Dreams From My Father, A Story Of Race And Inheritance. Barack Obama. Book Review. Part One: Origins, Chapter Six: Columbia University. Catching Fire.

July 17, 2011 by
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Barack Obama Graduation Columbia University

Occidental and Columbia had a transfer program and Barrack availed himself of it to go to Columbia University. He says wanted to move to New York to live in a black community.

While at Columbia he lived in Harlem at Occidental he lived in basically a white community. Left unsaid was the fact that Columbia was a far more prestigious school than Occidental. So it may be Barrack was catching fire in his desire to move up the social, political and economic ladder although it may have been a vague idea in his mind at this time. He was becoming a more competitive person. He says he ran three miles a day and made a serious effort at his studies.

Living in New York was a far more raw and gritty reality  than the leafy suburban scene of Occidental college and its environs. Life between the races was much less cordial at Colombia as witnessed in the exchanges on the bathroom stalls of Columbia. This is where students wrote derogatory messages addressing each other as “niggers and kikes.”  Relations between the races at Occidental had been more scholarly and philosophical. (However one cannot draw a lot of significance from the element that stoops to writing expletives on bathroom stalls)

He had written for the first time in a long time to his father about his change of schools. At this time his father was working as an economist for the Kenyan government. While his father’s return letter was short it was a positive one and although Barrack doesn’t state verbatim his own letter he does state his father’s letter.   His father apologizes for not writing more often but excuses himself by saying that his work requires him to travel often. He invites Barack to Kenya to meet his brothers and sisters and to consider making a life there. He also inquires after the welfare of his mother and grandparents. It is signed, Love, Dad.

The letter points out that coming home after graduation will allow him to meet his people and to know where he belonged. Barack had been searching for identity and a place to belong and establish roots. However he was sure it was not with his black family in Africa or his white mother, half sister and grandparents in Hawaii. He considered himself a black American and the place he chose would be in the black community but exactly where he was not sure. He stops referring to himself as Barry  about this time.

While at Columbia his mother and sister Maya came to visit. They first stayed with him but because of his cramped quarters in Harlem Ann and Maya moved to a condominium on Park Avenue lent to her by a friend.

They went to a favorite movie of his mother that has become a classic. She wanted Barack and Maya to see it with her. It was Black Orpheus based on the Greek Myth of the love story of Orpheus and Eurydice set in the favelas of Rio de Janiero.  Afterwards speaking alone Maya thought the movie was corny and Barack held the movie in distain because it treated the blacks like innocent children. His mother he thought was naive and idealistic about blacks and their lives and this may have been part of her motivation for marrying Barack Sr. It was at this time that she told them that Barack’s Sr.’s  father was against the marriage not wanting the Obama blood to be mixed with white blood.  Also  it was revealed that Barack’s father had a wife and child in Kenya from whom he was separated. However there were no records of the marriage or the separation. So the marriage went forward.

More devastating to Barack was the information that his father had two scholarships to study for his master’s degree. One to the New School in New York which would have provided means to bring his family along  and one to Harvard which did not. Barack Sr. chose Harvard as it was the better school and abandoned his family in Hawaii. (At Harvard he met another white woman who he later married and took back to Kenya with him.)

Barack dismisses his father’s letter as dime store advice and relates a dream of seeing his father in which they seem to reach some sort of rapprochement. This occurs after he is told by his father’s brother, who was in Boston, that his father had died. He called his mother with the news. She cried out in grief. His post graduation trip to Kenya was put on indefinite hold.

He reflects that his father’s memory provided him with a strong image and “had given him some bulwark on which to grow up, an image to live up to or disappoint.”

(Perhaps his father’s drive to get an education was inspiring but the strongest male figure in Barack’s life up to this point has been Stanley Dunham who took him under his wing and saw to it that he attended a college preparatory academy, Punahou, and mentored him on life while he was in grade school and high school; a critical period in Barack’s life.  However he does not speak much about Stan Dunham’s influence on his thinking. Then again Barack seemed adrift in his senior high school year  until his mother came home and challenged him to do better in school and go to college. So maybe Stan Dunham’s (who never went to college himself)  desires for his grandson’s future were not positive enough for a person of Barack’s potential. Barack’s observations in this chapter seem bitter and skewed. However he is finding himself as a person and pushing himself to develop mentally and physically. Perhaps he is vaguely aware of his future potential.)

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