During a question-and-answer session in Berlin, New Hampshire last night, Barack Obama received a multi-part question about how he identified himself racially, race relations and his commitment to civil rights from an elderly liberal in a green ball cap.
“I know it doesn’t seem appropriate in the whitest place on earth to ask a race question,” said the questioner to Obama’s amusement.
But after getting the microphone back, Obama seemed much less obsessed with race than his questioner.
“Race continues to be the most significant divide in our country,” he said, but as he went on, he seemed intent on fitting the problems of race into social and economic issues that affect all voters.
“I’m not interested in having these conversations about race sort of in the abstract,” he said, “Where everyone is sort of self-flagellating and saying, well are we racist or do we still have discrimination in our society? I don’t find those very useful. Often times African Americans will get all riled up, a lot of African Americans will get defensive. It doesn’t produce anything. What I want to do is find concrete plans for change. And most of the problems that affect African Americans, affect everybody.”
As for how he identified himself, Obama was clear.
“I’m an African American,” he said. “But I am somebody, like many African Americans, who has all kinds of stuff in him.”
After listing the different races in his immediate family alone, he said to applause, “You should have seen Thanksgiving, we were like the United Nations.”
He added, “But I self-identify as African American. That’s how I am treated and that’s how I am viewed and I’m proud of it.”