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Following up on 'the first female president'

Bill Clinton and President Obama in the Rose Garden in January.
Bill Clinton and President Obama in the Rose Garden in January. (By Marvin Joseph/the Washington Post)
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By Kathleen Parker
Sunday, July 4, 2010

In the days since I suggested that President Obama's rhetorical style mimics feminine tropes, I've been informed of the following:

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One, a black man cannot show anger in public lest he be considered an Angry Black Man.

Two, to suggest that a black man has any feminine characteristics, even when framed as an "evolutionary achievement," is to emasculate and reduce him to a figure from Jim Crow days.

These were the two most common complaints I heard in the column's wake. Some of those who wrote were polite, self-identifying African Americans who sort of agreed with my point but wanted to help me see things a different way. Others were not so civil.

Do I think people are too sensitive? Yes. Do I think I may have overstepped the line? No. It's a column, not a dissertation. And my thesis, bouncing off the notion that Bill Clinton was the first black president, is serious only insofar as you really think Clinton is black.

But I also recognize that my life experience is different from that of most African Americans. And that experience allows me both the luxury of seeing people without the lens of race, but also (sometimes) to fail to imagine how people of other backgrounds might interpret my words.

As my Post colleague Jonathan Capehart wrote on the PostPartisan blog -- and explained to me in a telephone conversation -- black men are held to a different standard than whites. They are practiced in keeping their emotions under wraps. They can't "go off," as some have urged Obama to do in response to the gulf oil spill.

I hadn't thought of it this way, but I take Jonathan and others at their word that it's a fact of life for African American men.

You'll have to take me at my word when I say that I don't view Obama exclusively as a black man -- no matter what he said on his census form. Not only is he half-white, but also he has managed to transcend skin color, at least from where I sit.

As a sidebar, there's another reason I don't see him as only black. He is my cousin. I had intended to save this nugget for a future column, but now seems as good a time as any to brag.

I learned of this surprising family link when a cousin conducting genealogical research contacted me recently: "And by the way, did you know you're kin to Barack?"

Apparently, we are descended of brothers whose parents -- Johann Pieter Straub and Anna Maria Barbara Hoffman -- emigrated from Germany to the colonies about 1733. According to the family grid, Obama and I seem to be eighth cousins once removed.


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