"How can the man who passes between culturally black and white voices with such flexibility, with such ease, be an honest man?" Smith asks. In public life, toggling your identity is ordinarily a binary process: The new identity cancels the other. Obama's trick has been to make additive what is ordinarily subtractive, and do it convincingly. Smith answers her own question, concluding:
The tale [Obama] tells is not the old tragedy of gaining a new, false voice at the expense of a true one. The tale he tells is all about addition. His is the story of a genuinely many-voiced man. If it has a moral it is that each man must be true to his selves, plural.
Thanks to reader Jim Milstein for alerting me to the Zadie Smith piece. But what have the rest of you done for me lately? Send tips to email@example.com. (E-mail may be quoted by name in "The Fray," Slate's readers' forum; in a future article; or elsewhere unless the writer stipulates otherwise. Permanent disclosure: Slate is owned by the Washington Post Co.)