Mixed-Race Community to Obama: You're One of Us

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By:  Christopher M. Matthews  
News21 UMD Staff
Posted: July 28, 2009

Lori Tharps
Lori Tharps says she is disappointed President Obama doesn't champion the idea of mixed-race identity.

PHILADELPHIA - President Obama’s presidency is a source of both pride and disappointment, members of mixed-race families said at a recent gathering.

Speaker after speaker at the city’s first celebration of Loving Day -- which marked the anniversary of the Supreme Court’s legalization of interracial marriage -- described Obama's election as bittersweet.

"He is obviously mixed-race,” said Lori Tharps, 37, an African American whose husband is Spanish. “So it's one of our own. But because he does not identify as mixed-race, there is some disappointment because he does not champion the idea of mixed-race identity."

Obama, the son of a white woman from Kansas and a Kenyan man, has never denied his mixed heritage. But some in the interracial community believe that he puts more emphasis on his identity as a black man.

Adam Drayton-Hymans, 26, of Philadelphia, who describes himself as Creole, black, Native American and Hispanic, said it is dishonest for Obama to downplay his mixed-race heritage.

"It's such an iconic part of his experience, that is, that of a mixed-race person coming from two different walks of life, that informed his political views, that informed his openness about various things, it informed just so many things about him," he said.

Carolyn Thompson, who moderated a discussion at the celebration, added that there is tension between the black and mixed-race communities over Obama, because each wants to claim him as their own. Still, she said the day’s events were an important step for the mixed community.

Adam Drayton-Hymans
Adam Drayton-Hymans says it's dishonest for Obama to downplay his heritage.

Thompson, who is white, was raised by a mixed-race couple. "Loving Day literally legitimized our families," she said.

On June 12, 1967, the Supreme Court overturned the state of Virginia’s anti-miscegenation statutes in the Loving vs. Virginia case, thereby ending all restrictions in the U.S. on interracial marriage. The court upheld the marriage of Richard and Mildred Loving, an interracial couple. The Lovings had married in the District of Columbia before moving to Virginia. However, Virginia did not recognize their marriage because Richard was white and Mildred was of black and Native American descent.

Ultimately, the couple was sentenced to one year in jail under the state’s anti-miscegenation statutes, but did not serve any time on the condition that they leave Virginia. The Lovings appealed the ruling and were vindicated by the Supreme Court.

Since 2004, Loving Day celebrations have been held in cities around the world on or near June 12.

Ken Tanabe, a New York-based graphic designer of Belgian-Japanese descent, came up with the idea to educate people about the history of interracial marriage. He said more than 1,000 people celebrated Loving Day in New York City this year.

The event in Philadelphia, organized by the national multi-ethnic group Swirl, was much smaller. About 15 people gathered June 13 at the Franklin Institute.

Kathrin Ivanovic, 29, president of Philadelphia Swirl, said that despite the event’s sparse turnout, the day was important. "Loving Day means to me that I have a space in this world where I can be proud of my diversity," Ivanovic said. "I don’t think it's just about mixed-race couples but also mixed-race children, and extended family, and being OK with who you are, and there being a space where you can be you."

Ivanovic is of mixed-racial heritage and describes herself as Afro-German.

Tharps, who has two mixed-race children with her husband, said the battle over Obama's identity is indicative of just how sensitive the issue of racial identification is.

"As a monoracial parent, which is something I had never even thought of until recently, I have to be very conscious about what I tell my children, what I feed them in the sense of racial identity," she said. Still, Tharps is aware of how far the country has advanced on issues of race, and she says she is hopeful for the future.

"I feel very lucky that I'm raising them now, when there is consciousness of a mixed-race identity," Tharps said. "We’ve been able to choose our love, choose our spouses, have a life free of problems."

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