‘Obama’s My Dad’: Mixed Race Suspects, Political Anxiety and the New Imperialism

‘Obama’s My Dad’: Mixed Race Suspects, Political Anxiety and the New Imperialism

thirdspace: a journal of feminist theory & culture
Volume 10, Number 1 (2011)

Rachel Gorman, Lecturer
Women and Gender Studies Institute
University of Toronto

In this article I will argue that the ideology of white supremacy is currently being reproduced as an ideology of political supremacy. I explore narratives of Obama and my father, and bring a transnational feminist framework to an examination of ontological and cultural ideologies of mixed race identity.

All my life I have encountered suspicion about my race. As a child in a working class neighbourhood of Toronto, Canada in the 1970s, my mixed race identity seemed to be an ontological threat to my European immigrant and white settler neighbours, and my ‘Mediterranean’ appearance rendered me unintelligible in relation to Blackness As a pre-teen transplanted to Muscat, Oman in the 1980s, I was intelligible as Arab, which, given Oman’s historical and geographical proximity to Eastern Africa, did not preclude African ancestry. While I was unremarkable at the national school, I was questioned by British ‘expats’ when I circulated in the international neighbourhood, despite (or perhaps because of) the presence of several mixed families. Back in Toronto during the aggressive intensification of war and occupation in the Middle East in the 2000s, my racial ambiguity has become suspicious in new ways. I am dating this shift from September 2000, the beginning of the second Intifada, not September 2001, when the New American Century went prime time. Much happened between the two Septembers–mass protests at the summit on the proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas at Québec City in April 2001; the World Conference Against Racism in Durban, South Africa in August 2001. In the weeks following Durban, the global struggle to maintain white supremacy was recast as the will to reestablish American political supremacy. It was also during this time that, as an antiwar and anti-occupation organizer, my racial ambiguity was reconstituted through suspicions over whether I harbour dangerous worldviews…

…A phenomenology of race is useful to continue to dispel the illusions of white supremacists who argue that Obama’s presidency means we are living in a post-racist world. Indeed, there are many questions to be asked about how mixed race people are emerging as tropes of the triumph of a liberal brand of diversity—as Kimberley DaCosta argues, the identity ‘multiracial’ emerged in the US context in part through a struggle over racial categories on government forms, and in part through niche market recognition. In order to resist the tendency to analytically collapse antiracism into advocacy for market inclusion, we need a phenomenology of race that allows us to grasp both ontology and culture in relation to political consciousness…

Read the entire article here.

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