Dreams From My Father

A Story of Race Inheritance

Growing up biracial is an honest, often poetic memoir.

Obama was born in Hawaii to a Kenyan student and a white lady, the daughter of transplanted Kansans. After Barack Obama Sr. left Hawaii in 1963 to seek a Ph.D. at Harvard, their marriage fell apart; he died in a vehicle accident in Kenya in 1982, when his son was 21.

When the author was eleven years old, he saw his father for the first time, and this contact with a stranger did not settle his emotional turmoil about his identity. “”I was attempting to raise myself to be a black man in America, and no one around me seemed to grasp what it meant beyond the given of my look,” writes Obama. He went to Ralph Ellison and Langston Hughes literature, as well as local basketball courts, where he formed bonds with older black males.

Obama captures his inner turmoil with accuracy and clarity as he faces prejudice (a high school basketball coach refers to a group of black males as “a bunch of jerks”) “niggers”) while yet caring for his white family. To alleviate his perplexity, he turns to drugs and alcohol, but eventually understands that his identity as a black man in America must be a road he forges for himself. As a result, while studying at Columbia University, he hears of his father’s death just as they are planning for him to visit Kenya. Even after relocating to Chicago, where he practices civil rights law, the unresolved nature of their connection gnaws at him. A journey to Kenya to see siblings from his father’s two prior marriages allows him to finally exorcise his demons.

At its best, despite the occasional lack of insight, this moving study of self-definition perceptively reminds us that racial issues typically manifest themselves in the form of particular human conflicts.

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