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Joan Z. Shore Headshot

Obama, In Black and White

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As the world exults over America's election of a black president, something seems to be missing.

What is missing is Obama's white American mother, Ann Dunham, who loved and married a black man from Kenya and gave birth to his son.

In the preface to his book, "Dreams from My Father", Obama says, "I know that she was the kindest, most generous spirit I have ever known, and that what is the best in me I owe to her."
And yet, everyone forgets this side of his heritage.

Like so many black American children, Obama grew up without his father, and his maternal grandparents (especially his grandmother, Toot) were his stern and loving caregivers. But unlike most black American children, Obama had the good fortune to live in a comforable home in Hawaii, not in a squalid inner city tenement. He was given as good an education as any white child, and was always encouraged to achieve and excel.

The color of his skin, perhaps not "black enough", was still dark enough to set him apart, and expose him to prejudice and discrimination. He overcame this through hard work, determination, and humility. And always paramount, was the Dunhams' belief in the importance of a good education and equal opportunity.

So in many ways, this is not simply the victory of one black man in America; it is the victory of American tolerance and integration, where black can marry white, where barriers are broken, where assimilation eventually makes "mutts" of us all. (And we know that hybrids are stronger than purebreds!)

I remember visiting South Africa during apartheid, and seeing out-lawed "mixed" couples running off to Sun City -- a glamorous interracial resort in the province of Bophuthatswana -- to spend a weekend together. (They nicknamed the place "Sin City".)
I remember the wrath of our neighbors when my father rented our summer cottage to a black advertising executive.

Saddest of all, I remember my black schoolmates in New York City -- all of us in a "high IQ" class, but they never stood a chance of going to college, and simply ended up in trade schools.
That was then, and this is now. We are on the brink of a new, enlightened era. Yes, there are still ugly pockets of intolerance and hatred, but the world is seeing America in a different light, and perhaps we will see ourselves in a different light, too.

Obama's victory is a victory for us all -- black, white and everyone in between.

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