicity than many other, more starkly black-and-white, views that I’ve heard in recent years.

At the very least, I think this approach to identity is a valuable corrective to other, more traditional, perspectives, which can sometimes get in the way of productive analysis and constructive solutions to our society’s pressing problems.

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