Dreams From My Father, A Story Of Race And Inheritance. Barack Obama. Book Review. Part One: Origins, Chapter Four: Punahou II. Racial Meditations.
In this Chapter Barack who had led a relatively sheltered life growing up in Hawaii and spending a few years in Indonesia meets a new friend, Ray, with a different perspective on being black in a white dominated society. Ray’s cynicism about the acceptance of blacks in main stream culture causes Barack to reflect as to just what the black man’s place is in white America. Ray’s position picked up from his former life in Los Angeles was that blacks would always be outsiders.
Although as he grew older Barack had to bear occasional racial slurs his family had mainly shielded him from the racial prejudice which was minimal in Hawaii.
However in his teens he noticed that blacks were excluded or not fully welcome at white social events and that his white friends were uncomfortable at the black parties that Ray took Barack and his friends to at Schofield Barracks. The more mature Ray told him that most white chicks would not date him and it would be the same for Barack.
Barack, being who he is, went to the library and checked out books by Baldwin, Ellison, Hughes, Wright and Dubois and read their writings on the subject of race in America to corroborate Ray’s nightmare vision of black life in America. These thoughtful writers painted a dismal picture of the opportunities for blacks. Then he met a man named Malik who was a lapsed member of the Nation of Islam and a believer in the philosophy of Malcolm X whose book Barack had read. While discussing Malcolm X’s book with Malik another man joined in and said that Malcolm tells it like it is but he is not ready to leave the U.S. for Africa or the desert. Ray laughs and Barack admonishes him “What are you laughing about you never read Malcolm X.” Ray retorts “I don’t need a book to tell me how to be black.”
Then he was deeply wounded when his grandmother Toot asked Stanley for a ride to work since a man was pestering her for money at the bus stop. Stanley was angry and Barack offered to drive her instead. However Stanley was not angry about driving her but because she afraid because the man was black. Stanley saw the pained look in Barack’s eyes and said I am sorry I told you and then drove his wife to work. However the hurt remained.
Later Barack discussed this with Frank, an aging black poet, one of Stanley’s friends. Frank said Stanley is a good man but he will never know me because he has not lived the black experience. He also said that both Stanley is right and Toot is right to be afraid because she is aware to some degree that blacks have a lot of reasons to hate whites.
Barack says he realizes for the first time that he was utterly alone in life.
(Young Barack may have placed too much significance on Madelyn’s reaction to the bus stop incident. Any woman who was aggressively badgered by a homeless man for money be he white or black would be reluctant to go back to the bus stop the next morning.
Why he feels “utterly alone in the world “ one can only guess. His formative years were spent with his white grandparents and his white mother. His father was absent. His self worth and values were obtained from them and not from society in general or as he grew older from his black “friends”. So while he became aware of racial prejudice and its injustices as he grew older it was not a decisive factor in his development just a tertiary one but perhaps a prime motivator.
One has to speculate that if Barack had the ability to pass for white and didn’t believe his options were circumscribed would he still have accepted the challenge to go into politics and run for president or would he have joined a law firm and led a middle class life not making a major difference in our culture.)
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.