From Barack Obama's speech in Philadelphia today:
I am the son of a black man from Kenya and a white woman from Kansas. I was raised with the help of a white grandfather who survived a Depression to serve in Patton's Army during World War II and a white grandmother who worked on a bomber assembly line at Fort Leavenworth while he was overseas. I've gone to some of the best schools in America and lived in one of the world's poorest nations. I am married to a black American who carries within her the blood of slaves and slaveowners — an inheritance we pass on to our two precious daughters. I have brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, uncles and cousins, of every race and every hue, scattered across three continents, and for as long as I live, I will never forget that in no other country on Earth is my story even possible.In other words, e pluribus unum.
It's a story that hasn't made me the most conventional candidate. But it is a story that has seared into my genetic makeup the idea that this nation is more than the sum of its parts — that out of many, we are truly one.
It's an interesting time to be teaching Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man (1952), the story of an African-American man who tries to do the right thing, at college and in the shadowy Brotherhood. Ellison's narrator is a brilliant, compelling speaker who hires out his eloquence to an organization and pays heavily for finally speaking his own thoughts. At the end of his journey, he offers a powerful affirmation of the unity and multiplicity of American identity:
America is woven of many strands. I would recognize them and let it so remain. . . . Our fate is to become one, and yet many — This is not prophecy, but description.An American culture that allows for difference — "one, and yet many" — is Ellison's alternative to the homogeneity of the melting pot, emblematized in the novel's magical "Optic White" paint, which absorbs darker liquids and renders them invisible. One, yet many; many, yet one: that's the possibility of a more perfect and more complex union.