President Obama waded into the national race debate in an unlikely setting and with an unusual choice of words: telling daytime talk show hosts that African-Americans are “sort of a mongrel people.”When asked about his background, which includes a black father and white mother, Obama said of African-Americans: "We are sort of a mongrel people."
The president appeared on ABC’s morning talk show “The View” Thursday, where he talked about the forced resignation of Agriculture Department official Shirley Sherrod, his experience with race and his roots.
"I mean we're all kinds of mixed up," Obama said. "That's actually true of white people as well, but we just know more about it." The president's remarks were directed at the roots of all Americans. The definition of mongrel as an adjective is defined as "of mixed breed, nature, or origin," according to dictionary.com.
Obama did not appear to be making an inflammatory remark with his statement and the audience appeared to receive it in the light-hearted manner that often accompanies interviews on morning talk shows.
This continues a theme that is central to Obama's self-conception, one emphasized as the Final Lesson in Dreams from My Father when Obama takes it to the point of absurdity by arguing that Africans in Africa aren't really 100% authentically African, so why can't he, who was brought up sequestered out in the Pacific Oceans thousands of miles from any black community, become a successful African-American leader through sheer desire to be a successful African-American leader? From my reader's guide to the President's memoir:
The Epilogue to Dreams from My Father begins after that graveside soliloquy with a less soggy but equally obtuse summing up that a novelist would have blue-penciled out of his first draft. The Epilogue features a scene where, just before he leaves Kenya, Obama visits a wise old woman historian named Rukia Odera, who had known his father. Here is the Other Big Lesson of Obama’s Kenyan sojourn:
I asked her why she thought black Americans were prone to disappointment when they visited Africa. … “Because they come here looking for the authentic,” she said. “That is bound to disappoint a person. Look at this meal we are eating. Many people will tell you that the Luo are a fish-eating people. But that was not true for all Luo. Only those who lived by the lake. And even for those Luo, it was not always true. Before they settled around the lake, they were pastoralists, like the Masai. … Kenyans are very boastful about the quality of their tea, you notice. But of course we got this habit from the English. … Then there’s the spices we used to cook this fish. They originally came from India, or Indonesia. So even in this simple meal, you will find it very difficult to be authentic—although the meal is certainly African.” ... I licked my fingers and washed my hands.
“But isn’t there anything left that is truly African?” “Ah, that’s the thing, isn’t it?” Rukia said. “There does seem to be something different about this place. I don’t know what it is. … Or maybe it is that we have known more suffering than most. Maybe it’s just the land. I don’t know. ...My daughter, ... her first language is not Luo. Not even Swahili. It is English. When I listen to her talk with her friends, it sounds like gibberish to me. They take bits and pieces of everything—English, Swahili, German, Luo. Sometimes, I get fed up with this. Learn to speak one language properly, I tell them.” Rukia laughed to herself. “But I am beginning to resign myself—there’s nothing really to do. They live in a mixed-up world. It’s just as well, I suppose. In the end, I‘m less interested in a daughter who’s authentically African than one who is authentically herself.” [pp. 433-434]
Obviously, the main reason “black Americans were prone to disappointment when they visited Africa” is not because Africa isn’t “authentic.” That’s just laughable. Granted, it’s too much to expect Obama to admit that the main reason African American tourists like him are prone to disappointment with Africa is because it is disappointing. They go hoping to see what the black man has accomplished without the white man holding him down, and, well ... (For an honest discussion, see the 1998 book Out of America: A Black Man Confronts Africa by Keith B. Richburg, who was the Washington Post’s Nairobi-based chief African correspondent from 1991-1994.)
Yet, why did Obama feel compelled to bring this question up and feature Rukia’s nonsensical answer so prominently as the Climactic Insight of His Life? Because her answer, ridiculous as it is, at least validates the central concern of Obama’s existence: to prove he’s black enough. If even Africans in Africa aren't authentic, as this learned African scholar says, then his being half-white and brought up in a wholly non-black environment doesn’t disqualify him from being a black leader.
He’s finally exorcizing the Black Muslim challenge he’s fretted over ever since reading the Autobiography of Malcolm X: that he lacks sufficient black-enoughness. So, take that, black nationalists! According to this African scholar, even Africans aren’t authentically African; therefore, Obama can be a leader of African-Americans!
With Obama, it’s always about Obama.