Mutt, Monster or Melting-Pot? Mixed-Race Metaphor and Obama’s Ambivalent Hybridity

Posted in Articles, Barack Obama, Communications/Media Studies, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive on 2015-01-28 20:12Z by Steven

Mutt, Monster or Melting-Pot? Mixed-Race Metaphor and Obama’s Ambivalent Hybridity

Ada: A Journal of Gender New Media & Technology
Issue #6: Hacking the Black/White Binary (January 2015)

Nathan Rambukkana, Assistant Professor of Communication Studies
Wilfrid Laurier University, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada

‘ObamaNation raped & killed 1,000 Christians’

Kenyan citizen Hussein Obama spent $1-million in US campaign funds to massacre 1,000 Christians in British Kenya, after his Communist cousin lost the presidential election. 800 Christian churches were arsoned [sic], with dozens of people cooked alive. Men and women were raped by Obama supporters. To stop the violence, the Kenyan government was extorted by Obama to make his cousin ‘prime minister’, a job that did not exist.

—Anonymous,, October 25, 2008

‘Obama’s Brother in China’

If elected, Obama would be the first genuinely 21st-century leader. The China-Indonesia-Kenya-Britain-Hawaii web mirrors a world in flux. In Kenya, his uncle Sayid, a Muslim, told me: ‘My Islam is a hybrid, a mix of elements, including my Christian schooling and even some African ways. Many values have dissolved in me.’

Obama’s bridge-building instincts come from somewhere. They are rooted and proven. For an expectant and often alienated world, they are of central significance.

Roger Cohen, New York Times, March 17, 2008 [1]

The above two textual excerpts from the period between February 10, 2007 when Obama announced he was running for the Democratic nomination, and November 4, 2008 when he was elected president, are metonymic of the polar opposite ways Barack Obama’s particular hybrid identity is framed and reflected on in the digital public sphere. While the sources are divergent in terms of scope and reach—a mainstream newspaper site and an underground website—the black and white binary of the way they articulate hybridity marks them as part of the same discursive process: one of skinning (Ahmed and Stacey 2001) a powerful and prominent mixed-race subject. This short paper collects some of these varied but linked representations, using a broadly Foucauldian genealogical discourse analysis (Foucault 1980), working together academic and popular discourses and analyzing them in tandem; mixing theory, memory, reflection, and discovery into an archeology of the present cultural moment that pries open the layers of meaning inherent to culture itself.[2] This flexible method allows us to investigate what these prominent representations of mixed-race and hybrid identities do, situated as they are in such a prominent position: attached to a figure as he contended for and then assumed the most privileged seat of power in the US — arguably even world — context.

Drawing on Sara Ahmed and Jackie Stacey’s (2001) concept of dermographia, or skin writing, this paper attempts to read the ways that Obama’s skin, as text, is an effect of the various and overlapping ways it is ‘surfaced’ in discourse. At once a real and material organ that wraps and envelops what is currently the world’s most protected of bodies,[3] Obama’s skin is also ‘dependent on regimes of writing that mark the skin in different ways or that produce the skin as marked’ (Ahmed and Stacey 2001, 15). As such, the skin of the ‘leader of the free world’ is at once a private and storied flesh, and a public text that emerges in the intertextual dermographia of its multiform figurings. In fact, writing may even be thought of as a form of skin (Ahmed and Stacy 2001, 15), a second skin that acts as discursive layer between ourselves and the world. The skins of hybrids of multiple sorts are ones that are ambiguously written or written upon: fetishized and demonized, worked on and managed from without and within, hybrids are by nature and nurture hacks of the binaries they straddle, and inherently political as such—though not always through a progressive politics. Many times a hybrid figure, Obama’s body is fetishized, demonized and detailed across the political spectrum both as signifying object and as symbol of multiple politics.

Much has been said about Barack Obama’s body. Even preceding his presidency, Obama was often discussed in a metaphorical manner in the public sphere. Born in Hawai’i to a white mother of mostly English decent, and a Black Kenyan father; raised for a time in Indonesia, and with an Indonesian step-father; and a late-in-life Christian from a family tree containing both Christian and Muslim roots (“Barrack” 2014), his mixed-race, mixed-ethnicity and mixed-religious heritage position him as a hybrid figure par excellence. Coverage on Obama collects the full range of charged metaphor and imagery that prehends to hybridity generally and multiraciality specifically: that of the monstrous chimera, insidious half-breed, or untrustworthy mongrel on the one hand, and of the global-citizen, multiculturalism, bridge, and melting-pot America on the other. But this dense layering of tropes cannot be divided into ‘good’ hybridity metaphor and ‘bad’, for in addition to the strong links between the negative tropes, structural racism and Islamaphobia, the positive tropes that attach to hybridity generally, and modern mixed-race identities specifically, are also discursively implicated with other problematic ideologies such as top-down globalization (Kraidy 2005, 148), the facile ideals of a non-critical post-racial or race-blind society (Sharma and Sharma 2012), and even colonial narratives such as ‘the American Dream’ (Berlant 1997). Accordingly, both the positive and the negative tropes used to mark his hybridity are fraught with intertextual meaning, legacies of power, and politics of privilege…

Read the entire article here.

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Mixed Kids Roundtable: The Politics of Multiracialism and Identity

Posted in Audio, Barack Obama, Communications/Media Studies, Interviews, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Politics/Public Policy, Social Science, United States on 2015-01-28 02:39Z by Steven

Mixed Kids Roundtable: The Politics of Multiracialism and Identity

iMiXWHATiLiKE!: Emancipatory Journalism and Broadcasting

Jared Ball, Host and Associate Professor of Communication Studies
Morgan State University, Baltimore, Maryland

We were joined in this edition of iMiXWHATiLiKE! by a roundtable of panelists for a discussion of the politics of multiracialism and identity. Our guests included: Dr. Ralina Joseph, associate professor in UW’s Department of Communication and adjunct associate professor in the Departments of American Ethnic Studies and Gender, Women, and Sexuality Studies, Her first book, Transcending Blackness: From the New Millennium Mulatta to the Exceptional Multiracial (Duke University Press, 2012), critiques anti-Black racism in mixed-race African American representations in the decade leading up to Obama’s 2008 election; Dr. Darwin Fishman, Adjunct Professor at San Diego City College; and Ms. Lisa Fager, Professional agitator, Free Mind. Co-founder Industry Ears. Social market-er. HIV/AIDS Advocate. Indy Voter. Hip Hop. Black. White. Spook Who Sat By the Door. We talked about the film Dear White People and more generally about the history of multiracial identities and the politics of popular culture representation of those identities, and bunch more!

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On race, Obama sticks to a game plan of seeking steady progress within the system

Posted in Articles, Barack Obama, Economics, Law, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy, United States on 2015-01-20 03:06Z by Steven

On race, Obama sticks to a game plan of seeking steady progress within the system

The Washington Post

Steven Mufson, White House correspondent, financial staff writer

During racially tense moments that have beset the nation recently, many Americans have longed for President Obama to display some of the passion and soaring rhetoric that made the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., who would have turned 86 last week, a civil rights legend.

But the messages of restraint Obama has given in response to outcry over police violence are the same ones he has been dispensing for 20 to 30 years, echoes of thoughts he has had ever since he was a young community organizer in Chicago. His central tenets: Don’t give in to anger and violence; work to improve, not destroy, the legal system; and accept that change will come and things are getting better, albeit more slowly than many would like.

Though Obama’s views have evolved on issues such as gay marriage and national security during his six years in office, his views on race have remained remarkably consistent, and recent events appear to have affirmed rather than altered those views.

The president is likely to touch on race again Tuesday in his State of the Union address, and if so, he will probably acknowledge that on race, as on the economy, a “resurgent America” has made great progress but still requires greater inclusiveness.

Rather than making pressing demands for economic justice like those that defined King’s crusade, Obama will make a pitch for a tax package that will aid lower- and middle-class households and serve as modest tools for economic advancement for both whites and blacks…

Read the entire article here.


Hawaii As ‘Racial Paradise’? Bid For Obama Library Invokes A Complex Past

Posted in Articles, Barack Obama, History, Media Archive, United States on 2015-01-16 01:47Z by Steven

Hawaii As ‘Racial Paradise’? Bid For Obama Library Invokes A Complex Past

Code Switch: Frontiers of Race, Culture and Ethnicity
National Public Radio

Ellen Wu, Associate Professor of History
Indiana University

Sometime in March, President Obama is expected to announce his choice of the institution that will hold his presidential archive. Vying for the honor (and the money that comes with it) are the University of Chicago, the University of Illinois at Chicago, Columbia University in New York, and the University of Hawai’i (the Hawaiian language spelling of the state’s name). So heated has the competition been that some have called it the “next big presidential race before the 2016 presidential race.”

The front-runner status of both Windy City schools is now in question. The University of Chicago may lack exclusive ownership rights to the proposed sites, while the University of Illinois anticipates future leadership changes.

Yet media reports still cast Hawaii as the underdog. Its fundraising capabilities are out-muscled by the others. Its location is too remote by mainland standards.

But don’t be surprised if Hawaii comes out on top, because the island has a compelling advantage: It’s the one place in the U.S. that has long been imagined as a “racial paradise.”

Liberal white missionaries and sociologists invented this fiction in the early 20th century to convince the nation that Hawaii’s significant Asian population was capable of assimilating harmoniously into American life. Asian laborers were the backbone of the islands’ industrial sugar plantation workforce. By 1945, Life pronounced Hawaii “the world’s most successful experiment in mixed breeding … unmatched … for interracial tolerance and affection.” Today, the “Aloha State” is widely celebrated as the most racially and ethnically diverse in the country, where hapas and multiracial families are the norm. The Root recently named Hawaii one of “The Five Best States for Black People.”…

Read the entire article here.

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53 Historians Weigh In on Barack Obama’s Legacy

Posted in Articles, Barack Obama, History, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy, United States on 2015-01-15 15:34Z by Steven

53 Historians Weigh In on Barack Obama’s Legacy

New York

“It’s a fool’s errand you’re involved in,” warned Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Gordon Wood when approached recently by this magazine to predict Barack Obama’s historical legacy. “We live in a fog, and historians decades from now will tell their society what was happening in 2014. But we don’t know the future. No one in 1952, for example, could have predicted the reputation of Truman a half-century or so later.”

Wood is right, of course. Historians are experts on the past, not the future. But sometimes the wide-angle perspective they inhabit can be useful in understanding the present. And so, on the eve of Obama’s penultimate State of the Union address, we invited a broad range of historians — academic and popular — to play a game.

Over the past few weeks, New York asked more than 50 historians to respond to a broad questionnaire about how Obama and his administration will be viewed 20 years from now. After the day-to-day crises and flare-ups and legislative brinkmanship are forgotten, what will we remember? What, and who, will have mattered most? What small piece of legislation (or executive inaction) will be seen by future generations as more consequential than today’s dominant news stories? What did Obama miss about America? What did we (what will we) miss about him?

Almost every respondent wrote that the fact of his being the first black president will loom large in the historical narrative — though they disagreed in interesting ways. Many predict that what will last is the symbolism of a nonwhite First Family; others, the antagonism Obama’s blackness provoked; still others, the way his racial self-consciousness constrained him. A few suggested that we will care a great deal less about his race generations from now — just as John F. Kennedy’s Catholicism hardly matters to current students of history. Across the board, Obamacare was recognized as a historic triumph (though one historian predicted that, with its market exchanges, it may in retrospect be seen as illiberal and mark the beginning of the privatization of public health care). A surprising number of respondents argued that his rescue of the economy will be judged more significant than is presently acknowledged, however lackluster the recovery has felt. There was more attention paid to China than isis (Obama’s foreign policy received the most divergent assessments), and considerable credit was given to the absence of a major war or terrorist attack, along with a more negative assessment of its price — the expansion of the security state, drones and all. The contributors tilted liberal — that’s academia, no surprise — but we made an effort to create at least a little balance with conservative historians. Their responses often echoed those from the far left: that a president elected on a promise to unite the country instead extended the power of his office in alarming, unprecedented ways. Here, we have published a small fraction of the answers we found most thought-provoking, along with essays by Jonathan Chait, our national-affairs columnist, and Christopher Caldwell, whom we borrowed from The Weekly Standard. A full version of all the historians’ answers can be found here

Read the entire introduction here.


Praise Song for the Day: A Poem for Barack Obama’s Presidential Inauguration

Posted in Barack Obama, Books, Media Archive, Poetry, United States on 2015-01-14 21:04Z by Steven

Praise Song for the Day: A Poem for Barack Obama’s Presidential Inauguration

Graywolf Press
28 pages
Trim Size: 4 5/8 x 6 1/2
ISBN: 978-1-55597-545-6

Elizabeth Alexander

Available in an elegant chapbook, Elizabeth Alexander’s historic poem, read at the 2009 inauguration of President Barack Obama

On January 20, 2009, Elizabeth Alexander served as the fourth-ever inaugural poet and a central participant in one of the most closely watched inaugurations in American history. Selected by Barack Obama, Alexander composed and delivered her original poem “Praise Song for the Day” to an audience of millions, and now the poem can be read and savored for posterity. Printed on heavy, uncoated stock and bound with French flaps and a silver foil stamp, this collectible chapbook is a cherished reminder of this monumental presidential event.

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The Police, Immigration and the Racial Divide

Posted in Articles, Barack Obama, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy, United States on 2015-01-08 11:44Z by Steven

The Police, Immigration and the Racial Divide

U.S. News & World Report

Brad Bannon, President
Bannon Communications Research

Polls on the police treatment of minorities and public approval of Obamacare reflect the ongoing racial split in this country.

Sadly, everything old is new again in race relations in America. Tuesday the headquarters of the Colorado Springs NAACP was bombed. The new movie “Selma” dramatizes the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s. Police are killing unarmed black Americans. The mayor of New York City, Bill de Blasio is at war with his own police officers because he advised his mixed-race son to be wary of them. The majority whip in the House of Representatives, Steve Scalise, a Louisiana Republican, is under fire for speaking at a meeting of a supremacist group associated with [former] Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke.

Race never pops up on the radar as a priority in national polls. But racial attitudes add to the polarization of American politics because people use those beliefs to define themselves ideologically. If you ask people why they consider themselves conservatives, they often complain about government handouts to undeserving people. People won’t admit to racism, but you don’t have to probe very deeply to figure out that “welfare cheats” is code for blacks. And when I have discussed Obamacare with people in focus groups, a big concern has been a belief that undocumented Latino immigrants would be eligible for the benefits…

…Why are racial tensions so persistent in a nation that has elected and re-elected a black president? The answer is that demography is destiny. The fabric of American society is changing and some people are fighting a doomed rearguard action to stop the inevitable…

Read the entire article here.

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CNN’s Candy Crowley interviews President Barack Obama

Posted in Articles, Barack Obama, Interviews, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy, United States, Videos on 2014-12-23 02:28Z by Steven

CNN’s Candy Crowley interviews President Barack Obama

Cable News Network (CNN)

For his last interview of the year, President Obama sat down, exclusively, with CNN’s Candy Crowley to discuss North Korea’s cyber-attack on Sony Pictures, normalizing relations with Cuba, Russia, Iran, race relations in America and Guantanamo Bay.

The interview aired Sunday, December 21st, on CNN at 09:00 and 12:00 EST

Text highlights and a transcript of the discussion are below…

CROWLEY: …And I thought, you know, do you think that you look at race matters somewhat differently because, yes, you’re the first African-American president, but your mother was white.

OBAMA: Right.

CROWLEY: You were raised by your mother and your white grandparents.


CROWLEY: Does that give you a different perspective, do you think?

OBAMA: I think it probably does. I – you know, I wrote a whole book about this. And, uh, there’s no doubt that, you know, I move back and forth between the racial divides, not just black-white, but Asian and Latino and, you know, I’ve got a lot of cultural influences.

I – I think what it does do for me is to recognize that most Americans have good intentions. I said a little bit about this in the press conference earlier today.

I assume the best rather than the worst in others. But it also makes me mindful of the fact that there’s misunderstanding, there’s mistrust and there are biases both overt and sometimes hidden that operate in ways that disadvantage minority communities.

And that’s a carryover. There’s a long legacy in this country that has gotten enormously better, but is still there. And when you look at what’s happened in law enforcement across the country over the last several years, um, that’s not news to African-Americans. What’s different is simply that some of it’s now videotaped and people see it.

And the question then becomes, you know, what practical steps can we take to solve this problem?

And I believe that the overwhelming majority of white Americans, as well as African-Americans, want to see this problem solved.

So I have confidence that by surfacing these issues, we’re going to be able to make progress on them…

Read the entire interview transcript here.

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‘I move back and forth between the racial divides': President Obama opens up on his mixed-race background and says it helps him recognize that most Americans have good intentions

Posted in Articles, Barack Obama, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy, United States on 2014-12-22 16:31Z by Steven

‘I move back and forth between the racial divides': President Obama opens up on his mixed-race background and says it helps him recognize that most Americans have good intentions

The Daily Mail
London, United Kingdom

Francesca Chambers, Political Reporter

  • ‘There’s no doubt that…I move back and forth between the racial divides,’ Obama told CNN host Candy Crowley. ‘I’ve got a lot of cultural influences’
  • Obama’s discussion with Crowley, taped on Friday, took a step further reflections he shared with reporters earlier that day at his year-end presser
  • The president argued ‘people are basically good and have good intentions’ and ‘the vast majority of people are just trying to do the right thing’
  • ‘If critics want to suggest that America is inherently and irreducibly racist, then why bother even working on it?’ he told Crowley

President Barack Obama is crediting his racial make up and exposure at a young age to an array of demographic groups with his ability to see the good in people.

‘There’s no doubt that…I move back and forth between the racial divides,’ Obama told CNN host Candy Crowley during a one-on-one interview that aired this morning on the news network.

‘Not just black-white, but Asian and Latino and, you know, I’ve got a lot of cultural influences,’ he added. ‘I think what it does do for me is to recognize that most Americans have good intentions.’

As he writes about in detail in his memoir, Dreams from My Father, Obama was born to a white woman from Kansas and black man from Kenya. The couple met while studying at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa.

The young couple separated after days after Barack Obama was born and formally divorced a few years later. Obama’s mother soon remarried and she and her son moved to her husband’s home country of Indonesia.

Four years later Obama returned to Hawaii to live with his maternal grandparents and to finish his schooling. His mother and sister eventually relocated to Hawaii for several years, as well, before moving back to Indonesia again, but Obama remained in Hawaii with his mother’s parents.

After graduating high school Obama moved to the contiguous United States, where he has lived ever since with his wife Michelle, whom he met while in law school, and their two children, Sasha, and Malia.

Obama’s discussion with Crowley about his personal history, taped on Friday, took a step further the life reflections the first mixed-race president first shared with reporters at his year-end press conference earlier that day.

The president had argued that ‘people are basically good and have good intentions,’ even though ‘sometimes our institutions and our systems don’t work as well as they should…

Read the entire article here. Read the CNN transcript here.

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Vincent van Gogh and Barack Obama in a poem by Derek Walcott

Posted in Articles, Barack Obama, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive on 2014-12-21 22:44Z by Steven

Vincent van Gogh and Barack Obama in a poem by Derek Walcott

Literature & Aesthetics
Volume 20, Number 2 (December 2010)
pages 181-192

Thijs Weststeijn
Department of Art, Religion, and Cultural Sciences
University of Amsterdam

Remember Vincent, saint
of all sunstroke…!
The sun explodes into irises,
the shadows are crossing like crows,
they settle, clawing the hair,
yellow is screaming.
Dear Theo, I shall go mad.

Jean-François Millet – The Gleaners (1857)

Speaking here is a young Antillean artist, in a poem by Derek Walcott (1930), a writer from the island of Saint Lucia. The wish to identify with Van Gogh is a theme from Walcott’s own past: originally he wanted to be a painter. Together with a friend he decided to depict every corner of their windswept island. This ambition explains why Walcott’s vision of poetry is so often characterized as “painterly.” He calls his writings “frescoes of the New World,” and declares: “I still smell linseed oil in the wild views / Of villages and the tang of turpentine… Salt wind encouraged us, and the surf’s white noise.”

Walcott’s artistic role models were the nineteenth-century masters. Recently he dedicated an epic poem, Tiepolo’s Hound (2000), to the impressionist Camille Pissarro. The hybrid origins of Pissarro, born in the Danish colony on the Leeward Island of Saint Thomas, son of a mother from the Dominican Republic and a Portuguese-Jewish father, meant he connected well with Walcott’s work. Here the Antillean melting pot of different cultures is an important theme. Before this, Gauguin had already been one of the poet’s heroes: his journey to Martinique supposedly turned him into a “Creole painter.” Moreover, Walcott was strongly attracted to social themes. He describes the continued impression made by a reproduction of Millet’s The Gleaners in his childhood home.

So it should come as no surprise that, in his younger years in particular, Walcott was inspired by Vincent van Gogh. The Dutch master played a role in Walcott’s descriptions of sun-drenched landscapes: he sought after a creative intoxication “as Van Gogh’s shadow rippling on a cornfield.” In this way Walcott’s poetry opens an Antillean perspective on the shadow of Van Gogh and how it shifts over issues of birth ground and origins.

Although Walcott’s more recent poems have paid less attention to Van Gogh, a political revolution returned him to the love of his younger years: the election of Barack Obama as president of the United States. This event confronted him once more with themes such as racial and national identity which had already played a major role in his early work. Walcott wrote some lines in response to the election results. Here, he uses Van Gogh’s imagery to give poetic form to the history and future expectations of black people in the New World.

Walcott’s poem, which features both Van Gogh and Obama, combines artistic imagination with historical and social themes and political reality. This means it can be interpreted in a number of ways. The following interpretation takes a specific viewpoint, namely that from the person the poem is dedicated to: the 44th American president. After all, Obama himself has written extensively about the themes that determined the course of his life. The president and the poet have each at some time labeled themselves as “mongrel,” referring to their mixed European-African origins. As it will become clear, they agree on yet more things, such as their idea that poetical imagery can improve the world.

Shortly after the elections in November 2008, Obama was photographed carrying a book under his arm: Walcott’s collected works. What was the significance of this photograph?…

Read the entire article here.

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