Faces in the Crowd

Faces in the Crowd

"Obama has answered the questions that have plagued me throughout my life," writes Ryan Barrett, who has a white dad and black mom. (By Carol Guzy -- The Washington Post)
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By Krissah Thompson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 11, 2009

In one week, people from across the country will start arriving to mark the inauguration of America's first black president. Who are these people? In their stories is a portrait of a nation. First of a series.

Too often Ryan Barrett, 25, has felt like she just doesn't fit in.

But last year that odd-woman-out feeling lifted. Watching Barack Obama run for office, she wrote in her online diary, gave her a sense of acceptance.

"Throughout his campaign, Obama has answered the questions that have plagued me throughout my life," she wrote. "You aren't black. You aren't white. . . . Your grandparents are white, blue-collar Philadelphians, and you're dark but somehow they love you anyhow. Your mom is very dark-skinned and attended segregated schools in D.C. . . . but now she's a PhD and your father fell in love with this dark-skinned beauty despite the fact that he grew up in a stickball-and-hoagies whiter than white neighborhood. So, really, what the hell are you?!"

In Obama, Barrett found a solace that was tough to explain -- sometimes even to her parents. They split up a long time ago, but Barrett is close to each and found their perspectives on the election were as textured as their lives.

There were tense moments last year with her Italian American father, Paul D'Angelo, 50, who voted for Hillary Clinton in the Pennsylvania primary.

"I almost thought she was thinking about whether race mattered to me in voting for a white person over a black person," D'Angelo said. "Even though she may not be aware of all the Italians suffered when they first came to this country, she is very aware of the glaring inconsistency of a country built upon freedom having slavery. For her, this is a true sign of a repair."

D'Angelo ultimately voted for Obama but doesn't share his daughter's passion about it.

Neither does Barrett's mother, Camillia "Nikki" Keach, 64.

She doesn't feel the same weight of history she did during the tough civil rights years, when she joined the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee or participated in the March on Washington. "I know that there is a significance for me that is much more substantial that I am waiting to grasp," Keach said.

Her daughter has grasped her own meaning and soon will be taking off from her job as a copywriter in Boston to fly to Washington. Keach, traveling from Philadelphia, will join her.

Unfortunately, though, "my dad won't come," Barrett said.

On the day that a man with a white mother from Kansas and a black father from Kenya takes the oath of office, Barrett wants to stand between her Italian American father and African American mother and soak in the moment.

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