I am attending the annual Posse Plus Retreat. The Posse Scholarships bring a diverse group of student leaders from Boston to Centre College in mutual support groups (posses) of ten per class. Each year the forty Posse Scholars invite about twice that number of students, faculty, and staff to a retreat in the beautiful Kentucky countryside to talk about an important issue. This year's topic: Does Race Still Matter?
In one of the exercises designed to probe what we think race means we were each asked to consider the question "Who represents your race?" My instant answer: Barack Obama.
I am white, Obama is black. More precisely, I am descended from many of the nations and faiths of Europe, the kind of "Euro mutt" that most Americans are. My ethnicity is American. Obama is descended from that same Euro melange as well as East Africans (not the West African ancestors that most black Americans have). His ethnicity is also, I believe, American.
I take race seriously as a part of social identity. Race matters in America. As long as we are a nation of immigrants, which I hope we will always be, and as long as race matters on earth, which is likely to be a very long time, race will always matter in America.
Race is a very complex social construct, of which biology gives only one part. Race is made as much by culture as by biology. I say the American melting pot is going as strong as ever. At any given moment there are many distinct ethnic groups, some of them partly defined by race. But over time they all melt into the American ethnic alloy.
People who believe in the strength of that American alloy share my culture. If they are products of that melting pot themselves, they share my ethnicity. American ethnicity includes a faith that all the races of humans are real, but meltable.
I believe Barack Obama both shares and represents that American ethnicity, an ethnicity that ultimately includes all the "races" of the earth. He also represents the promise that even the deepest am most searing racial divisions of the American past can be overcome in the American alloy. That is my faith as well as my people's story. Obama represents my race.