Dreams From My Father, A Story Of Race And Inheritance. Barack Obama. Book Review. Part One: Origins, Chapter Three: Punahou.

June 20, 2011 by
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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 named Coretta were 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.

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