During the 2008 presidential campaign, Joseph Curl reported that the Obama organization "would not answer when asked why the biracial candidate calls himself black," replying only that the question didn't "seem especially topical." Biracial ancestry and racial identity are still sensitive subjects in the United States, not suitable for sound bites. But they are perfect topics for the introspective musings of an autobiography, and Barack Obama must have thought he had answered this question in depth in Dreams from My Father (1995). In his introduction, Obama hesitates to use the term "autobiography" because it connotes, he says, "a certain closure"; however, Dreams from My Father does provide closure on his quest for identity, if not on his life story. In American literature, the racially mixed black-white figure, more than any other literary character, has embodied the promises and challenges of integration in a racially troubled society. The same might be said about Barack Obama during the presidential campaign. While many supporters embraced his biracial ancestry as emblematic of America, his cosmopolitan multicultural background as essential for the new century, and his self-described African-American identity as a step toward fulfilling Martin Luther King, Jr.'s, dream, many of his critics questioned his identification as an African American, his unconventional translational upbringing, and even his Americanness.
Copyright © 2010 State University of New York Press. This chapter first appeared in The Obama Effect: Multidisciplinary Renderings of the 2008 Campaign.
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Jones, Suzanne W. "The Obama Effect on American Discourse about Racial Identity: Dreams From My Father (and Mother), Barack Obama's Search for Self." In The Obama Effect: Multidisciplinary Renderings of the 2008 Campaign, edited by Heather E. Harris, Kimberly R. Moffitt, and Catherine E. Squires, 131-52. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 2010.