As a psychologist and former language student, I have thought that one of the key factors perpetuating tribal racial identity is that we simply don't have a good label for the growing percentage of the world's population that is multi-heritage. If we did, the number of people fitting and adopting this label would swell over time, and racial tribalism and concomitant tribal violence might be just a tad harder for demagogues to conjure.
While a friend and I waited for the election returns on the unforgettable Fourth, we discussed this issue, and we played around with various coined words -- mult, mu-he, etc. -- none of which had any appeal. Finally she commented that we should simply use the word "mutt." I laughed because I have called my own heritage "Northern European mutt" for years.
But then I actually started wondering if it might have potential. There can be power in serenely or playfully or proudly adopting a term that by tradition is belittling. Think Yankee.
As far as that goes, mutt is pretty benign and has a fair number of positive connotations for the millions of us who have adored one. Mutts are often stronger, healthier and smarter than purebreds. They tend to live longer. They surprise you more. They're less prone to neuroses and other kinds of twitchiness. They're about substance rather than style; personality rather than sheen. They're adaptable. And nobody freaks if they get scruffy, as long as they get the ball.
Now, as if I weren't already madly in love with the character and mind of our new president, he goes and calls himself a mutt. Obama was talking about the family's desire to adopt an abandoned dog but need for one that wouldn't trigger his daughter's allergies. In the process, he commented, "Obviously, a lot of shelter dogs are mutts like me." Might Obama's opener, with help that is already emerging among the netroots give yet another impetus to the identity shift that is already happening? I suddenly want a mutt t-shirt, even though I may not deserve one -- in-bred, white bread, and twitchy as I am. Maybe the best I can hope for is to look on in envy and delight when my twinkle-in-the-eye grandchildren get to check "mutt" on their census forms.