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Splitting hairs - Joel Hall

Years ago, when Tiger Woods was a relatively new figure in sports, there was a lot of dinner table conversation about this black man, who was changing a sport, which for many years, had been almost exclusively white.

Woods faced an uphill battle, as many people became uncomfortable when they realized he wasn't going away. During the 1997 Masters Golf Tournament, Fuzzy Zoeller, the 1979 Masters champion, referred to Woods as "that little boy" and urged him not to order fried chicken and collard greens at the Champions Dinner the following year.

Woods took an extraordinary amount of flack, in and outside, the sports world due to his black heritage. However, as Woods won more tournaments and more black people began to see him as a role model, it seemed like the nation focused on the fact that he wasn't "completely" black, but multi-racial.

As more people dissected Woods' racial make-up, there seemed to be more attempts to take the wind out of the sails of black support for Woods. Many people questioned why black people should so ardently support someone who is at most, "half black."

I believe the same thing has been happening in the presidential election.

Barack Obama is the first person of color to have a real chance at achieving the highest office in the land, and to many black people, including myself, it's inspiring. An Obama presidency has the potential to change the way people view African Americans and the way African Americans view themselves, forever. Some of the differences can already be seen.

However, many people have tried to poke holes in the overwhelming support African Americans have for Obama. Some people have done it by calling Obama a "diva," "the Messiah," "the chosen one," or "Chocolate Jesus." Others have done it by pointing out the fact that Obama is not completely black, but biracial.

I believe most biracial (mixed black and white) people, and people who identify as African American, will agree that being black isn't necessarily a color or genetic disposition, but a set of shared experiences one has because they appear a certain way.

I myself am part Hispanic and my middle name is very Hispanic, but due to my features, my skin tone, and the way people interact with me before I introduce myself, I identify with being an African American.

To put it another way, I've never been called an Hispanic epithet, but I've been called the "N" word plenty of times. I'm pretty sure that if the world didn't know Obama's mother was white, we would default (as we already do most of the time) to perceiving him as a black man.

I believe the reason most African Americans identify Obama as black is because they relate to his experiences. I would argue that most black Americans are comfortable with that, as well as the fact that Obama has a mixed heritage, as most black Americans don't come from a purely African ancestry, anyway.

They are also able to observe that Obama's "biracialness" is not the root of discomfort for people who have problems with Obama's race. The hyper-inflated expectations, unexplainable fears, and vocal apprehension have often had to do with the fact that Obama is half black, rather than half white.

On a smaller scale, people of color all over the country face similar challenges at their jobs and in their communities, simply for trying to achieve their version of the American dream. For black Americans, many of whom have not seen their full potential realized until now, Obama's run for the White House is particularly meaningful.

I believe all people, black, white, mixed, or any other race can find something in Obama to be proud of. However, black Americans have a lot to be proud of, and that is something nobody should diminish or try to take away.

Joel Hall covers government and politics for the Clayton News Daily. He can be reached at jhall@news-daily.com.