Barack Obama, unlike me, answered the census race question. He says he’s black.
I could have sworn he was biracial utterly transcendent. So, too, could some disappointed people who are biracial or, like Elizabeth Chang at the Washington Post, have biracial children, and would ultimately like to unmask the absurdity of race questions:
I am the mother of biracial children (Asian/Caucasian) and believe that multiracial people need to be accepted and acknowledged — even celebrated. The president’s choice disappoints me, and it seems somewhat disingenuous. Obama, who has also referred to himself as a “mutt,” made a big deal during the 2008 campaign of being able to relate to Hawaiians and Midwesterners, Harvard grads and salespeople, blacks, whites, Latinos, whatever — precisely because of his “unconventional” background and multicultural exposure. On the census, however, he has effectively said that when it counts, he is black.
Michelle Hughes, president of the Chicago Biracial Family Network, told a reporter that she, too, was disappointed. “I think his choice will have political, social and cultural ramifications,” she added.
I agree. I also wonder: Aren’t people supposed to fill out their census forms accurately? Why else are we doing it? If everyone put down on the form how they “identified,” I don’t know what kind of count we’d wind up with, but clearly it would not reflect the racial makeup of the United States. As many have argued, race is an almost useless construct, so that might not matter, except in one very important area: If every biracial person chose one race, as Obama did, or as people had to do before the forms were changed in 2000, the census would portray a society more divided than it actually is. I’m all for tossing the whole racial-classification bit now, but I also know that if we fill out our forms accurately, the numbers will someday do that for us by quantifying the ridiculousness of race. In the meantime, if we aren’t going to get rid of the racial category, we need to do it right.
If you want to get persnickity about things, there’s essentially no such thing as a pure racial strain. I understand most Caucasians have — gasp! — African ancestors discernible in sophisticated genetic analysis. (Is that why I yearn to see the Rift Valley?) I didn’t answer the race question on the census because they had no category labeled “Human.”
A generally-conservative friend who was a big census backer (he works in a semi-public sector) says they would have accepted “American” in the “Other” box. Sorry, but “American” isn’t a race, and I simply don’t want to answer idiotic questions about pigments of the imagination with equally idiotic answers. Words should have meanings.
So score Obama’s census form as a gaff.
Would that Hillary Clinton, as Obama’s Secretary of State, were guilty of a mere gaff.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper of Canada, as host of June’s Group of Eight meeting in Ontario, has been preparing an initiative to reduce maternal mortality in poor nations. At first, his government implied that neither contraception nor abortion would be part of the proposal. Under pressure, Harper’s foreign affairs minister later clarified that the plan “doesn’t deal with abortion” but that “it doesn’t exclude contraception.”
Last month, during a political controversy in Canada on the issue, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke at a news conference in Quebec. “I’ve worked in this area for many years,” she said. “And if we’re talking about maternal health, you cannot have maternal health without reproductive health. And reproductive health includes contraception and family planning and access to legal, safe abortion.”
The Toronto Star described this as a “grenade in the lap of her shell-shocked Canadian hosts.”
(Michael Gerson, Hillary Clinton’s abortion grenade, Washington Post April 29, 2010). Gerson continues:
Clinton’s grenade did damage beyond Canada. Liberals need to understand — however strong their pro-choice convictions — how offensive many conservatives find the global health argument for abortion. It seems like addressing poverty by doing away with the poor; like fighting disease by getting rid of those with diseases. If the Obama administration and global health advocates place abortion rights at the center of their development agenda, they will not only solidify conservative opposition on child and maternal health but will also undermine Republican support for development spending as a whole.
Clinton was allowing ideology to run rampant. Our Secretary of State is letting the “best become the enemy of the good” in world health matters, even by her own lights, and quite apart from the whole transvaluation of values thing that allows her to see killing a infant in utero as a measure to reduce infant mortality or, for that matter, promoting women’s health.