In his Middle East speech, Shibley Telhami poses the question 'Why is Barack Obama black?' The speaker aims to helps us understand the complexity of identity for others by asking this question.
The talk begins as Telhami describes how he studied Arab public opinion in the Middle East and did polling for over 10 years to understand the ways people see the world. He was less interested in opinions themselves, but instead wants to comprehend the framework of reference Arabs use when they come up with their opinions.
The Middle East speech emphasizes that understanding identity is critical for understanding what people think and how they behave, which is relevant in politics. He believes choosing identity is animated by two rules on opposite ends of the spectrum: people either devalue an aspect that doesn't deliver on their core aspirations or they rally behind that which is most under assault in an effort to defend themselves.