Obama and the Biracial Factor: The Battle for a New American Majority [Andrews Review]

Obama and the Biracial Factor: The Battle for a New American Majority [Andrews Review]

Ethnic and Racial Studies
Volume 36, Issue 5 (May 2013)
pages 918-919
DOI: 10.1080/01419870.2012.758864

Matthew T. M. Andrews
Department of Sociology
University of Michigan

Andrew J. Jolivétte (ed), Obama and the Biracial Factor: The Battle for a New American Majority, Bristol: Policy Press. 2012. v+237 pp. (paper)

In Obama and the Biracial Factor, Andrew JolivĂ©tte edits a collection of essays that critically explore the role of U.S. President Barack Obama’s biracial background not only in his 2008 election and first term in office but also in the context of an increasingly multiracial USA. This volume is part of a multidisciplinary body of scholarship on ‘mixed race’ or multiracialily that has grown exponentially in the USA and the UK over the past two decades. However, it also departs from this scholarship’s tendency to focus exclusively on the topics of identity formation and racial classification on government forms. Instead, utilizing the timely case of President Obama ‘the son of a black man from Kenya and a white woman from Kansas’ the book examines what JolivĂ©tte terms ‘mixed race hegemony’, the assertion that ‘biracial and multiracial individuals and families will lead to the end of a race-conscious and racially-discriminatory society in the United States’ (p. 4). Through various disciplinary lenses, the volume’s authors more or less expound on this concept to imagine a ‘post-racist’ rather than ‘post-racial’ USA.

The book’s first section. ‘The Biracial factor in America’, explores how narratives of ‘mixed race’ have shaped the past and present US race relations. In his chapter. G. Reginald Daniel situates Obama’s 2008 election within Daniel’s body of influential work on multiracial identity and considers the egalitarian possibilities of a ‘critical multiraciality’, which emphasizes cross-racial, coalition building and shared ancestral and cultural connections. Next, in ‘A Patchwork Heritage’, Justin Ponder offers an insightful close reading of Obama’s autobiography Dreams from My Father and argues that its rhetorical appeal lies less in Obama’s “accurate* portrayal of himself as African American than in his indeterminate citation of others, especially his white mother, complicating easy representations of his racial identity. Finally. Darryl BarthĂ©,  Jr. charts the historical origins of ‘whiteness’ and ‘blackness’ in the USA to challenge the ‘racial revisionism’ in debates surrounding President Obama’s black identity.

The volume’s second section. “Beyond Black and While Identity Polities’, considers the gendered, global and cultural implications of President Obama’s biraciality beyond black white racial politics. Wei Ming Dairiotis and Grace Yoo draw on a nation-wide survey of ‘Obama Mamas’ or mothers who supported Obama’s 2008 campaign and show how many perceived him as a potential ‘bridge builder’ that could provide a more peaceful future for their children. In her perceptive chapter. ‘Is “No One as Irish as Barack O’Bama?”‘, Rebecca Chiyoko King-O’Riain contends that Ireland’s embrace of Obama’s Irish heritage illustrates an unprecedented decoupling of ancestry and phenotype in contemporary racial thinking. This section also includes an additional essay by Dariotis. in which she extends her notion of ‘mixed race kin aesthetic’ to explain Obama’s global appeal, and a chapter by Zebulon Vance Miletsky. who uses Obama’s ‘mutt like me’ comment as an entry point into a historically informed analysis of questions around his ‘racial authenticity’.

The book’s final section, ‘The Battle for the New American Majority’, addresses existing challenges for President Obama and Americans more generally in realizing a truly diverse American majority. In his essay, Robert Keith Collins employs person-centred ethnography to critique monolithic conceptions of ‘blackness’ that undergird debates around Obama’s…

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