Dreams from My Father

I learned to slip back and forth between my black and white worlds, understanding that each possessed its own language and customs and structures of meaning, convinced that with a bit of translation on my part the two worlds would eventually cohere.

While I was in college Barack Obama spoke at my freshman convocation. Most of us had never heard of him at that point, and from my seat in the area behind the speakers I could distinguish only parts of the actual talk.

My bookmark was about seventy pages in when I abandoned Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance for calculus, and I had to start again from the beginning now. As is now common knowledge, Barack is the son of a white woman from Hawaii and a Kenyan. He constantly struggled to reconcile with and understand this diversity growing up. He also, apparently, spent part of his childhood in Indonesia and worked a few years with a Chicago grassroots organization before entering law school.

I’m not particularly political, so luckily neither was this book. It was written almost ten years ago, before he even entered politics. Instead it’s a quest and question of identity that could be anyone’s story. The shadow of his father played a large role in shaping his life, as well as the tugs of being biracial. He gives us an honest look at the low points and troubled thoughts, failures as well as success. He seems idealistic at times too, though, especially during his organizing years (you can faintly see the seeds of “hope” and “change”). I was struck by his description of how people reacted to Harold Washington, the black mayor of¬† Chicago at the time, because in some ways it’s similar to attitudes around the last election.

In the last section of the book Obama finally visits his family in Kenya, his father’s people. He writes a bit about the effects of colonialism, which made me recall the point of view in Death in Kenya. He points out other injustices, abroad and especially in America: subtle differences in the way people act, a lack of caring, a fear of the other that shouldn’t still exist but sometimes does. To me honest made me feel guilty at times, or sad, or helpless.

Dreams from my Father did nothing to alter my view of Obama as a politician (and he’s not one in the book). He has some policies I agree with, and just as many I’m against. What this did help me do, however, is gain a better understanding of who he is as a person, and where he has come from. As the saying goes, you cannot know or judge a man until you have walked in his shoes, seen what he has seen.

This is my book for the “Relative” category in the What’s in a Name Challenge.

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Published in: on November 24, 2009 at 11:30 pm  Comments (1)  
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  1. […] book with a “relative” in its title: Dreams from my Father, by Barack […]


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