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by Abigail Van Buren

Issues of Color Still Ripple Through American Identity

DEAR ABBY: "Wondering in Goldsboro, N.C.," asked why President Barack Obama is considered to be African-American when he's biracial. While your response was accurate, you missed an opportunity to educate your readers by failing to give the historical context as to why most people refer to him as African-American.

There was a time in this country when "blacks"/African-Americans were considered only to be three-fifths (3/5) of a human being. Also, if a person had one drop of "black" blood they were considered black. Although as a society we have progressed intellectually and in our understanding of what a human being is, we continue to hold on to archaic beliefs about skin color that not only pigeonhole an individual, but may force an individual to choose what so-called racial group that he/she identifies with most.

I can clearly see that the conversation regarding "race" and skin color must be continued in this country. Though we've "come a long way, baby," we still have a long way to go in understanding this country's deep-rooted responses to skin color. -- LIVING IN AMERICA

DEAR LIVING: I think if one digs deep enough, we will come to the realization that there has always been a component of economic exploitation and perceived economic threat that is, and has been, at the root of racial discrimination. (But that's just my opinion.) Read on:

DEAR ABBY: In Obama's book, "Dreams From My Father," he calls himself a black man of mixed descent. His decision to do that is as much a political decision as it is a personal one.

Most people of color of mixed race in our society have felt we had to choose to be the darker color because we can never be white.

In our society, most people who do or don't know of Obama's mixed background would treat him as a black man. (If you saw him walking down the street, would you say, "Hey, that guy's half-white!") By embracing his political identity he supports and strengthens all black people in the U.S. by standing proudly as one of us. -- NICOLE IN MARIN COUNTY, CALIF.

DEAR ABBY: African-American does not denote skin color, but an ethnic culture, a term that describes those of us who are descendants of captive Africans in America. It holds the same level of pride as it does for those who pronounce they are Italian-American or Asian-American. -- MICHELLE IN MARYLAND

DEAR ABBY: You write that the term African-American is used in this country as a label that describes skin color. I believe you are correct, and that's the problem. "African-American" identifies origin or ancestry, not skin color. Furthermore, if the anthropologists are right, then -- going back far enough -- we are ALL African-American. -- AFRICAN-AMERICAN MEMBER OF THE HUMAN RACE IN NEW JERSEY

DEAR ABBY: Why can't we all be called just plain AMERICANS if we grow up in America and are citizens of America? I think a lot of people have wondered this. -- SANDY B. IN HARRISBURG, PA.

DEAR SANDY: That's a good question and one that I hope will one day be put to rest -- if not by our children, then by our children's children. -- SINCERELY, ABBY

Good advice for everyone -- teens to seniors -- is in "The Anger in All of Us and How to Deal With It." To order, send a business-size, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $6 (U.S. funds only) to: Dear Abby -- Anger Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054-0447. (Postage is included in the price.)