Barack Obama – Dreams From My Father A Story Of Race And Inheritance

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English | PDF | 236 Pages | 1.24 MB

INTRODUCTION
I ORIGINALLY INTENDED A VERY different book. The opportunity to write it first arose while I was still in law school, after my election as the first black president of the Harvard Law Review, a legal periodical largely unknown outside the profession. A burst of publicity followed that election, including several newspaper articles that testified less to my modest accomplishments than to Harvard Law School’s peculiar place in the American mythology, as well as America’s hunger for any optimistic sign from the racial front-a morsel of proof that, after all, some progress has been made. A few publishers called, and I, imagining myself to have something original to say about the current state of race relations, agreed to take off a year after graduation and put my thoughts to paper. In that last year of law school, I began to organize in my mind, with a frightening confidence, just how the book would proceed. There would be an essay on the limits of civil rights litigation in bringing about racial equality, thoughts on the meaning of community and the restoration of public life through grassroots organizing, musings on affirmative action and Afrocentrism-the list of topics filled an entire page. I’d include personal anecdotes, to be sure, and analyze the sources of certain recurring emotions. But all in all it was an intellectual journey that I imagined for myself, complete with maps and restpoints and a strict itinerary: the first section completed by March, the second submitted for revision in August…. When I actually sat down and began to write, though, I found my mind pulled toward rockier shores. First longings leapt up to brush my heart. Distant voices appeared, and ebbed, and then appeared again. I remembered the stories that my mother and her parents told me as a child, the stories of a family trying to explain itself. I recalled my first year as a community organizer in Chicago and my awkward steps toward manhood. I listened to my grandmother, sitting under a mango tree as she braided my sister’s hair, describing the father I had never truly known. Compared to this flood of memories, all my well-ordered theories seemed insubstantial and premature. Still, I strongly resisted the idea of offering up my past in a book, a past that left me feeling exposed, even slightly ashamed. Not because that past is particularly painful or perverse but because it speaks to those aspects of myself that resist conscious choice and that-on the surface, at least-contradict the world I now occupy. After all, I’m thirty-three now; I work as a lawyer active in the social and political life of Chicago, a town that’s accustomed to its racial wounds and prides itself on a certain lack of sentiment. If I’ve been able to fight off cynicism, I nevertheless like to think of myself as wise to the world, careful not to expect too much. And yet what strikes me most when I think about the story of my family is a running strain of innocence, an innocence that seems unimaginable, even by the measures of childhood. My wife’s cousin, only six years od, has already lost such innocence: A few weeks ago he reported to his parents that some of his first grade classmates had refused to play with him because of his dark, unblemished skin. Obviously his parents, born and raised in Chicago and Gary, lost their own innocence long ago, and although they aren’t bitter-the two of them being as strong and proud and resourceful as any parents I know-one hears the pain in their voices as they begin to have second thoughts about having moved out of the city into a mostly white suburb, a move they made to protect their son from the possibility of being caught in a gang shooting and the certainty of attending an underfunded school. They know too much, we have all seen too much, to take my parents’ brief union-a black man and white woman, an African and an American-at face value. As a result, some people have a hard time taking me at face value. When people who don’t know me well, black or white, discover my background (and it is usually a discovery, for I ceased to advertise my mother’s race at the age of twelve or thirteen, when I began to suspect that by doing so I was ingratiating myself to whites), I see the split-second adjustments they have to make, the searching of my eyes for some telltale sign. They no longer know who I am. Privately, they guess at my troubled heart, I suppose-the mixed blood, the divided soul, the ghostly image of the tragic mulatto trapped between two worlds. And if I were to explain that no, the tragedy is not mine, or at least not mine alone, it is yours, sons and daughters of Plymouth Rock and Ellis Island, it is yours, children of Africa, it is the tragedy of both my wife’s six-year-old cousin and his white first grade classmates, so that you need not guess at what troubles me, it’s on the nightly news for all to see, and that if we could acknowledge at least that much then the tragic cycle begins to break down…well, I suspect that I sound incurably naive, wedded to lost hopes, like those Communists who peddle their newspapers on the fringes of various college towns. Or worse, I sound like I’m trying to hide from myself. I don’t fault people their suspicions. I learned long ago to distrust my childhood and the stories that shaped it. It was only many years later, after I had sat at my father’s grave and spoken to him through Africa’s red soil, that I could circle back and evaluate these early stories for myself. Or, more accurately, it was only then that I understood that I had spent much of my life trying to rewrite these stories, plugging up holes in the narrative, accommodating unwelcome details, projecting individual choices against the blind sweep of history, all in the hope of extracting some granite slab of truth upon which my unborn children can firmly stand. At some point, then, in spite of a stubborn desire to protect myself from scrutiny, in spite of the periodic impulse to abandon the entire project, what has found its way onto these pages is a record of a personal, interior journey-a boy’s search for his father, and through that search a workable meaning for his life as a black American. The result is autobiographical, although whenever someone’s asked me over the course of these last three years just what the book is about, I’ve usually avoided such a description. An autobiography promises feats worthy of record, conversations with famous people, a central role in important events. There is none of that here. At the very least, an autobiography implies a summing up, a certain closure, that hardly suits someone of my years, still busy charting his way through the world. I can’t even hold up my experience as being somehow representative of the black American experience (“After all, you don’t come from an underprivileged background,” a Manhattan publisher helpfully points out to me); indeed, learning to accept that particular truth-that I can embrace my black brothers and sisters, whether in this country or in Africa, and affirm a common destiny without pretending to speak to, or for, all our various struggles-is part of what this book’s about. Finally, there are the dangers inherent in any autobiographical work: the temptation to color events in ways favorable to the writer, the tendency to overestimate the interest one’s experiences hold for others, selective lapses of memory……………….

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