Duality of race and belonging

Barack Obama: Dreams from My Father
Barack Obama is an amazing person: A child of an absentee black father (student from Kenya) and white mother (small-town girl from Kansas), he has been elected senator of Illinois and was the first black editor of the Harvard Law Review. At the last Democratic Party convention, his keynote address instantly positioned him as the new hope of the party, with his personification of the American Dream.
The book, a very introspective autobiography, sketches rather than chronicles his journey from small child in a somewhat protected environment up to going to Harvard for his law degree, much of the time spent as a community organizer in Chicago’s South Side. He visits Kenya searching for an understanding of his father, finding the societal and familial relations in Kenya no less difficult than in Chicago. Though slightly dated (the book was written 10 years ago, and not updated save a new preface), the complexity of dealing with poverty and slums in Chicago and other urban areas are well described through personal experiences (a refreshing brake from the sometimes stereotypical reporterese commonly seen in NY Sunday Times Magazines and similar publications).
The book resonated with me because (while not multiracial as he is) I can understand and empathize with Obama’s feeling of not belonging – or, rather, of simultaneously belonging many places and yet not completely identifying with any one of them. In an age of seemingly simpleminded politics and increasingly spin-oriented politicians, it is rather reassuring to know that at least one US senator has the experience of life in the less privileged lane; the perseverance and intellectual capability to analyze deeply entrenched issues and work at resolving them; and the willingness to keep the complex issues complex and (as his keynote speech at the Democratic convention shows) the simple things simple.
Highly recommended.

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