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OBAMA AND THE ARITHMETIC OF RACIAL AUTHENTICITY

by Hugh Hamilton

It used to be that whenever I was invited to participate in celebrations marking Black History Month, everyone was presumed to know what black meant, whose history we were talking about, and who gets to stake a claim to that narrative.

Then along came Barack Obama, and suddenly, it seems that everything we thought we knew no longer seems so certain.

Even before Obama officially announced his campaign for President of the United States, Daily News commentator Stanley Crouch fired the opening shot across the bow in a column titled, “What Obama Isn’t: Black Like Me.”

“When black Americans refer to Obama as ‘one of us’ I don’t know what they are talking about,” Crouch wrote. “In his new book, The Audacity of Hope, Obama makes it clear that while he has experienced some light versions of typical racial stereotypes, he cannot claim those problems as his own. Nor has he lived the life of a black American. … if he throws his hat into the ring, he will have to run as the son of a white woman and an African immigrant. [And] if we then end up with him as our first black President, he will have come into the White House through a side door, which might, at this point, be the only one that’s open.”

Debra Dickerson, another noteworthy columnist and author of the book, The End of Blackness, weighed in shortly thereafter.

“Black, in our political and social reality, means those descended from West African slaves,” Dickerson wrote. “To say Obama isn’t black is merely to say that, by virtue of his white American mom and his Kenyan dad, he is an American of African immigrant extraction…Lumping us all together erases the significance of slavery and continuing racism while giving the appearance of progress.”
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Reframing the Immigration Discourse for a New American Century

by Hugh Hamilton
4th Annual Immigration Forum
Dominican College, Orangeburg, NY
Friday, March 14, 2008

Twenty years ago this month, I presented my credentials, in a sealed brown envelope, to the immigration officer on duty at Kennedy International Airport. And after a brief interview, I was formally admitted into the United States as a lawful permanent resident.
That sealed brown envelope contained a portfolio of documents, declarations and affidavits, including medical records, a chest X-ray and two complete sets of fingerprints, authenticated by the American Consulate in Georgetown, and attesting to the following facts:

1. that I did not have tuberculosis or any other respiratory disease or condition;
2.  that I was not HIV positive;
3.  that I had been screened, and tested negative, for an assortment of sexually transmitted diseases, including but not limited to Syphilis, Gonorrhea and Chlamydia;
4.  that I was not then, nor had I ever been a member of the Communist Party;
5.  that I had never advocated the violent overthrow of the government by force;
6.  that I had never been convicted of a crime;
7.  that I was not the target of any investigation by the FBI;
8.  that I had had a valid and written offer of employment; and
9.  that my sponsor was currently employed and earning income sufficient to ensure   that I would not become a public charge at any time during the next five years.

As anyone who has endured the deeply invasive and often undignified probings and inquisitions of the immigration process will tell you, it is not an experience for the faint hearted. But we submit ourselves and our families to that process of our own free will, believing it to be a legitimate exercise of necessary caution by the American government, and a price well worth the benefits of eventual admission to the United States. And for the most part, we do not complain.

So why am I talking about it now?
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