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In recent years, however, this tradition has been eroded by a thickened form of black identity that, sadly, mirrors some of the worst aspects of American white identity and racism. A streak of nativism rears its ugly head. To be black American, in this view, one's ancestors must have been not simply slaves but American slaves. Furthermore, directly mirroring the traditional definition of whiteness as not being black is the growing tendency to define blackness in negative terms--it is to be not white in upbringing, kinship or manner, to be too not at ease in the intimate ways of white Americans.
Barack is married to a black woman, has spent years doing community work in the ghettos and is by lineage certainly more African than most African Americans. But black America's view of him is clouded by the facts that he is the son of an immigrant and that he was brought up mainly by middle-class whites whose culture is second nature to him. Although the Congressional Black Caucus, still strongly influenced by the civil rights generation, remains surprisingly liberal on immigration issues, the black middle class appears to harbor a hardening anti-immigrant sentiment--a Pew poll last year found that 54% of blacks see immigrants as a burden. More disturbing, however, is what that sentiment reveals about a growing pattern of self-segregation among the black middle class, many of whom, like the residents of Prince George's County, Md., seem to have largely given up on school and social integration.
This is tragic, for like all other once excluded groups before them, black Americans are in need of the social and cultural capital that comes from living with and in the white majority, the value of which is nowhere more powerfully demonstrated than in the enormous achievement and potential of Barack Obama.