Dreams From My Father, A Story Of Race And Inheritance. Barack Obama. Book Review. Part Two: Chicago, Chapter Ten. Self Esteem.
In 1987 and ‘88 Barack continues his organizing work as winter in Chicago sets in. For him it is a lonely existence as he has not established relationships or friendships with people his own age. He is still working through his search for identity and the black place in America.
He conducts his interviews to find out what things the community needs to better itself. While talking to the interviewees he also learns of their hopes and despairs, triumphs and failures, like the black mother who raises a son to graduate from Yale Law School only for him to become a victim of schizophrenia, who now spent his days alone in a room reading newspapers. Another man saw his father’s business schemes turn to dust and for him to turn to alcohol and gambling as a way of life.
In Chicago he encounters the philosophy of Black Nationalism as espoused by the Nation of Islam led by Louis Farrakhan. Also he learns of conventional Islam as followed by Rafiq al Shabazz the other community organizer he encountered at Altgeld Gardens and other Afro centric philosophies. He determines the motivating force behind most is hatred of the white man as the cause of all the problems of the blacks in America.
Rafiq while hating the whites also loathes the blacks as unreliable. Barack sees self loathing as a common thread in black culture. He sees that from Rafiq to Malcolm X and even further back blacks have been handicapped by self loathing as a result of being stripped of their culture and identity and bound in slavery. Many slaves did not know their birth date or fathers names and were deprived of knowledge of their history and even the ability to read and write. After freedom was granted they had few skills or assets with which to develop and were systematically excluded from voting, the professions and business. Thus this inability to adapt to a free society inflicted from without led to a conscious or subconscious lack of self esteem and self loathing which further inhibited the development of blacks which continues into the present.
Barack sees that a basic problem of black life is a lack of self esteem and hatred of the whites. Also the race baiting of the Korean market owners or the Jewish landlords was not the way to overcome this problem. Motivation driven by hatred was self defeating.
Harold Washington had become Mayor of Chicago, not by mobilizing the black vote by hatred but by campaigning on a coalition of whites and blacks who were faced with the same economic problems in a Chicago hard hit by the social and economic problems caused by the loss of its manufacturing base.
One day he noticed a volunteer named Ruby wearing blue contact lenses and asks why. She gives him a weak answer saying they were “just contacts. The company I work for makes them.” However Barack sees a deeper meaning and wonders if Ruby could love herself for who she was. He takes her to a show of black woman celebrating their black womanhood and Ruby, with tears in her eyes, thanks him.
He has given her self esteem a boost.