Genetics is only part of one's inheritance

Posted: Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Now that Barack Obama appears to be the Democratic candidate for President of our nation, he is being described as "Aman" of color. I'm not quite sure what that means. I, too, happen to be a man of color, and until I get a suntan, my skin is white. Well, not really white, but close to it.

Senator Obama's mother was Caucasian, or white, and his father was from Africa. So is he an African American or a Caucasian/African, or some kind of genetic mixture like most of us?

Many of my friends are Native Americans, but often they are of mixed genetic sources. Does that make them, or their children, some kind of hyphenated-American? Some of us might have to be multi hyphenated like Norwegian-Irish-Native-Saami-American, or Filipino-Tlingit-Haida-Yupik-Alaskan. If we look at our family tree, most of us are genetic mixtures.

The whole idea that there are specific races around the world doesn't make sense to me. As my old friend Edmund Lord, a resident of Nenana where I was living, once said, "I can't understand you 'white guys.' I'm half white, a quarter Eskimo and a quarter Japanese, and you call me an Indian."

Genetics is only part of one's inheritance. The rest is one's experience after birth. My good Norwegian father, who was not blonde and blue-eyed but had black hair and brown eyes, said jokingly, "When I came to this country, I couldn't speak a word of English." He was born in North Dakota and learned to speak three languages.

It's time, I think, for us to think beyond genetics and physical appearances and look at the real person underneath the color of their skin. I think we have to consider more than gender in a political election. Some Alaskans were shocked when we elected a female governor, but those same folks now seem to be saying, "She's doing OK."

I'm hoping for change in our federal government, in the presidency and the Congress. But to me, the color of one's skin, the gender - or whether one wears a flag as a lapel pin - have nothing to do with choosing the right person.

Maybe we can all achieve what it says on the coins in my hand. "E pluribus unum" (Out of many, one). We need to look at the person, their life, and if a politician, their voting record and then decide who we want to represent us and be our leaders.

Wally Olson

Auke Bay

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