"Now, I'll concede that I haven't read Dreams from My Father, Sailer's primary source material for this essay, but it's certainly been a widely read and commented on book among political journalists and nobody else seems to have reached the same conclusion as Sailer. Sailer's explanation for his idiosyncratic reading of the book is that few have "grasped the book’s essence" because "so few of the many who have purchased it following his famous keynote address at the 2004 Democratic convention appear to have read much of it." The alternative explanation would, of course, be that Sailer's race hang-ups are leading him to see things that nobody else sees because they're not really there."
Perhaps Matt could at least bestir himself to read the book's subtitle: "A Story of Race and Inheritance." His commenters are beside themselves with fury at me, although most appear to have read neither Obama's book nor my article about his book.
It's simply not true that no other political journalists have seen what I've seen in the book: that white pundits' claims that Obama "transcends race" would be news to Obama.
Here's part of an article on Newsweek.com:
By Andrew Romano
"Feb. 9, 2007 - For all the hype, Barack Obama remains something of a mystery. To the chattering classes, the junior senator from Illinois is an empty vessel—or, as he himself has put it, “a blank screen on which people of vastly different political stripes project their own views.” ...
"But it’s also a matter of, well, laziness—on our part. Obama has written two top-notch (and relatively revealing) books. Plenty of people are buying them… It’s just that far fewer might be reading them. …
"According to pundits, whites have warmed to Obama—and not all blacks have—because, as the son of an African immigrant who can "act white,” he is a “good black” (a schema cited by Peter Beinart in The New Republic), or not “actually black” at all (as argued by Debra J. Dickerson in Salon). If only someone had told Obama himself—who makes it very clear in his books (especially in “Dreams”) that while he may not “sound or look too black,” as Beinart suggests, he’s hardly the cheery post-racial candidate many believe him to be. Joe Biden be damned.
"In fact, Obama spent much of his life angry and confused about race. When a seventh-grade classmate called him a “coon,” young Barack bloodied his nose in return. Years later, a high-school basketball coach explained that “there are black people, and there are n——-s.” Obama answered with scorn—“There are white folks and then there are ignorant motherf—-ers like you”—before storming off the court. Since then, he writes, he has endured the “usual … petty slights”: “security guards tailing me as I shop in department stores, white couples who toss me their keys as I stand outside a restaurant waiting for the valet, police cars pulling me over for no apparent reason.”
"As a young man, Obama embraced being black. During college, he disdained other “half-breeds” who gravitated toward whites, dismissing one black student in “argyle sweaters and pressed jeans” as an “Uncle Tom.” He chose his friends carefully.
“When it came to hanging out many of us chose to function like a tribe, staying close together, traveling in packs,” he writes. “It remained necessary to prove which side you were on, to show your loyalty to the black masses.” To avoid being mistaken for a “sellout,” he befriended “the more politically active black students,” read Malcolm X and attended a Stokely Carmichael rally. He often felt “edgy and defensive” among “white people—some cruel, some ignorant, sometimes a single face, sometimes just a faceless image of a system claiming power over our lives.”
"Since then, Obama’s suspicions have softened. “I have witnessed a profound shift in race relations in my lifetime,” he writes in “Audacity.” “I insist that things have gotten better.”
Accordingly, his racial politics are hardly radical. He wants to enforce nondiscrimination laws, strengthen affirmative action and fight for better schools, better jobs and better health care. But Obama’s books make it clear that, despite his mixed ancestry, he has lived his life as a black American, and, as a result, is more invested in issues of race than people like Beinart and Dickerson may realize."
And here's a good article from the Washington Examiner, that I, unfortunately, had never seen until yesterday.
‘Trapped between two worlds’
The Examiner Jan 30, 2007 3:00 AM (45 days ago)
WASHINGTON - Sen. Barack Obama, the only major black candidate in the 2008 presidential race, has spent much of his life anguishing over his mixed-race heritage and self-described “racial obsessions.” Descended from a white American mother and black Kenyan father, the Illinois Democrat once wrote: “He was black as pitch, my mother white as milk.”
In his first memoir, “Dreams from My Father,” Obama observed that when people discover his mixed-race heritage, they make assumptions about “the mixed blood, the divided soul, the ghostly image of the tragic mulatto trapped between two worlds.”
Indeed, Obama acknowledges feeling tormented for much of his life by “the constant, crippling fear that I didn't belong somehow, that unless I dodged and hid and pretended to be something I wasn't, I would forever remain an outsider, with the rest of the world, black and white, always standing in judgment.” ...
Although Obama was raised by his mother, he identified more closely with the race of his father, who left the family when Obama was 2. “I ceased to advertise my mother's race at the age of 12 or 13, when I began to suspect that by doing so I was ingratiating myself to whites,” he wrote. Yet, even through high school, he continued to vacillate between the twin strands of his racial identity. “I learned to slip back and forth between my black and white worlds,” he wrote in “Dreams.” “One of those tricks I had learned: People were satisfied so long as you were courteous and smiled and made no sudden moves. They were more than satisfied; they were relieved — such a pleasant surprise to find a well-mannered young black man who didn't seem angry all the time.”
Although Obama spent various portions of his youth living with his white maternal grandfather and Indonesian stepfather, he vowed that he would “never emulate white men and brown men whose fates didn't speak to my own. It was into my father’s image, the black man, son of Africa, that I’d packed all the attributes I sought in myself, the attributes of Martin and Malcolm, DuBois and Mandela.” ...
During college, Obama disapproved of what he called other “half-breeds” who gravitated toward whites instead of blacks. And yet after college, he once fell in love with a white woman, only to push her away when he concluded he would have to assimilate into her world, not the other way around. He later married a black woman.
Such candid racial revelations abound in “Dreams,” which was first published in 1995, when Obama was 34 and not yet in politics. By the time he ran for his Senate seat in 2004, he observed of that first memoir: “Certain passages have proven to be inconvenient politically.”
Thus, in his second memoir, “The Audacity of Hope,” which was published last year, Obama adopted a more conciliatory, even upbeat tone when discussing race. Noting his multiracial family, he wrote in the new book: “I’ve never had the option of restricting my loyalties on the basis of race, or measuring my worth on the basis of tribe.” This appears to contradict certain passages in his first memoir, including a description of black student life at Occidental College in Los Angeles. “There were enough of us on campus to constitute a tribe, and when it came to hanging out many of us chose to function like a tribe, staying close together, traveling in packs,” he wrote. “It remained necessary to prove which side you were on, to show your loyalty to the black masses, to strike out and name names.” He added: “To avoid being mistaken for a sellout, I chose my friends carefully. The more politically active black students. The foreign students. The Chicanos. The Marxist professors and structural feminists.”
Obama said he and other blacks were careful not to second-guess their own racial identity in front of whites. “To admit our doubt and confusion to whites, to open up our psyches to general examination by those who had caused so much of the damage in the first place, seemed ludicrous, itself an expression of self-hatred,” he wrote.
After his sophomore year, Obama transferred to Columbia University. Later, looking back on his years in New York City, he recalled: “I had grown accustomed, everywhere, to suspicions between the races.” His pessimism about race relations seemed to pervade his worldview. “The emotion between the races could never be pure,” he laments in “Dreams.” “Even love was tarnished by the desire to find in the other some element that was missing in ourselves. Whether we sought out our demons or salvation, the other race would always remain just that: menacing, alien, and apart.”
After graduating from college, Obama eventually went to Chicago to interview for a job as a community organizer. His racial attitudes came into play as he sized up the man who would become his boss. “There was something about him that made me wary,” Obama wrote. “A little too sure of himself, maybe. And white.”
Moreover, many reporters have made the supreme sacrifice of traveling to Hawaii this winter to look into Obama's claim in his book to being tormented on account of his race while he was at Punahou prep school, which, by the way, now has an endowment of $180 million. They've found that his book doesn't jibe with his classmates' recollection of him as a cheerful kid.
For example, here's this week's CBS article, which has an Onionesque flavor:
Obama's "Aloha" Days in The Spotlight
Hawaiians Who Knew Democratic Hopeful Say He Showed No Signs Of Racial Angst
Most classmates and teachers recall an easygoing, slightly chunky young man, with the same infectious smile he sports today. Yet many say they have trouble reconciling their nearly 30-year-old memories with Obama's more recent descriptions of himself as a brooding and sometimes angry adolescent, grappling with his mixed race and the void left by a father who gave him his black skin but little else. …
Dan Hale, the 6-foot-7-inch star center of the 1979 Punahou basketball team, said Obama's depiction of Hawaii as a place where race really mattered hardly resonates with him. "I was certainly oblivious to a lot of what he references," Hale said in an interview. "If you look at our teams, that year I was the only white guy on the starting five. You had three part-Hawaiians, one Filipino and me." …
Most of his teachers and friends express sorrow that they did not know of Obama's racial anguish or inner demons. "I wish I would have known that those things were bothering him, or if they did bother him," said Eric Kusunoki, Obama's homeroom teacher from grades nine through 12. "Maybe we could have helped him. But he seemed to have coped pretty well."
Others are more skeptical that the boy known as Barry felt the angst described by Barack. Furushima [a high school crush] said that many of her classmates have expressed dismay at Obama's rendering of the past. "We are just such a mixed-up bag of races. It was hard to imagine that he felt that way, because he just seemed happy all the time, smiling all the time," she said. "We have so many tones of brown here. If someone is brown, they can be Samoan or Fijian or Tongan. I can't tell if someone is Fijian or black."
I particularly like how Obama rationalized his drug use as a preppie as “something that could push questions of who I was out of my mind . . .” His classmates, in contrast, in these articles seemed to find his explanation puzzlingly gratuitous. They all smoked dope on the beach, too, but they didn't need an identity crisis to justify it. It was, like, Hawaii in the 1970s, you know? Maui Wowie, dude!