Mixed-race issues in Obama’s race speech

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The news cycle has shifted its focus to the 4,000th American soldier killed in Iraq, to James Carville turning all apostolic on Bill Richardson and Hillary Clinton’s slightly revised version of a trip to Bosnia.

Yet I’m sitting here at work, hours past deadline, still thinking about Barack Obama’s speech on race.

You of course have heard it by now. If you’re hankering for another viewing, here’s the video again, via CNN:

There’s an excellent article in this week’s TIME by Amy Sullivan and Jay Carney about why Obama would choose to attend a church like Trinity. But beyond the whys and wherefores, I, like no doubt many Americans, find myself still chewing over the meat of the issues he brought up—just like he intended. To me, his speech was above politics (at least until the very end, when, in an oratorically effective but plainly pandering crescendo, he appealed to voter constituencies to reject race baiting—”not this time”). To me, his speech was about not just race but about the mixing of races. To me, his speech was about…well, me.

My parents married in 1969, only two years after Loving vs. Virginia, the landmark ruling that outlawed bans on interracial marriage. In other words, my folks could not have married in many states only a few years before I was born. Yet interracial marriage is still no fairy tale, as my colleagues attested at a recent workshop I attended for minority journalists. As Heather Wood writes in Sirens Magazine (via Alternet),

Interracial relationships represent approximately seven percent of couples in the country, which is incredible progress considering they represented just .07 percent in 1960. But for our ever-diversifying nation, these are alarmingly low figures. For the most part, everyone is still sticking to their “own kind.” Is this intentional segregation or just cultural tradition? Could be both. But one thing remains certain: Every interracial couple entering into a serious relationship knows what struggles lie ahead. Maybe that 93 percent would just rather avoid them.

As Obama said, we are as a country far from over this hump. We are far from beyond the struggles of our ancestors. We are a long way from not having to have this conversation with our children: who they are, what others are and what it all means.

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