Dreams From My Father, A Story Of Race And Inheritance. Barack Obama. Book Review. Part One: Origins, Chapter Three: Punahou.
Barack At The Punahou Academy . Fifth Grade.
At the age of nine his mother sent Barack from Indonesia to live with his grandparents Stanley and Madelyn. He was enrolled in the Punahou Academy on Oahu. Punahou is an elite school and Barack had to take tests and pass interviews to gain admittance. He refers to his admittance, despite a long waiting list, as his first brush with “affirmative action although having nothing to do with race,” because Stanley’s boss was an alumnus and intervened on Barack’s behalf to secure his admission.
He was to spend seven years at Punahou populated mostly by children from the wealthier upper middle class on the island. He and another girl namedwere the only blacks in his grade; however they were not particularly close although other students made fun of them as boyfriend and girl friend.
During these years Stanley, who retired from the furniture business and Madelyn, nicknamed Gramps and Toot, looked after him. Madelyn was the vice president of a bank so Stanley took him to school and back. He had a warm and nurturing relationship with his grandparents.
Apparently Barack was a diligent student and a normal boy interested in comics and action programs on television. He doesn’t speak of any close friends at Punahou not even Coretta who he kept at arm’s length. (One wonders where Coretta is these days and what her recollections of Barack at Punahou are. She was obliviously a member of a family of means in order to be accepted as a student in the first place. David Remnick, in his biography of Barack Obama, The Bridge, describes this girl as Joella Edwards, the daughter of a doctor, who relates that she was happy to see Barack join her class as she was the lone black and had been often teased with racially tinged slurs i.e., Aunt Jemima, and, burned toast etc. She says she was treated so badly by the students and staff that she left after the ninth grade. While she was there Barry was her savior.) Barack doesn’t relate any serious occasions of racial prejudice aimed at him or her by either the students or staff.
He had been bragging that his father was an African prince and telling other fibs about his father when he learned that his father was coming to Hawaii for a visit. When His father arrived he was in a weakened state as the result of an automobile accident. Also he noticed that the whites of his eyes were yellow which was caused by his many bouts with malaria. His father spent a month in Hawaii and his grandparents sublet the apartment below theirs for him. Also at this time his mother came from Indonesia. Although both parents had remarried at this time they remained cordial.
There was tension between his mother, grandparents and Barack Senior over the manner in which young Barack was to be raised. Barrack Sr. was a much sterner parent than either his grandparents or his mother. However there were quiet moments together when Barack and father were able to bond and he grew to respect his father. (His father had another family of four boys and a girl at this time. Also he was employed by the Kenyan Government as an economist.)
The crowning moment of his visit came when his teacher Miss Hefty invited his father to speak to the students about life in Kenya. Barack was scared that his fibs about his father being a prince would be found out.
However when his father spoke he impressed his fellow students of the importance of Africa as the place where mankind originated and the customs of the Luo Tribe. He told of the long fight by Kenyans to gain their freedom from the colonial domination of the British. He related that many Kenyans had been enslaved solely because of the color of their skin just as in the United States. He told them that Kenyans valued their freedom, independence, hard work and sacrifice just as Americans did.
As a result of his lecture the students thought Barack’s father was “pretty cool” and Barack gained respect in their eyes.
At the end of a month his father returned to Kenya and Barack never saw him again but he had learned that his father was a strong and principled man, well educated, learned about the world and that he was not some savage living in a mud hut in the jungle.
Thus he acquired his fathers dream to be free, independent and beholden to no one.
Dreams From My Father, A Story Of Race And Inheritance. Barack Obama. Book Review. Part One, Chapter Two, Indonesia. Formative Years.
Lolo Soetoro, Ann Soetoro, Maya and Barack in Indonesia
Barack who was born August 4, 1961 in Oahu, Hawaii, U.S.A. Lived in Indonesia from ages six through ten with his mother and her second husband Lolo Soetoro, a Geographer for the Indonesian government.
It was during this period that although he attended Indonesian schools he was also home schooled by his mother in English and other subjects. During this period he became aware of the many inequities of life in Indonesia. Some people were reduced to begging to survive others suffered from ailments without adequate medical care. Some had good jobs others did menial work.
When his mother married Lolo, he had been a fellow student at the University of Hawaii and he was recalled home as were all students studying abroad after the overthrow of Sukarno by a military man, Suharto.
During this period he became conscious of the fact that he had a different skin color than others. His mother told him about famous, successful black people Martin Luther King Thurgood Marshall, Sidney Poitier, Lena Horne and others. However he couldn’t help noticing on the imported American television shows that black people were treated differently and held different positions in life than the whites on the same shows. In particular on I Spy he wondered why Bill Cosby never got the girl.
Then one day he came upon a pictorial in Life Magazine about a black man who had tried to change the color of his skin by peeling it off. This brought home to him the challenges he faced being a member of a black minority that was subject to racial prejudice.
He also became aware of power in the world and that those who held it made the rules. His mother taught English to businessmen at the American Embassy. There were men in the Embassy who held titles like Economist or Agricultural Scientist that seemed to be very knowledgeable about who controlled Indonesia. He also became aware that Sukarno was overthrown in a bloody coup because it was thought he might be a communist sympathizer.
He took note of these perceptions about power and race and also realized upon later reflection that his mother seemed to be a new deal democrat while his father was a principled man that followed universal precepts of the dignity and rights of men. Lolo on the other hand, who had lost his father and brother in the political upheaval surrounding the coup along with the family homestead, was a fatalist divorcing his ideals from the realities of everyday life and went along to get along and kowtowed to those in power to survive.
It was during these years that he realized that his place and his father’s place in the world were different from his mothers teachings concerning the more successful blacks. Those lives were not the complete story of racial identity in the World. He learned that his fate was permanently intertwined with not only his mother’s heritage but also his father’s heritage.
Dreams From My Father, A Story Of Race And Inheritance. Barack Obama. Book Review. Preface To the 2004 Edition, Introduction, Part One, Chapter One, Origins.
Stanley Dunham With Daughter Ann and Her Children Maya and Barack
This book was written in the year after Barack Obama graduated from Harvard Law School. He was the first black elected to be president of the Harvard Law Review and Crown Publishers offered him an advance if he would write about his experiences. Also in the 2004, reissue Preface Obama mentions he was only the third black elected to the Senate since Reconstruction.
The book is about growing up as a person of mixed race in America. His mother, Ann Dunham, was white and his father, Barack Obama, Sr. was black and from Kenya. They met while attending the University of Hawaii. His maternal grandparents were originally from Kansas and his grandfather was in the furniture business and that is how his mother and her parents came to Hawaii. His father, was from a village near Lake Victoria in Kenya. He was the son of an elder and was sent to school in America to learn the ways of the West along with a number of other African students. (Kenya was in the process of disengaging from colonial rule and needed trained administrators.) His mother and father were married in a small wedding and remained together for about two years. Barrack Obama, Sr. left to pursue a PhD at Harvard. They were divorced in 1964.
Young Obama grew up in Hawaii which is often characterized as the melting pot of the Pacific because of the melding of Asians with other Asians, Polynesians and whites. However there were not very many blacks in Hawaii. Young Obama was racially mixed and grew up in a white household with his mother and her parents. The fact his father was missing was not relevant to him as a young child until he grew older and also the fact he was half black and half white was not a concious concern as a youngster.
However he reflects back on these concerns as he became older. He thinks that his grandparents were probably aware of racial problems in mainland America. There were Jim Crow laws in Kansas and they had lived for awhile in Texas were racial prejudice was much more pronounced. He reflects that they were probably skeptical at first at the thought of their daughter marrying a black man and also a foreigner. They knew that mixed race couples had many obstacles to conquer and that at the time such marriages were illegal in many states. However they were liberals even if they would never think of themselves that way and accepted their daughter’s choice. Later on when he was born he was a welcome and a loved part of the family. However as he grew older he became aware that his biological father was absent and that he was half black and he began to reflect how this would affect his life.
This book begins with Obama’s clarity of thought, eloquence of expression and willingness to discuss dispassionately what others often leave unsaid or if said it is with bitterness and rancor.