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Moats: Obama, Hawaii and a Multi-Racial World

01/15/09 5:55PM By David Moats
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(HOST) On a recent trip to Hawaii, commentator David Moats found that Barack Obama's home state has a lot to tell us about our world.

(MOATS) This is a story about Hawaii, but also about us and our president-elect. A long time ago, when I was in college, my family moved from California to Hawaii. I spent one summer there working a construction job in a high rise on Waikiki.

So during the day I was surrounded by the whole Hawaiian potpourri of ethnic groups: Japanese, Hawaiian, Filipino, Chinese, Portuguese.

One day I got on the freight elevator, which was carrying a load of large mirrors to the upper floors. As I stood there, I saw the image of a guy with a fleshy, bright pink face, and I was shocked to realize it was me. In the world of Hawaii, the white guy is the one who looks different, just as he does in the larger world.

This fall I went back to Hawaii for the first time in nearly forty years to attend the wedding of my son.

As I rode through Honolulu with my brother, who has lived there for decades, he pointed out the apartment building where Barack Obama grew up. Obama's picture, it turns out, is in my sister's high school year book, though she never knew him.

One evening as we were walking through a mall in Honolulu, I saw a T-shirt that proclaimed proudly in big letters: Obama Surfs.

After my brother and I came back from body-surfing at a beach called Sandy Beach, he asked me if I wanted to see the YouTube video of Obama body-surfing at the same beach. And there he was.

Obama grew up in a world where the white guy was part of just one of Hawaii's minorities, and he's written about the way that he had to come to terms with his racial identity in that world, and later when he went to college on the mainland.

Recent articles have described how Barack and Michelle are post-racial, not because their race no longer matters, but because they identify with something larger than race. They identify themselves as Americans.
 
It's likely that over time race is going to matter no more than ethnic background does now.
 
There was a time when Italians and Poles and Irish all kept to their own enclaves, and the distinctions between them mattered. But people got over it. They intermarried, and while they kept their identities, and their recipes, they realized that above all they were Americans. Today blacks, whites, Hispanics, Asians are all mixing it up just as they are mixed up in Hawaii.
 
When you think about it, a lot of us are from multi-racial families. My brother's wife is a Chinese-American woman, and so his kids are Asian, the way Obama is black. They are also white, the way Obama is white. I went to my brother's in-laws' house for dinner, and he and I were the two pink-faced, white-haired white guys. And the food was awesome. So as our new president takes office, I take heart that Obama surfs, but more than that, I'll be glad he knows the world as a mixed-up family of every race and color.

This is the family we all belong to.
 
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