"Which brings us back to Obama's Census choice. Despite his legitimate claims on whiteness, he chose to call himself black. As historian Nell Painter documents in her new book The History of White People, white identity was a heavily policed and protected border for most of American history. A person born to an African parent and a white parent could be legally enslaved in America until 1865. From 1877 until 1965 that person would have been subject to segregation in public accommodations, schools, housing and employment. In 1896 the Supreme Court established the doctrine of separate but equal in the case of Homer Plessy, a New Orleans Creole of color whose ancestry was only a small fraction African. President Obama's Census self-identification was a moment of solidarity with these black people and a recognition that the legal and historical realities of race are definitive, that he would have been subject to all the same legal restrictions had he been born at another time. So in April, Obama did as he has done repeatedly in his adult life: he embraced blackness, with all its disprivilege, tumultuous history and disquieting symbolism. He did not deny his white parentage, but he acknowledged that in America, for those who also have African heritage, having a white parent has never meant becoming white."
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