Readers' Representative Journal

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Obama's race (or races)

January 9, 2009 |  3:25 pm

Presidentelect_obama_in_december_20 David Krolik of Orange sent a note seeking correction. Other readers have been bothered as well by what the Los Angeles Times, and other news organizations, call President-elect Barack Obama. Krolik wrote: "You, along with EVERY OTHER media outlet have branded him, 'The first African American president.'  You are VERY WRONG. From what I understand, Obama's black father wasn't around very much, and his mother was white. Isn't it true that our president elect was raised by his WHITE grandmother?  If so, why aren't you reporting that he is the first MIXED RACE president?"

For Times editors, the answer is simple: Times news stories call Obama what the president-elect calls himself. And, as a Nov. 28 article in The Times put it, "Obama, 47, has historically described himself as 'black' or 'African American.' "

Clark Stevens, who oversees style and usage, felt the question had been settled some time ago. "We generally refer to people as they perceive and present themselves, especially if that's the way they're perceived and presented in the world at large. From the beginning, Obama's background has been thoroughly described and discussed by him, by us and by many other media outlets."

Krolik acknowledges: "I guess we should be writing President-elect Obama and asking him the question. It would be great if an interviewer asked him why he considers himself to be African American."

(In fact, Obama's thoughts on the subject have been publicly explored -- one of his two autobiographies is called "Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance" -- and the subject's also been touched on in any number of news stories, among them profiles in the Los Angeles Times, Washington Post and New York Times. )

Photo: Just call him president-elect -- Barack Obama with daughters Malia, left, and Sasha, foreground, in Hawaii Kai, near Honolulu, last month. Credit: Tim Sloan / AFP/Getty Images

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