Moving beyond race

January 21, 2009 1:08:05 PM PST
The man started his voice mail by telling me he was one of my "big fans" -- but then he said I had "ticked" him off when, last night, I called Barack Obama "half black, half white, and 100%" focused and energized.

The man insisted that - as we do most of the time - we should call the President "African American."

It's a fascinating issue. His father was a black man from Kenya. His mother, a white woman from Kansas. Unless my math is off, I think that makes him half black, half white.

Clearly, the new President identifies himself as black, although just as clearly he's well aware of his mixed ethnicity. And, in fact, his background has served him well in understanding the gray areas of life and of politics and of social structures and of race. His magnificent "race" speech last spring was born of his half black, half white perspective.

It's a wonderful discussion - how to describe Mr. Obama. Of course, as he's shown and as he apparently believes, what he is - is less important than who he is, and what he does.

I completely understand the pride African Americans feel in this new President. It's a magnificent and historic event, his election and his swearing in.

But we are about truth, and the truth is the Barack Hussein Obama is half-black, half-white. And, dare I say, proud of it. It's not a stretch, as we close the first decade of the 21st century, to say that Obama may be the new symbol of the ultimate American. A true melting pot in one new President.

I hope you had a chance to see the inauguration. It was a remarkable event, no matter who you voted for.

The event was wonderful to cover, especially talking to people who had made the trip from the New York area to the Capitol. There is so much goodwill towards the new President. But there is also, it seems to me, an unrealistic expectation. Many of them. Dozens, actually.

He is just a man, and one man, no matter how smart or driven or focused or hard-working, can't solve every problem. I worry that many of the people I talked to in the streets of Washington yesterday -- caught up in the emotional wave of this historic event -- naively believe that Barack Obama is some kind of Superman.

He doesn't believe that, as witness his speech Tuesday. And no one else should either.

We'll have the latest on Mr. Obama's first full day in office, tonight at 11.

And we'd like to hear from you about this half-black, half-white issue. How to describe someone? Does it matter? Should it?

Please respond by clicking HERE.

We're also in lower Manhattan, where divers have just found and pulled up the missing engine on the U.S. Airways plane that ditched into the Hudson last week.

We'll also have any breaking news of the night, plus Lee Goldberg's AccuWeather forecast, and Scott Clark with the night's sports. I hope you can join Liz Cho and me, tonight at 11.

BILL RITTER


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