March 17, 2007

(Some) journalists are finally starting to read Obama's autobiography

Meanwhile, Matthew Yglesias engages in the usual point-and-sputter out-of-context quoting of my Obama article, then admits:

"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

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’
Bill Sammon,
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
Hans Nichols

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!

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer


dobeln said...

A commenter at Yglesias claim that you have blown your entire credibilty by referring to Obama as "the first black editor of the Harvard Law Review". This is indeed incorrect - he was the first black president of the Harvard law review.


My guess is that you took the information from that most disreputable of sources, the Washing ton post:

"A Jan. 3 article incorrectly said that Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) was the first black editor of the Harvard Law Review. Obama was the first African American to be elected Law Review president by the publication's editors."

I assume a correction for this horrible error will be forthcoming shortly. ;)

Anonymous said...

I think it was Heinrich Heine who stressed that autobiographies should not be trusted, that writers would embroider on the way things really were.

That's why I'd be circumspect about placing too much emphasis on Obama's own self-analysis. His identification with his father's African heritage strikes one as psychic compensation for his Afro-Saxoness.

A white racist is someone who believes that white civilisation is superior to black civilisation, and is happy about it. A black racist is someone who believes white civilisation is superior to black civilisation, and is furious about it.

Anonymous said...


I defended you on Yglesias's blog, but I see where your general difficulty lies in defending yourself against charges of racism.

You wrote once that any claims that one race is superior to another are spurious because some races excel in one capability and others in another. The more I think about, this can come across as a little disingenuous.

Liberal anti-racists aren't as impressed with the distance running ability or sprinting ability as they are with intelligence. Outside of sports, which a statistically negligible number of Americans play professionally, our society in general values intelligence far more than running ability. So to say that whites aren't superior to blacks because blacks are more talented at running fast or keeping a beat can sound a little hollow.

That seems to be the crux of the impasse: Liberal anti-racists don't want to touch the tar baby of IQ and genetics out of fears that they will have to acknowledge the black-white IQ gap. They don't want to acknowledge this because, in their view, that would imply that blacks are inferior. You, on the other hand, are clear-eyed about the IQ gap, but feign ignorance about what it implies.


Anonymous said...

After reading this post it strikes me Obama maybe a typical case of young man/woman goes to college and gets indoctrinated in identity politics and grievence industry.

Perhaps being home-sick and depressed leaving Hawaii he was particularly open to racial blame gaming.

Except most people get over it once they graduate and get a real job. I don't know. Thoughts?

Anonymous said...

Did Obama at any time listen to Don Ho? "Tiny the wine...make me happy...make me feel fine..."

Anonymous said...

Due to his endearing occasional idiosyncrasy and his surname, people rarely dare to put Young Yglesias in his place.

Thank you for pimp-smacking the little ho. The dude should read primary materials before he offers critique. Admitting you're a lazy dipshit does not excuse his slothful, reflexively PC impulses.

His slavish adherence to the most mindless orthodoxy makes me want to vomit. He's too smart for that. If they've got him (and they do) we're still very badly effed.

Anonymous said...

Obama is hard to classify. His father was Kenyan and he spent a large part of his youth outside of the US. He is not really an 'African American'. African Americans understand that, that's why they have been slow to warm up to him.
The impression he leaves is of an actor posing.
One wonders if his earlier attempt to identify himself -- complete with a nod to Malcolm X -- almost as a black revolutionary was a ploy to get a foothold in Illinois politics.

Audacious Epigone said...


I wonder if other commenters have reported to you that their remarks on Yglesias' site have been inexplicably withheld?

Also, there are some pretty nasty accusations about commentary from iSteve readers, although I don't see it in these posts. You may want to call a few of these people out if they're being disingenious.

Incidentally, it wouldn't surprise me that if these comments are being made, they're being dropped by the same people who are pretending to 'discover' them in an effort to smear you. You may want to consider restricting comments to blogger users only so that you can pick this out easily (someone making an ignorant comment having just made his account today is obviously suspicious).

Anonymous said...

It's a pretty common thing to see the past in terms of what came after, including your later ideas and beliefs. Try reading a journal entry or note you wrote many years ago, and you'll see this--it's very common for the emotions and beliefs that are expressed in your writing to be pretty different from what you remember of them.

I assume this happened with Obama. Adolescence is always kind of stormy, and he was looking for an identity in high school, but he probably reinterprets a lot of generic adolescent angst in terms of racial ideology he developed more thoroughly in college and as an adult.

Anonymous said...

Also, there are some pretty nasty accusations about commentary from iSteve readers

Let's face it: there's a lot of commentary from iSteve readers that fulfills every liberal's worst stereotype about race realists. As long as people like "1488", Jupiter and Svigor are filling up the comments section with their racist bile, this smear by association is inevitable.