- The Washington Times - Friday, April 30, 2010

America’s first black president has deliberately shied away from spurring a national discussion on race, most recently by checking only “African-American” on his U.S. census form without offering a word of explanation about his choice.

The studied silence from the bully pulpit held by President Obama has frustrated multiracial organizations, giving rise to questions about whether the president acted out of political consideration and why the son of a black man from Kenya and a white woman from Kansas would not acknowledge his mother’s heritage.

“It’s frustrating from a point that there’s a lot of multiracial people out there who see Obama doing that, knowing that he is multiracial, and they think that maybe that’s the right choice,” said Ryan Graham, the product of a mixed-race marriage whose mother founded Project Race in 1991 to push for a multiracial classification on the census form.

“But there’s a lot of people saying maybe it’s the wrong choice,” he said.

Mr. Graham urges biracial people who consider checking only the “black” box to “think about your family, think about what makes you you. If you’re half-white, say so.”

The issue emerged early this month when the White House announced that the president had completed and sent in his 2010 census form. Asked what race Mr. Obama checked in answer to Question 9 concerning race, White House spokesman Tommy Vietor said April 1, “Not going to be able to answer this today.”

The next day, the White House offered only one cryptic explanation for the president’s decision — and the press corps left the issue unexamined.

“Can you say what box the president checked on the census form when it came to race?” one reporter asked press secretary Robert Gibbs in the April 2 “gaggle,” an informal briefing that takes place away from TV cameras.

“African-American,” Mr. Gibbs said.

“Did he think about that or —,” the reporter said, breaking off.

“I don’t think so, no, I think he just checked it,” the spokesman said.

Asked this week to elaborate on Mr. Obama’s choice, Mr. Vietor said: “Gibbs’ answer is the final answer.”

Mr. Obama may see little upside to focusing explicitly on questions of his race. While Mr. Obama repeatedly acknowledges civil rights pioneers — of all races — who made his political career successful, race-based controversies such as the sermons of his former Chicago pastor and the arrest of a black Harvard University professor by a white Cambridge police officer have proved massive distractions for Mr. Obama as a candidate and president.

Early in his presidential campaign, candidate Obama said he was questioned by multiracial supporters about his background.

“I self-identify as African-American — that’s how I’m treated, and that’s how I’m viewed. I’m proud of it,” Mr. Obama said at the time.

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