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Oct 21, 2008

The Dunhams

Barack Profile  Madelyn And Stanley Dunham

Like Ta-Nehisi Coates, I too am struck by the resemblance between Barack Obama and his grandfather.  Look at the chin, the eyes, the big ears, the forehead and widows peak.  Also, it might be where that "cocked head" gesture comes from.

My sense is that the attention thrown on Obama's relationship with his grandmother (which, as many BAGreaders remind, has been much closer to a maternal relationship) is actually a net positive for the campaign at this point.  Of course, one can only feel for Obama that this is happening at all, let alone now, especially when the potential loss of his grandmother would likely also bring home the loss of his actual mother.

On the political front, however, the gravity, authenticity and genuine feeling surrounding Obama's family situation will likely cause McCain's attacks, by contrast, to ring that much more hollow.

What I'm also wondering is whether the coverage surrounding the Dunham's, and the focus on this part of Obama's family history right now, might actually give Obama a boost with those late undecideds who might see the news stories and feel, through the emphasis on the family bonds and the family narrative (Kansas heartland; survived Depression; bomber assembly line; goes from secretary to bank V.P.; serves in Patton's army) and, yes, the resemblance, that Obama is good people.  Further, I'm wondering if the emphasis on the white side of Obama's family won't also be reassuring to a subset of that undecided segment.

By the way, if you haven't read it, Ta-Nehisi's post is quite moving in discussing the courageousness of Obama's grandparents in raising a biracial child.

Obama ad featuring Madelyn Dunham (Obama for President via YouTube)

(h/t: Sara)

(images: Barack Obama)

Comments

andrew sullivan has this photo from the chicago tribune posted on his blog...

talk about resemblance...

http://www.chicagotribune.com/media/photo/2008-06/39580853.jpg

Amazingly, for (very) low information voters, this press coverage may be the first time some realize Obama is bi-racial. Here's one example of a FOX news viewer.

wow. These photos show an incredible resemblance!
(Obama is more handsome, though.)

But the "half-white" thing is a bit misleading... All African-Americans are bi-racial. (pretty much without exception). But it became established in 19th century America that any black parentage made one black. This was a change from more complicated 18th-century formulations (mixed-race children could be either black or white, depending on parentage and/or culture), and the change came about because of the necessities of an expanding slave-holding society. Slave-holding societies can't have a bunch of free blacks running around--this would confuse the simplistic social hierarchy.

So to talk about Obama as "half-white" or as "black"... in racial terms is really nonsensical. (Race is in the eye of the beholder.)

We do use it as a shorthand for class culture. Do you play basketball in the projects? you're black. Do you play lacrosse in the suburbs? You're half- black, half-white.

In the old southern African apartheid systems (Rhodesia, South Africa), there were three main racial categories: African/Black, Colored (i.e. mixed ancestry), and White. (and "yellow", too, of course: i.e. Asian/SouthAsian/Indian.) But here too, race was separated by class: whites were the managers/elites, Coloreds were the clerks/lower bureaucrats, Blacks were the farmers/laborers. You could even "change" your race classification in South Africa (which could give you greater freedom of movement, better job opportunities, etc.) by petitioning the courts... and then "prove" your race by such things as measuring the curliness of your hair, color-charting your skin pigmentation, but also by showing off your English/Afrikaans skills, and by submitting sworn affidavits from your friends and colleagues, by proving a history of "acting Colored", etc.

(You could also be racially demoted by those same courts, for not acting white enough, colored enough, etc.)

What I'm trying to say is that "race" is a completely bullshit category. There's no There there.
To see Americans (and especially, American journalists) fumble around trying to pin down a completely invented category is really sort of embarrassing.

(Medical researchers use the notion of "race", of course... but here they're being sloppy, trying to generalize about patterns of heritability, which is based on clinal variations of genes--i.e. your perceived "blackness" can often (but not always) be used as a rough guide as to the number of great-grandparents that might have carried sickle-cell anemia. I'm not a medical researcher, but I think this is lazy... it's saying, hey, we don't have the time or technology to map this guy's gene, so let's go by skin color. )

d ~ 'What I'm trying to say is that "race" is a completely bullshit category.'

Right on and I think that's the point Tiger was trying to make to Oprah about ten years ago;

"Tiger said he wasn't actually "black" at all -- he was "Cablinasian." ....when he was asked if it bothered him to be called an African-American. "It does," he said. "Growing up, I came up with this name: I'm a 'Cablinasian.'" As in Caucasian-black-Indian-Asian. Woods has a black father (or to be precise, if I am interpreting Woods' reported ancestry correctly, a half-black, one-quarter American Indian, one-quarter white father) and a Thai mother (or, with the same caveat, a half-Thai, half-Chinese mother). "I'm just who I am," Woods told Oprah Winfrey, "whoever you see in front of you."

http://www.salon.com/april97/tiger970430.html

And look at her big wide, gorgeous smile - that's one thing that stands out for me about Obama - his amazing smile. It's so refreshing after years of Rice's scowl, Cheney's sneer, and Bush's idiotic smirk.

Hey Bag: the YouTube is no longer available. Here's another one: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AX_2K3KVs_Y

Wiki => Todd Palin : “Was born in Dillingham, Alaska, to James F. "Jim" Palin and his first wife, Blanche (Roberts) Kallstrom. His father... a native of Seattle, Washington; His mother... is one-quarter Yup'ik, and his maternal grandmother, Helena (Bartman) Andree, is a member of the Curyung tribe. A graduate of Wasilla High School, Mr. Palin has taken some courses, but does not have a college degree.

Mr. Palin's campaign appearances (he does not grant interviews with the press) are in the main limited to brief stops at local, small-town diners and, e.g., Hunting & Fishing Shops ~ where he routinely speaks (if at all) about Mr. McCain's "supporting our core values," and characterizes Senator Obama, "as not supportive of the Second Amendment's guarantee of a right to bear arms in this country." Unlike Jill Biden ~ and drawing 'crowds' of only a few dozen to a couple hundred ~ dKos does not even bother to list Mr. Palin's appearances as being of any consequence, whatsoever, to the McCain/Palin campaign.

Having rarely, if ever spoken in public about his own family's mixed-race heritage, it is logical to conclude that many, if not most McCain supporters are unaware that Mr. Palin is not really "a white man" ~ in the traditional, exclusively Euro-Centric and non-Hispanic / non-Native American sense of that expression.

Making up less than 2 percent of the U.S. population and concentrated mostly outside key primary states in past election years, Native Americans are seeing an uptick in prominence because of political and geographic realities.

The prolonged primary season has pushed the contest into states with larger Native communities — states that typically voted too late to attract much attention from presidential candidates. With the emergence of the Mountain West as the newest general election battleground, the Native vote is more highly sought after than ever since it has proven to be mobilized and instrumental in recent statewide races.

“This has never, ever happened before,” said Jacqueline Johnson, executive director of the National Congress of American Indians, which is neutral in the race. “In 2004, we thought it was a landmark when we got a majority of the candidates to make a statement to Indian Country and come to our conference.”

Native Americans traditionally and overwhelmingly vote Democratic, but leaders said they expect some in their community to at least consider McCain because of his history working on their issues as a past chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee.

d @ 4:02 am:

But Obama's father was Kenyan, not African American. He wasn't a product of the slavery system in the United States. So the statement that Obama is half black (Kenyan) and half white is correct. I don't see why you object to that, with your long discourse on designations from 18th and 19th century America and 20th century South Africa.

Most biracial people favor both parents from what I've seen, so it's not surprising to me. Those were beautiful pictures. I really hope his grandmother lives to see him elected.

I was delighted by john brown's observation the Obama looks like Fred Astaire. I had that same impression when I saw him (Obama, not Astaire) at the rally in Seattle in February. The elegance and grace of movement were so similar.

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