Some thoughts on identity

UPDATE: One other thing--I didn't get that people were confused about how I felt about the picture. To be perfectly clear, I think she looks beautiful.

In response to the Michelle Obama post below, commenter Lebecka writes:

TNC, if you stop seeing her as a black woman, and see her instead as a strong person, you will love this picture. She is such an important role model for women and girls everywhere-- She is strong, intelligent, hardworking person, who is also 100% woman. Very much like Condi in this aspect.

This has been a constant refrain throughout this election. I get e-mails all the time asking why Obama has to be as the "first black president" when he's president of the country. Or why do I see Obama as "black man" instead of a "great American." Or in this case why I see Michelle Obama as a black woman instead of "as a strong person."

What I'm not understanding is the sense that by calling someone black, we somehow erase any other signifier of their identity. I think this says more about how black people are seen, than about how they actual live. Look, I'm a black man. It's that simple, it's who I am and how I was raised. But I'm a Dallas Cowboys fan. I'm a comic geek. I'm an amateur foodie. I'm a father. And so on. None of those things conflict with the other. But it's like when we're talking about race, and specifically in reference to black people who've achieved some level of broad cultural acceptance, somehow it's wrong to identify them as black.

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Often what you'll get is "He wasn't just a black soandso, he was a great American soandso"--like somehow one cancels the other out. I understand this from a competition perspective. I hope to be a great writer someday, not just some dude who's "a great writer as far as the blacks go." But that goes for any group--I'm sure most Jewish writers hope to be compared with the best, ethnicity aside, same for women, gender aside. But in terms of identity, we are all so many things at the same time. I see Denzel Washington as a great American actor and a black man. I see Mel Martinez as Cuban-American and as a senator. One doesn't cancel out the other.

I wonder if, from a particular white perspective, this come from a sense of feeling excluded, of feeling that when someone looks at Michelle Obama as a "black woman" this cuts them out of the conversation. I don't know. That would assume a lot of arrogance, no? Like there's nothing good coming out of Trenchtown.

P.S. Lebecka, I hope you don't take offense at me highlighting your quote. It's all in the spirit of debate.