The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Editorials

May 11, 2013

From Cruz to Obama, race defines on issues

WASHINGTON -— Enough with this “enough” business.

Latest to the question of whether a person is sufficiently identifiable as belonging to a particular demographic is Ted Cruz -- the conservative Texas senator who happens to be of Hispanic descent.

But is he Hispanic enough? For what, his family taco recipe? Before you send in the sensitivity police, permit me to finish, por favor.

The suggestion that Cruz might not qualify as a representative Hispanic comes from a fellow Hispanic, former U.N. Ambassador and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson.

Richardson was asked whether Cruz, who opposes immigration reform as currently proposed, represents most Hispanics with his views. Richardson replied:

“Almost every Hispanic in the country wants to see immigration reform. No, I don’t think he should be defined as a Hispanic.”

Translation: If you disagree with the consensus of the demographic to which you belong, whether black, female, gay, Hispanic or whatever, then you are essentially not part of the conversation. At least not the one that matters — the vote-organizing constituency.

President Obama suffered similarly from a not-black-enough trope that began circulating when he first emerged as the potential Democratic candidate. His truly African-American bona fides aside, his civil rights resume was lacking and his ancestors hadn’t been slaves. What could the son of a Kenyan know about being a black American?

Leading this charge was Jesse Jackson, who also led the movement to popularize the term African-American in the 1980s and insisted on its mainstream adoption. To Jackson, who marched with Martin Luther King, Obama was a neophyte pretender.

Obama obviously succeeded in convincing African-Americans, including Jackson, that he was qualified to bear the mantle of his demographic. Once elected, he strategically identified with blacks in public ways. He stepped up to the plate in defense of Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. when a white cop insisted that he prove ownership of the house he occupied. The iconic beer summit followed. And Obama identified Trayvon Martin, the black teen fatally shot by a neighborhood vigilante, as someone who could have been his son.

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