- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 30, 2008

Sen. Barack Obama’s recent speech on race was another earnest attempt at casting his presidential candidacy as postracial. However, Mr. Obama’s political opposition is fighting back, by trying to prevent him from identifying himself with anything beyond a narrow, racially identifiable, group base. Thankfully, most Democrats have not bought this, and still view Obama as a way to ‘turn the page’ on race relations in America. Mr. Obama has become a symbol for our country’s increasingly multicultural demographics.

We must remember that Mr. Obama is the child of an Anglo-American mother and a Kenyan father. He was raised in Hawaii, a state containing large Asian, Japanese, Filipino and Native Hawaiian populations. Given his diverse heritage, Mr. Obama’s background is well suited to helping resolve American ethnic divides.

Unfortunately, political opposition to Mr. Obama is relentless in its efforts to racially profile him - the latest example of this being the well-publicized effort to link Mr. Obama to the Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s racially demonizing sermons. Despite the candidate’s efforts to distance himself from narrow racialism, Mr. Obama’s opponents are unwilling to cut Mr. Obama the kind of slack they gave previously to President Bush. Mr. Bush, for example, courted students at Bob Jones University in South Carolina. This university engaged in so-called anti-miscegenation practices which banned dating between whites and blacks as late as the year 2000.

Mr. Obama’s problem illustrates the challenge confronting minority candidates. That is, voters demand assimilation from a minority candidate, while simultaneously adopting hypocritical strategies that prevent his assimilation.

This duplicitous strategy was demonstrated on a macro scale by the former segregation laws, which targeted African Americans, as well as the establishment of a reservations system for Native Americans. These policies banned the integration of minority groups while simultaneously demanding assimilation from their individual members. They created a level of political injustice and economic inequality, which continue to plague these groups to the present day.

It also raises the question of why we demand assimilation from minority groups. Many scholars distinguish assimilation from integration. Integration permits minorities to maintain some characteristics of their ethnic heritage, such as language and religion, even while they are expected to adopt American cultural traits as their own. Assimilation, by contrast, requires that minority ethnic characteristics be “melted” away as part of the process of entering the American “melting pot.”

Hillary and Bill Clinton’s campaign tactics against Mr. Obama are shameful when placed in the context of American racial history. They attempt to pinpoint Mr. Obama’s Kenyan-African heritage as the principal reason for his success. Geraldine Ferraro’s statements are just the latest example of their strategy of trying to transform Mr. Obama into a parochial, Afrocentric candidate.

Other messages from Mrs. Clinton and her surrogates (including Bill) link Mr. Obama with drug dealing, with Louis Farrakhan’s Nation of Islam and Muslims generally, and with the Rev. Jesse Jackson’s several former campaigns. One Clinton surrogate, New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, racially slandered Mr. Obama for using “shuck and jive,” which is a hate-speech term used to portray blacks as deceptive.

At the end of the day, Mr. Obama continues his effort to transcend racial profiling even as his political opponents continue their efforts to marginalize him. It is difficult to comprehend why Mr. Clinton, once described as “the first black president,” could engage in such tactics.

Mr. Obama’s opponents have retreated to strategies historically used by segregationists, including race-baiting, in an effort to disenfranchise black Americans. We can only hope that Democratic voters of all backgrounds will continue their rejection of such perfidy when they go to the polls in the remaining primary contests.

William K. Barth, who recently earned a doctorate in philosophy from the University of Oxford, is publisher of thebarthreport.com.

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