An amateur genealogist has determined that Barack Obama's white ancestors owned slaves. As the article there notes, this isn't very surprising for a person descended from Southern or Mid-Western whites.

According to the research, one of Obama's great-great-great-great grandfathers, George Washington Overall, owned two slaves who were recorded in the 1850 census in Nelson County, Ky. The same records show that one of Obama's great-great-great-great-great-grandmothers, Mary Duvall, also owned two slaves.

The Sun retraced much of Reitwiesner's work, using census information available on the Web site ancestry.com and documents retrieved by the Kentucky Department for Libraries and Archives, among other sources. The records show that Overall, then 30, owned a 15-year-old black female and a 25-year-old black male, while Mary Duvall, his mother-in-law, owned a 60-year-old black man and a 58-year-old black woman. (Slaves are listed in the 1850 census by owner, age, "sex," and "colour," not by name.)

However, as you can imagine, I think this is completely irrelevant. Unless Senator Obama owned slaves himself, was a slave, or even knew family members in either position, it's hard to say why it matters what his long-dead ancestors did. However, for whatever reason, you can expect some black leaders to make a big deal out of this.

"The twist is very interesting," said Ronald Walters, a political scientist who is director of the African-American Leadership Institute at the University of Maryland, College Park. "It deepens his connection with the experience of slavery, even if it deepens it on a different side of the equation."

It "deepens" his "connection" with the "experience" of slavery? How do the actions of his long-dead ancestors affect his "connection" with the "experience" of slavery? Like most discussions about race in America, that whole sentence was gibberish.

Author and essayist Debra J. Dickerson wrote in a January salon.com article that she had previously refrained from opining about the senator because "I didn't have the heart (or the stomach) to point out the obvious: Obama isn't black."

" 'Black,' in our political and social reality, means those descended from West African slaves," Dickerson said.

Walters, who was deputy campaign manager for Jesse Jackson in 1984 and the author of Black Presidential Politics in America, agreed that questions raised by Dickerson and others "is an important debate."

"What people are really asking is, 'Can I trust this guy? Do I have confidence in this guy? Does he understand my situation, and therefore [is he] able to take my issues into the political system?'" Walters said.

It's sad to me that some people seem to think that they can only trust people with their same ancestry and skin color.

It's also interesting to note that no one has investigated whether or not Senator Obama's African ancestors owned slaves; this also wouldn't be surprising, since slavery was historically widespread in Africa.

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