Part I, which is available here, examined Barack Obama’s deep agonizing over his multi-racial identity.
Mr. Obama signals his obsession with race in the subtitle to Dreams From My Father (DMF), “A story of race and inheritance.” For Mr. Obama to have agreed to such a subtitle, both in the original and in its re-issue in 2004, is a sign of something that becomes painfully evident in the books, that here is a man possessed by race and stuffed with black victimhood.
In DMF, Mr. Obama parades his racial anxieties right in the introduction:
When people who don’t know me well, black or white, discover my background (and it is usually a discovery, for I ceased to advertise my mother’s race at the age of 12 or 13, when I began to suspect that I was ingratiating myself with whites), I see the split-second adjustments they have to make, the searching of my eyes for some telltale sign. They no longer know who I am. Privately, they guess at my troubled heart, I suppose — the mixed blood, the divided soul, the ghostly image of the mulatto trapped between two worlds.” (DMF, p. xv.)
Mr. Obama wants to break out of the trap and be one of the “brothers,” as he casually refers to blacks in DMF. This makes him hostile to any mixed-race person who does not identify entirely as black. After describing, even with a certain sensitivity, the dilemma of one mixed-race woman, he brushes her aside.
She was a good-looking woman, Joyce was, with her green eyes and honey skin and pouty lips. We lived in the same dorm my freshman year, and all the brothers were after her. One day I asked her if she was going to the Black Students’ Association meeting. She looked at me funny, then started shaking her head like a baby who doesn’t want what it sees on the spoon.
“I’m not black,” Joyce said. “I’m multiracial.” Then she started telling me about her father, who happened to be Italian and was the sweetest man in the world; and her mother, who happened to be part African and part French and part Native American and part something else. “Why should I have to choose between them?” she asked me. Her voice cracked, and I thought she was going to cry. “It’s not white people who are making me choose. Maybe it used to be that way, but now they’re willing to treat me like a person. No — it’s black people who always have to make everything racial. They’re the ones making me choose. They’re the ones who are telling me that I can’t be who I am . . .”
They, they, they. That was the problem with people like Joyce. They talked about the richness of their multicultural heritage and it sounded real good, until you noticed that they avoided black people. It wasn’t a matter of conscious choice, necessarily, just a matter of gravitational pull, the way integration always worked, a one-way street. The minority assimilated the majority culture, not the other way around. Only white culture could be neutral and objective. Only white culture could be non-racial, willing to adopt the occasional exotic into its ranks. Only white culture had individuals. (DMF, pp. 99–100.)
Or take Mr. Obama’s conversation with Mark, a mixed-race half brother by Mr. Obama senior’s second white wife who worked in the United States as a physicist. Mr. Obama met him during his first trip to Kenya:
“You don’t ever think of settling here?”
Mark took a sip of his Coke. “No,” he said. “I mean, there’s not much work for a physicist, is there, in a country where the average person doesn’t have a telephone.”
I should have stopped then, but something — the certainty in this brother’s voice, maybe, or our rough resemblance, like looking at a foggy mirror — made me want to push harder. I asked, “Don’t you ever feel like you might be losing something?”
Mark put down his knife and fork, and for the first time that afternoon his eyes looked straight into mine. “I understand what you are getting at,” he said flatly. “You think that somehow I’m cut off from my roots, that sort of thing.” He wiped his mouth and dropped the napkin onto his plate. “Well, you’re right. At a certain point, I made a decision not to think who my real father was. He was dead to me even when he was alive. I knew that he was a drunk and showed no concern for his wife or children. That was enough.”
“It made you mad?” —
“Not mad. Just numb.”
“And that doesn’t bother you? Being numb, I mean?”
“Towards him, no. Other things move me. Beethoven’s symphonies. Shakespeare’s sonnets. I know — it’s not what an African is supposed to care about. But who’s to tell me what I should and shouldn’t care about? Understand, I’m not ashamed of being Kenyan. I just don’t ask myself a lot of questions about what means. About who I really am.” He shrugged. “I don’t know. Maybe I should. I can acknowledge the possibility that if I looked more fully at myself, I would . . .”
For the briefest moment I sensed Mark hesitate, like a climber losing his footing. Then, almost immediately, he regained his composure and waved for the check.
“Who knows?” he said. “What’s certain is that I don’t need the stress. Life’s hard enough without all that excess baggage.” (DMF, pp. 343–44.)
Mr. Obama claims that racial agonizing knocked his love-life off course. Here he is talking to his half-sister Auma:
“Well . . . there was a woman in New York that I loved. She was white. She had dark hair, and specks of green in her eyes. Her voice sounded like a wind chime. We saw each other for almost a year. On the weekends, mostly. Sometimes in her apartment, sometimes in mine. You know how you can fall into your own private world? Just two people, hidden and warm. Your own language. Your own customs. That’s how it was.
“Anyway, one weekend she invited me to her family’s country house. The parents were there, and they were very nice, very gracious. It was autumn, beautiful, with woods all around us, and we paddled a canoe across this round, icy lake full of small gold leaves that collected along the shore. The family knew every inch of the land. They know how the hills had formed, how the glacial drifts had created the land, the names of the earliest white settlers — their ancestors — and before that, the names of the Indians who’d once hunted the land. The house was very old, her grandfather’s house. He had inherited it from his grandfather. The library was filled with old books and pictures of the grandfather with famous people he had known — presidents, diplomats, industrialists. There was this tremendous gravity to the room.
“Standing in that room, I realized that our two worlds, my friend’s and mine, were as distant from each other as Kenya is from Germany. And I knew that if we stayed together I’d eventually live in hers. After all, I’d been doing it most of my life. Between the two of us, I was the one who knew how to live as an outsider.”
“So what happened?”
I shrugged. “I pushed her away. We started to fight. We started thinking about the future, and it pressed in on our warm little world. One night I took her to see a new play by a black playwright. It was a very angry play, but very funny. Typical black American humor. The audience was mostly black, and everybody was laughing and clapping and hollering like they were in church. After the play was over, my friend started talking about why black people were so angry all the time. I said it was a matter of remembering — nobody asks why Jews remembered the Holocaust, I think I said — and she said that’s different, and I said it wasn’t, and she said that anger was just a dead end. We had a big fight in front of the theatre. When we got back to the car she started crying. She couldn’t be black, she said. She would if she could, but she couldn’t. She could only be herself, and wasn’t that enough.” (DMF, pp. 210&ndash0;11.)
Despite his insistence that he cares deeply about his white mother and grandparents, Mr. Obama’s attitude towards them is deeply mistrustful. He constantly views them through the prism of their whiteness and their, to his mind, inability to understand what it is to be other than white. (Mr. Obama, of course, never considers his inability to understand what it is to be white.) Here he is, more than a little contemptuous of his mother’s attitude towards blacks as they are depicted in a film called Black Orpheus:
The film, a groundbreaker of sorts due to its mostly black, Brazilian cast, had been made in the fifties. The story line was simple: the myth of the ill-fated lovers Orpheus and Eurydice set in the favelas of Rio during Carnival. In Technicolor splendor, set against scenic green hills, the black and brown Brazilians sang and danced and strummed guitars like carefree birds in colorful plumage. About halfway through the movie I decided that I had seen enough, and turned to my mother to see if she might be ready to go. But her face, lit by the blue glow of the screen, was set in a wistful gaze. At that moment, I felt as if I were being given a window into her heart, the unreflective heart of her youth. I suddenly realized that the depiction of childlike blacks I was now seeing on the screen, the reverse images of Conrad’s dark savages, was what my mother had carried with her to Hawaii all those years before, a reflection of the simple fantasies that had been forbidden to a white, middle-class girl from Kansas, the promise of another life: warm, sensual, exotic different. I turned away, embarrassed for her . . .” (DMF, pp. 123–24.)
Mr. Obama is cocksure about what he claims to have read in his mother’s face — and his disdain for her is very unbecoming.
He also claims to love his grandmother, “Toots,” but she, too, is just another foil for his contempt for whites. A black panhandler reportedly asked her for money at the bus stop on her way to work. She was so upset that she asked Mr. Obama’s grandfather to drive her to work the next day. He refuses.
I [Mr. Obama] took her into the other room and asked her what happened. “A man asked me for money yesterday. While I was waiting for the bus.”
Her lips pursed with irritation. “He was very aggressive, Barry [when he was younger he went by the name of Barry]. I gave him a dollar and he kept asking. If the bus hadn’t come, I think he might have hit me over the head.”
I returned to the kitchen. Gramps was rinsing his cup, his back turned to me. “Listen,” I said, “why don’t you just give her a ride? She seems pretty upset.”
“By a panhandler?”
“Yeah, I know — but it’s probably a little scary for a big man to block her way. It’s really no big deal.”
He turned around and I saw now that he was shaking. “It is a big deal. It’s a big deal to me. She’s been bothered by men before. You want know why she’s so scared this time? I’ll tell you why. Before you came in, she told me the fella was black.” He whispered the word. “That’s the real reason why she’s bothered. And I just don’t think that’s right.”
The words were like a fist in my stomach, and I wobbled to regain my composure. In my steadiest voice, I told him that such an attitude bothered me too. (DMF, pp. 88–89.)
This is classic Obama: painting his white, middle-America grandfather as a neurotically aware anti-racist, his grandmother as a covert racist, and himself as the shocked and sinless spectator. Of course, not even his grandfather’s exhibitionist anti-racism is enough. After this episode, Mr. Obama concludes that however well his grandparents behave towards him he still knows that “men who might easily have been my brothers could still inspire their rawest fears.” (DMF, p. 89.)
Mr. Obama often refers to the physical appearance of blacks and his descriptions are almost always positive: “Linda, with her dark, striking beauty . . .” (DMF, p. 234.), “An African woman emerging from behind the customs gate, moving with graceful steps . . .” (DMF, p. 207.) “They [Masai] were quiet, handsome men, their cheekbones accentuated by the fire . . .” (DMF, p. 353.)
Conversely, Mr. Obama’s descriptions of whites are usually unflattering. The exception is the white girlfriend mentioned above, but of course Mr. Obama had to say he had a beautiful girlfriend to boost his own ego. Here is Marty Kaufman, the man who gives him his job as a community organizer:
His appearance didn’t inspire much confidence. He was a white man of medium height wearing a rumpled suit over a pudgy frame. His face was heavy with two-day whiskers; behind a pair of thick, wire-rimmed glasses, his eyes seemed set in a perpetual squint.” (DMF, pp. 141–42.)
And here are some white strangers:
I flew out of Heathrow Airport under stormy skies. A group of young British men dressed in ill-fitting blazers filled the back of the plane, and one of them — a pale, gangly youth, still troubled with acne — took the seat beside me.” (DMF, p. 299.)
He was a slight, soft-spoken man with round glasses and pasty blond hair.” (DMF, p. 354.)
When he goes to Kenya for the first time he finally gets away from all those white people. He is “going home,” and finds that
a steady procession of black faces passed before your eyes, the round faces of babies and the chipped, worn faces of the old; beautiful faces that made me understand the transformation that Asante and other black Americans claimed to have undergone after their first visit to Africa. For a span of weeks or months, you could experience the freedom that comes from not feeling watched, the freedom of believing that your hair grows as it’s supposed to grow and that your rump sways the way a rump is supposed to sway. You could see a man talking to himself as just plain crazy, or read about the criminal on the front page of the daily paper and ponder the corruption of the human heart, without having to think about whether the criminal or lunatic said something about your own fate. Here the world was black, and so you were just you; you could discover all those things that were unique to your life without living a lie or committing betrayal. (DMF, p. 311.)
Living among whites, in other words, is living a lie or committing betrayal. Mr. Obama does not consider the possibility that all races, including whites, might prefer a homogenous society in which they did not have to think about race.
Mr. Obama found Kenya to be not all he wanted it to be, with flagrant corruption and tribalism. The politically correct reader can relax, however, because this is not the fault of Kenyans but harkens back to colonialism, “when the lives of whites in foreign lands rested comfortably on the backs of darker races” (DMF, p. 314) and left a legacy of psychological subordination. Mr. Obama illustrates this with a black waiter who ignored Mr. Obama and his half sister while he served white tourists:
Did the waiter know that black rule had come? Did it mean anything to him? Maybe once, I thought to myself. He would be old enough to remember independence, the shouts of “Uhuru!” and the raising of new flags. But such memories may seem almost fantastic to him now, distant and naïve. He learned that the same people who controlled the land before independence still controlled the land, that he still cannot eat in the restaurants or stay in the same hotels that the white man built. He sees the money of the city swirling above his head, the technology which spits out goods from its robot mouth. If he’s ambitious he will do his best to learn the white man’s language, use the white man’s machines, trying to make ends meet the same way the computer repairman in Newark or the bus driver back in Chicago does, with alternating spurts of enthusiasm or frustration but mostly with resignation. And if you say to him that he’s serving the interests of neocolonialism or some other such thing, he will reply that yes, he will serve if that is what’s required. It is the lucky ones who serve; the unlucky ones drift into the murky tide of hustles and odd jobs; many will drown. (DMF, pp. 314–15)
The same people controlling the land now as during colonial times? How about the post-colonial black elite? Did they decide to hide away during his visit?
Here is Mr. Obama deciding to serve his people by becoming a “community organizer”: “That’s what I’ll do, I’ll organize black folks. At the grass roots. For change.” (DMF, p. 133.)
In The Audacity of Hope (AOH) he makes excuses for black businessmen:
Few African American entrepreneurs have either the inherited wealth or the angel investors to help launch their business or cushion them from a sudden economic downturn. Few doubt that if they were white they would be further along in reaching their goals. (AOH, p. 241.)
Perhaps the most revealing passage on race in either book is in DMF, in which Mr. Obama considers the case for black separatism:
In talking to self-professed nationalists like Rafiq [a follower of the Nation of Islam], though, I came to see how the blanket indictment of everything white served a central function in their message of uplift; how, psychologically, at least, one depended on the other. For when the nationalist spoke of a reawakening of values as the only solution to black poverty expressing an implicit, if not explicit, criticism to black to listeners: that we did not have to live as we did. And while there were those who could take such an unadorned message and use it to hew life for themselves–those with the stolid dispositions that Booker T. Washington had once demanded from his followers–in the ears of many blacks such talk smacked of the explanations that whites had always offered for black poverty: that we continued to suffer from, if not genetic inferiority then cultural weakness. It was a message that ignored causality or fault, a message outside history, without a script or plot that might insist on progression. For a people stripped of their history, a people often ill equipped to retrieve that history in any form other than what fluttered across the television screen, the testimony of what we saw every day seemed to confirm our worst suspicions about ourselves.
Nationalism provided that history, an unambiguous morality that was easily communicated and easily grasped. A steady attack on the white race, the constant recitation of black people’s experience in this country, served as the ballast that could prevent the ideas of personal and communal responsibility from tipping into an ocean of despair. Yes, the nationalist would say, whites are responsible for your sorry state, not any inherent flaws in you. In fact, whites are so heartless and devious that we can no longer expect anything from them. The self-loathing you feel, what keeps you drinking or thieving is planted by them. Rid them from your mind and find your true power liberated. Rise up, ye mighty race!
This process of displacement, this means of engaging in self criticism while removing ourselves from the object of criticism, helped explain the much-admired success of the Nation of Islam in turning around the lives of drug addicts and criminals. But if it was especially well suited to those at the bottom rungs of American life, it also spoke to all the continuing doubts of the lawyer who had run hard for the gold ring yet still experienced the awkward silence when walking into the clubhouse; those young college students who warily measured the distance between them and life on Chicago’s mean streets, with the danger that distance implied; all the black people who, it turned out, shared with me a voice that whispered inside them–“You don’t really belong here.”
In a sense, then, Rafiq was right when he insisted that, deep down, all blacks were potential nationalists. The anger was there, bottled up and often turned inward. And as I thought about Ruby and her blue eyes, the teenagers calling each other “nigger” and worse, I wondered whether, for now at least, Rafiq wasn’t also right in preferring that that anger be redirected; whether a black politics that suppressed rage toward whites generally, or one that failed to elevate race loyalty above all else, was a politics inadequate to the task.
It was a painful thought to consider, as painful now as it had been years ago. It contradicted the morality my mother had taught me, a morality of subtle distinctions–between individuals of goodwill and those who wished me ill, between active malice and ignorance or indifference. I had a personal stake in that moral framework; I’d discovered that I couldn’t escape it if I tried. And yet perhaps it was a framework that blacks in this country could no longer afford; perhaps it weakened black resolve, encouraged confusion within the ranks. Desperate times called for desperate measures, and for many blacks, times were chronically desperate. If nationalism could create an effective insularity, deliver on its promise of self-respect, the hurt it might cause well-meaning whites, or the inner turmoil it caused people like me, would be of little consequence.
If nationalism could deliver. As it turned out, questions of effectiveness, and not sentiment, caused most of my quarrels with Rafiq. . . .” (AOH, pp. 198–200.)
So there you have it. Mr. Obama had no moral objection to black nationalism, only a practical one. As for the interest of whites, even white liberals, well, they ultimately do not matter.
Even if we did not have the evidence of Mr. Obama’s own words, his association with Jeremiah Wright and members of the Nation of Islam speak volumes. The Nation of Islam views whites as devils intent on oppressing blacks, and Rev. Wright’s hatred for whites and for America is well known.
Who could sit listening to the views of the likes of Rev. Wright for 20 years without being in sympathy with them to some degree? Why else would he allow him to perform his marriage and baptize his children? It is also worth asking why a self-declared inclusive politician would want to belong to a black church rather than an integrated one and why someone who has a white mother, was brought up by whites, and attended schools which were overwhelmingly white would wish to immerse himself so deeply in blackness unless that was the only way he could feel at home.
Mr. Obama’s current view of race is probably best expressed in this passage:
“To say that we are one people is not to suggest that race no longer matters–that the fight for equality has been won, that the problems that minorities face in this country today are largely self-inflicted. We know the statistics: On almost every single socioeconomic indicator, from infant mortality to life expectancy to employment to home ownership, black and Latino Americans in particular continue to lag far behind their white counterparts. In corporate boardrooms across America, minorities are grossly underrepresented; in the United States Senate there are only three Latinos and two Asian members (both from Hawaii), and as I write today I am the chamber’s sole African American. To suggest that our racial attitudes play no part in these disparities is to turn a blind eye to both our history and our experience–and to relieve ourselves of the responsibility to make things right.
Moreover, while my own upbringing hardly typifies the African American experience–and although, largely through luck and circumstance, I now occupy a position that insulates me from most of the bumps and bruises that the average black man must endure–I can recite the usual litany of petty slights that during my forty-five years have been directed my way: security guards tailing me as I shop in department stores, white couples who toss me their car keys as I stand outside a restaurant waiting for the valet, police cars pulling me over for no apparent reason. I know what it’s like to have people tell me I can’t do something because of my color, and I know the bitter swill of swallowed-back anger. I know as well that [my wife] Michelle and I must be continually vigilant against some of the debilitating story lines that our daughters may absorb–from TV and music and friends and the streets — about who the world thinks they are, and what the world imagines they should be.” (AOH, pp. 232–33)
The kindest view is that Mr. Obama is seriously infected with the victimhood mentality. The unkindest is that he is an out-and-out separatist. Internet journalist Steve Sailer has made a good analysis of Mr. Obama’s views on race and how they have conveniently changed over his political life in his book, The Half-Blood Prince.
[See also Part III]