Spring 2009: Coda: A Changing Country
Courtesy Taharee Jackson
With Shades of Gray
Reflections on the Inauguration of President Barack Obama
By Taharee Jackson 10PhD
The last thing I could afford to do was attend the presidential inauguration at the National Mall, but I simply couldn’t miss it. I had to go and represent my multiracial family. As a multiracial woman, I am seldom presented with the opportunity to see someone just like me in the public eye.
Tiger Woods has made multiraciality somewhat “cool,” yet people still have trouble identifying him in photos. That being said, to have the entire globe’s gaze finally affixed on a biracial person—on Barack Obama—compelled me to travel to Washington, D.C., to support him. He wouldn’t know I was there, but my family and I would . . . and it would mean the world to us.
The elation and pride I felt standing inside the National Mall is indescribable. As I cheered in the freezing cold, clutching and occasionally waving my miniature American flag, I couldn’t help but feel overjoyed. Yes, I was excited about striking up conversations with total strangers who were just as excited about Obama as me. Yes, I was elated about the opportunity to hear Obama’s voice for myself and to see him with my own, slightly myopic eyes. But no, I was not excited about the possibly of his being introduced as our nation’s first “black” president. Is that how Obama chooses to name himself? How he chooses to enter history?
I braved subzero temperatures, no sleep, millions of people, closed train stations, and hours of no food or bathroom usage, not because I think of Obama as our first black president. True, I am part black, but so is he. He is part black. Barack Obama is half black and half white—he is biracial. To acknowledge one part of him—his blackness—is certainly not to deny his whiteness, unless we deny him the right to identify himself.
The inauguration was spectacular, awe-inspiring, utopian, and the most wonderful political event I have ever attended. However, despite the elation, joy, and excitement I felt, for me it was an incomplete journey.
Most of me was enraptured by the beauty of how far we have come with racial progress and the pride in our nation for beginning to look beyond race and toward a phenomenal leader. But part of me was quietly disappointed and a bit unsettled.
I had come to Washington, D.C., to witness the ushering in of a new racial era—one in which the “one drop” rule no longer reigns. I look forward to the day when Barack Obama will no longer be known as our first “black” president, but our first “effective” president, for example. In the meantime, I would simply settle for his being the first “biracial” president, or whichever term he chooses for himself.
Taharee Jackson 10PhD is a graduate student in the Division of Educational Studies.