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Blinkered By Blackness

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On Sunday, Barack Obama made his long-awaited appearance at Unity 08' the Black, Hispanic, Asian and Native American Journalists convention in Chicago. There is no question that he got the rock star treatment, with standing ovations at the begining and end of his conversation with CNN correspondent Suzanne Malveaux and Time Magazine's Romesh Ratnesar, with questions from the audience.

Even though you could feel the love in the room, each question spotlighted how tough it is being Barack Obama. When Malveaux asked Senator Obama about the right-wing claim that he showed "audacity" during the European leg of his tour, Obama pointed out that he was not the first presidential candidate to go overseas. He cited Republican nominee McCain's Middle East visits, which went without suggestions of audacity. "We just did it really well," Obama said. Or as Obama said, "If I had stumbled and bumbled through it, I would have been criticized for that, too."

While Obama was having a really good week, looking like a leader willing to refortify the role of diplomacy in U.S. foreign relations, Senator McCain posed for photos in front of a German restaurant. McCain was invited to talk the multicultural journalists at the Convention too, but declined because of scheduling conflicts. Now that is audacity.

Later, the Muslim question was raised yet again. This time by veteran journalist Leonard Pitts, Jr., who wanted to know if Obama had gone too far in setting the record straight on his religion. No matter how many times he says that he is a Christian, the question still stands on the table right along the question of his patriotism and his race. "The questions of my religion is more about the anti-Muslim sentiments in this country," he said.

The same opponents who have accused him of being a Muslim have also charged that the Obama campaign has deliberately put distance between Obama and Muslim- and Arab-Americans. The senator reminded his audience that he spoke strongly in support of Muslim- and Arab-Americans during the 2004 Democratic Convention.

And finally, the question that is the underlying hum of the whole campaign surfaced again. Last year at the National Association of Black Journalists' national convention, he addressed the question of his blackness. The question at that time was "Is he black enough." He laughed and said, "and now I am too black."

That depends on who you ask. Activist and presidential candidate Ralph Nader, who is by all accounts, not a black man, has said that he doesn't think Obama is black enough. The point remains that the Senator has at least 90 percent approval rating among African Americans.

The presidential campaign is always tough. The added dimension of race, has made this particular election more interesting than anything we've seen since the Kennedy campaign. It may be the most fascinating election in American history -- or as they say, it is definitely one for the books. By all accounts, it isn't that interesting because of McCain. For the last several weeks, he's spend all his time crying foul. The media went overseas to cover Obama. The camera loves Obama. The media is missing the good story, the McCain story, which is about interesting as watching paint dry while watching grass grow.

The truth is everybody loves a good underdog story. No matter how good a week Obama has had overseas, race has made him the underdog. And the questions of race have cheated those of us who want to know more about what he would do if he actually became president, of those answers. As hard as the Democratic presumptive nominee tries to share his vision, he must keep answering the same questions. Whether it is day one or day one hundred and one, he's still going to be black, he's still not a Muslim American, and fist-bumping is not some secret-squirrel code for terrorism. At Unity, some of the journalists questions gave an opportunity for Obama to talk about issues, such as affirmative action, reparations for Native Americans and other people of color, immigration, health care, benefits for our veterans, and education for our children.

As a journalist and as a voter, I am far more interested in the housing crisis, skyrocketing fuel and food costs, unemployment and how he would bring our young men and women home from the wars in Iraq and the much forgotten Afghanistan, than the race question. Senator Obama would clearly like to move to the issues too. He told the Unity Journalists that the needs and concerns of Americans, finding a job, educating their kids are more important than the race of the candidates. "In the end, the person they feel will help them live the American Dream will get their support," he said. We won't know until November if he's right.