Barack Obama and Immigrant Blackness: A Catalyst for Structural Change

By Kirin Wachter-Grene.

Published by The International Journal of Diversity in Organizations, Communities and Nations: Annual Review

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This essay builds upon an argument I make in my article “Beyond the Binary: Obama’s Hybridity and Post-Racialization” to read Barack Obama through post-colonial scholar Homi Bhabha’s theory of “hybridity” to advance “post-bichromatic racialization.” Obama’s cultural identity is more complex than the limited bichromatic (black/white) ways—such as “multiracial” or “African American”—it is imagined to be. He can be read as a hybrid individual, understood in a multiplicity of ways including as non-bichromaticly multiracial in which his blackness is derivative of African, not African-American heritage, and as a second-generation immigrant. Hybridity values difference without trying to systematize it into hierarchical classifications, thus it suggests potential for structural change to the concept of black racialization. Some may regard the complexity of Obama’s cultural identity to be a moot point due to a consideration that in 2013 his public persona is no longer capable of being discursively manipulated regarding race. However it is crucial to remember that cultural understandings of powerful public figures are never static concepts. All subjects remain full of discursively transformative possibilities. This article therefore seeks to advance a discourse that may eventually complicate the predominant manner in which subjects are categorized as black in the United States.

Keywords: Barack Obama, Hybridity, Immigrant Blackness

The International Journal of Diversity in Organizations, Communities and Nations: Annual Review, Volume 12, 2012, pp.33-42. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 427.481KB).

Kirin Wachter-Grene

Ph.D. Candidate in English Language and Culture, Department of English, University of Washington, Seattle, WA, USA

Kirin Wachter-Grene received her B.A. in English from the University of Arizona in 2004. She received her M.A. in Liberal Studies from the Graduate Center, CUNY in 2009, where she primarily focused on 19th century African American literature. Her M.A. thesis traced the politics of multiracialism prevalent in the work of Charles W. Chesnutt. She is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in English Literature and Culture from the University of Washington in Seattle, where she researches 20th century African American literature. Her work has appeared in Callaloo, Revue de Recherche en Civilisation Américaine, and The Conversation.