Saturday, February 24, 2018

The First Multiracial U.S. President: Leadership as Personified Symbol over Political Advantage

Barak Obama had a tendency to modify his manner of speaking, and even his dialect, to fit with his audience. Listening to his speech to the National Urban League, I was stunned; early on, he pivoted off from his ordinary manner of speaking to speak in what was surely a more familiar way to much of his audience. The crowd loved it. The audience must have been looking at him as the first black US President. It occurred to me while listening to him and observing his strategy to connect to his audience that although there would be less political advantage in it, he could have run for president by presenting himself as multi-racial (technically, mulatto). To be sure, there were fewer multi-racial Americans who would have identified with him, but is that even the point? The multi-racial segment of the US population was small, but growing.  It already pointed to what most states would likely look like in fifty or a hundred years from 2010, when I heard the first multi-racial US President speak. Were he to have made explicit his multi-racial identity, he would have personified the leading edge of what America would become, and thus have served innately as a leader in his very person.  That is to say, he would have led through his person—as a symbol personified—as the a sign of things to come, transcending “black vs. white.”  Nature’s integration was already beginning make a dent in the artificial problem of racism far more than any government program or even a US President could, yet had Obama making the meaning of his symbol explicit would have helped Americans to know the transition already occurring in  their midst. Instead, he used his "Black identity" to solidify his base for political advantage.

Perhaps it is the tacit duplicity in a multiracial man permitting himself to be labeled as black for political expediency that lies at the core of why some people did not trust him (e.g., the “birthers”).  Such duplicity is like a subterranean fault-line undergirding the tension between campaigning for real change and then stocking people of the old guard, such as Larry Summers, in his administration.  The duplicity of promising systemic change then dropping his insistence on a public option and no mandate for health coverage—essentially guaranteeing a new mass market to the same health insurance companies that actively purged people with pre-existing conditionsresonated in the multi-racial man using the term “black” to identify himself publicly.  Barak Obama is as much white as he is black.  Were he to “run with this,” he would have instantiated a leader on the forefront, the  cutting edge of society, even though there was little political capital to be made on it.  

As an explicit multi-racial symbol, President Obama could have shown the world where America was headed, and that Americans were facing that future with heads held high, or at least with awareness. While perhaps not helpful in elections, such a function, which can only be done by the US President, was at the time sorely needed, given America’s image abroad. America was finally becoming the melting pot that had been proclaimed for so long—finally getting past the need for duplicity.  President Obama could have symbolized this in his person, and thus have done America a service far more valuable than any partisan legislation.