Obama gives hope to multiracial families

Obama gives hope to multiracial families

01/24/2009

By: George Moore , Record-Journal staff

 

Christopher Zajac / Record-Journal
George Garner, 3, plays while his adoptive mother, Jean Garner, talks with a reporter in the living room of their Cheshire home Thursday. “I can tell this guy, ‘If you want to be president, go for it,’” she said in her Cheshire living room Thursday, as George bounced around with his Batman figurine.

 

Three-year-old George Garner used to introduce himself as ‘George Barack Obama’ when his mother took him to political events. For George, an energetic boy of a mixed racial background, Barack Obama’s presidency will serve as proof that he, too, can be president, said his mother, Jean Garner.

“I can tell this guy, ‘If you want to be president, go for it,'” she said in her Cheshire living room Thursday, as George bounced around with his Batman figurine.

Three years ago, Jean and Tim Garner, both white, adopted George, who is part Canadian, Native American and African-American. Garner said she hopes that Obama, the son of a white mother and a Kenyan father, will inspire more people to consider people for who they are, rather than what they look like.

Obama not only shows that a black man can become president, but that someone of a multiracial background can lead the country.

While Obama calls himself black, observers interviewed Friday said he has been so open about his parents and his upbringing that the entire nation is aware of his multiracial heritage. Sociologist Jenifer Bratter said Obama shatters stereotypes that people of mixed race have strained life experiences.

“I do think that his ascendance is going to bring mixed-race or biracial issues more to the forefront because he’s representing a community that has traditionally been cast in negative terms,” said Bratter, assistant professor of Sociology at Rice University. “Here comes this person who is not only a success but someone with a coherent narrative. That background informs us who he is.”

That background comes to the public most vividly in Obama’s memoir, “Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance.” The book was published in 1995 after Obama was elected the first black president of the Harvard Law Review and, of course, was reissued four years ago when he began attracting national attention.

The book chronicles Obama’s effort to retrace his family history, from his mother’s family in Kansas, to his father’s family in Kenya. It also documents the development of his own identity.

Garner said she hopes Obama will inspire more people to look beyond appearances.

“I’m just hoping people will be able to see beyond someone’s looks and look inside,” she said.

It’s a lesson she teaches both to George and to her 13-year-old biological son, Adam, who has cerebral palsy. She encourages both to show people who they are to defy snap judgments based on appearance.

Obama’s open discussion about his parents and his upbringing shows how looks can be deceiving, said James Landrith, editor and publisher of the Multiracial Activist, an online publication. Multiracial people like Obama, Halle Barry and Tiger Woods, he said, defy the impulse to place people in rigid racial categories.

“People like Barack Obama are helping to teach people that these lines are not static; they’re blurred,” Landrith said. “A little more time and we’ll get to the point where people won’t care about the lines at all. We’re in the middle stage.”

Landrith points to Obama’s victory as evidence that the country is starting to move past an obsession with racial identification. Obama, he said, is a just “a regular politician” who was elected on his merits and beliefs, a politician who happened to be multiracial.

“I think that sets up a very positive message for multiracial people in this country,” he said. “Your multiracial identity doesn’t always have to be the primary thing that defines you.”

Bratter said Obama has also fostered a dialogue about multiculturalism that will likely echo throughout his presidency.

“What would be interesting to watch is how much Barack Obama is seen as either a black president or a multicultural president,” she said, “and at this point what is fascinating is that he is seen as both.”

In an address to Choate Rosemary Hall in Wallingford Thursday, former chairman of the Democratic National Committee Howard Dean spoke along the same lines.

“Your generation is the first multicultural generation in the history of America, the first generation that sees itself as the way America truly is,” Dean said. “He is you, and you are him, and for the foreseeable future this country is going to be looking for Barack Obamas of every sort.”

Garner, who has read “Dreams from My Father,” said she saw similarities between Obama’s upbringing and George’s. Like Obama, George has black skin, but will grow up in a white family. Garner said her son has developed a kinship for Obama.

“When he was two-and-a-half, he said, ‘I like Barack Obama. He has black skin and so do I.'”

Garner began campaigning for Obama last year, often taking George along. On Tuesday, Garner brought 14 of George’s friends over for an inaugural preschool party. The children mostly played with toys, but the parents brought them in to watch as Obama took the oath of office. Garner said she looks forward to the next four years, when the Obamas will be seen in living rooms across the country.

“I think it’ll give people a chance to see how all families are the same,” she said.

gmoore@record-journal.com
(203) 317-2275


©www.MyRecordJournal.com 2009

Original story here .

 

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