Earlier this week I read a memoir by a 35-year-old, and a friend was like "Can someone in their 30s really write an autobiography?" So next up, I grabbed one by a 34-year-old. Barack Obama's Dreams from My Father was commissioned by Random House after Obama was made the first black president of the Harvard Law Review. As I've said here before, I'm not drinking the Obama Kool-Aid, but I do kind of wish I was. I want to believe. I want things to be different with him as the U.S. president.
But, onto the book. Clearly he wasn't thinking yet of being president, when we wrote things like,
When the weather was good, my roommate and I might sit out on the fire escape to smoke cigarettes and study the dusk washing blue over the city, or watch white people from the better neighborhoods nearby walk their dogs down our block to let the animals shit on our curbs--"Scoop the poop, you bastards!" my roommate would shout with impressive rage, and we laugh at the faces of both master and beast, grim and unapologetic as they hunkered down to do the deed. p.3-4
"Understand something, boy. You're not going to college to get educated. You're going there to get trained. They'll train you to want what you don't need. They'll train you to manipulate words so they don't mean anything anymore. They'll train you to forget what it is that you already know. They'll train you so good, you'll start believing what they tell you about equal opportunity and the American way and all that shit. They'll give you a corner office and invite you to fancy dinners, and tell you you're a credit to your race. Until you want to actually start running things, and then they'll yank on your chain and let you know that you may be a well-trained, well-paid nigger, but you're a nigger just the same." A friend of Obama's maternal grandfather speaking. p.97.
He sure did get the corner office! Let's see if he can/will get the shit done that he wanted to in his twenties and early thirties. Or is it like the unverified quotation attributed to Churchill that "If you're not a liberal when you're 25, you have no heart. If you're not a conservative by the time you're 35, you have no brain."?
Does this rhetoric sound familiar to anyone?
In 1983, I decided to become a community organizer.
There wasn't much detail to the idea; I didn't know anyone making a living that way. When classmates in college asked me just what it was that a community organizer did, I couldn't answer them directly. Instead, I'd pronounce on the need for change. Change in the White House, where Reagan and his minions were carrying on their dirty deeds. Change in the Congress, compliant and corrupt. Change in the mood of the country, manic and self-absorbed. Change won't come from the top, I would say. Change will come from a mobilized grass roots. p.133
This is not to say that I'm knocking Obama or his book. I'm really not. He's a good writer with a compelling story to tell. From his earliest days he gave a lot of thought to what it is to be black in America--and also in Africa, having spent time with his African family in Kenya.
And I also love anarchist friendly sentiments like this one, toward the end of the book:
The study of law can be disappointing at times, a matter of those who have power--and that all too often seeks to explain, to those who do not, the ultimate wisdom and justness of their condition. p.437