Obama retells his tale of being “mixed” in order to reveal the everyday struggle that biracial people undergo, arguing that society causes this internal conflict. Obama opens up the fourth chapter of his book by discussing his relationship with his African American friend Ray, who has a strong distaste for White people. Throughout his conversation with Ray, Obama plays the Devil’s Advocate not to support or strengthen Ray’s arguments, but out of a genuine understanding of how some White people develop frustration with a certain type of African American people. After Ray complains about how his basketball coach was not giving him adequate time to play in games, Obama states, “’As for your greasy-mouthed self, I’m saying the coaches may not like you ‘cause you’re a smart-assed black man, but it might help if you
stopped eating all them fries you eat, making you look six months pregnant’” (Obama 74). In response, Ray exclaims, “’Man, I don’t know why you making excuses for these folks….Let’s get out of here. Your shit’s getting way too complicated for me”’ (74). This heated conversation illustrates the price Obama has to pay for being biracial. He is not fully accepted by the African American race—as depicted through Ray’s treatment of him—because he’s “too complicated,” too White.
On the other hand, White people do not fully accept him either: his White basketball coach, in response to losing a game against a team of African Americans, said, “’there are black people, and there are n*ggers. Those guys were n*ggers” (80). Obama took personal offense to this because he identifies with being an African American; it is unacceptable to him to have prejudice against a race and not accept the consequences for that prejudice. Moreover, throughout this excerpt, Obama argues that being both African American and Caucasian is intolerable by the American society. One cannot feel comfortable being biracial because he is either too much of one culture or not enough of the other. At the end of his recount, he admits, “[I] knew for the first time that I was utterly alone” (91). Having such a powerful political figure tell his story of the pain he daily suffers for being biracial allows the biracial/multiracial community to identify with the struggle and understand that is good to stand up against the discrimination it faces. However, the fact that Obama even wrote this book says something about how detrimental this issue is to an individual. Thus, it is vital that people recognize the severity of the internal conflict of being biracial. While many multiracial people may not feel the effects as strongly as others, the fact remains that society, in general, does have a hard time understanding how to categorize a person who is not fully one race or the other.
My personal experience with being multiracial supports the argument that prejudice and discrimination is strongly prevalent in the biracial/multiracial community. I am a ballet folklorico dancer here at UCLA. Ballet folklorico is a type of dance that focuses on preserving the Mexican heritage by dancing traditional Mexican dances. While preparing for one of my performances in the women’s restroom, a salsa dancer blatantly asked me, “Are you even Mexican?” I laughed it off and explained to her that I am both White and Mexican and that my great grandparents were from el Distrito Federal—Mexico City.
She was like, “Oh that explains why you’re so light.” Even though I handled the situation tactfully, I could not help but be internally offended by her comment: “Are you even Mexican?” To this dancer, being “Mexican” meant being dark and fitting a certain stereotype about the race. I was bewildered by the fact that she asked such a question of a complete stranger and that she felt so comfortable to ask the way that she did. Simultaneously, one of my African American friends once pointed out to me, “But why do you even claim that you’re Hispanic when you are 75% White?!? That does not make sense to me.”
I felt conflicted—why does society require that I claim that I’m either all White or all Mexican? Genetically, I am both! Culturally, I preserve my Mexican heritage the most by dancing the traditional dances and speaking the language, but I equally discover my European roots by researching and learning different things about my background. It may seem to be a trivial concern or struggle; it’s not like I’m experiencing explicit discrimination. However, it is much more complex than that: I am not accepted for who I am, at least not by general society. Point being, multiracial people do in fact experience prejudice, and this fact needs to be altered.
In conclusion, Barack Obama’s personal experience with being biracial as well as my own story suggest that there is a “biracial issue” in this nation. Even though we are “the land of the free,” many people in the United States still do not approve of interracial relationships or accept the offspring of such a situation. I argue that biracial/multiracial people face an internal struggle to fit into a society that does not accept them for who they are.
Therefore, by bringing awareness to this issue, I hope that people reading this essay ponder how they treat biracial people. Whether positive or negative, this treatment reflects modern society’s judgment of mankind, of a type of the human race. Let’s strive to appreciate people in spite of racial background, for that will lead to much more positive environments than those established through discrimination.