When I saw a headline stating that actor Morgan Freeman believes Barack Obama isn't the "first black president" of the United States, I assumed that the veteran actor would make the claim that some bygone president with hidden black ancestry had beaten Obama to the punch. After all, there are rumors that presidents such as Warren Harding and Abraham Lincoln had African ancestry. But that's not what Freeman meant at all. Instead, the "Driving Miss Daisy" star argues that Obama's white mother rules him out as the nation's first black president. Morgan recently told NPR:
"First thing that always pops into my head regarding our president is that all of the people who are setting up this barrier for him ... they just conveniently forget that Barack had a mama, and she was white -- very white American, Kansas, middle of America ... There was no argument about who he is or what he is. America's first black president hasn't arisen yet. He's not America's first black president - he's America's first mixed-race president."
I respectfully disagree with Freeman. I do think, as Chris Rock pointed out last month, that people often forget that the president is biracial. The president's complete racial makeup should be acknowledged, but I don't think his multiracial heritage somehow negates the fact that the president is black. If Freeman had read the president's memoir, Dreams From My Father, he'd realize that Obama himself actually identifies as black and that no one has set up a "barrier for him" in this regard. In 2010, Obama reaffirmed his racial identity by solely checking the "black" category on the census form. Mixed-race people should be able to affirm all aspects of their racial background, but I think there's a misconception that multiracial individuals are basically raceless. Too many behave as if "races" of people are comparable to math equations in which negative and positive integers cancel each other out. But that's hardly the case. Obama is both black and white, not neither. As such he's the first black president (that we know of) and the 44th white president.
While Freeman also argues that Obama should be referred to as the "first mixed-race president," it's doubtful that this is the case also. Given that miscegenation has taken place in the United States for centuries, it's very likely that the presidents of yesteryear had Native American, black or some other heritage that would have placed them in the mixed-race category.