I ceased to advertise my mother’s race at the age of 12 or 13, when I began to suspect that by doing so I was ingratiating myself to whites.
There was something about him that made me wary, a little too sure of himself, maybe, And white – he’d said himself that was a problem.
It remained necessary to prove which side you were on, to show your loyalty to the black masses, to strike our and name names. [Obama is wrestling with his identity while a college student.]
Yes, I’d seen weakness in other men— Gramps and his disappointments, Lolo and his compromise. But these men had become object lessons for me, men I might love but never emulate, white men and brown men whose fates didn’t speak to my own. It was into my father’s image, the black man, son of Africa, that I’d packed all the attributes I sought in myself, the attributes of Martin and Malcolm, DuBois and Mandela. [Dubois was a ruthless dictator in the Caribbean and Malcolm was a racist, assassinated by someone of his own race — email quote was incomplete and out of context] Mandela and Martin would seem to be the best icon for anyone to emulate.
Of course, not all my conversations in immigrant communities follow this easy pattern. In the wake of 9/11, my meetings with Arab and Pakistani Americans, for example, have a more urgent quality, for the stories of detentions and FBI questioning and hard stares from neighbors have shaken their sense of security and belonging. They have been reminded that the history of immigration in this country has a dark underbelly; they need specific assurances that their citizenship really means something, that America has learned the right lessons from the Japanese internments during World War II, and that I will stand with them should the political winds shift in an ugly direction.