Mama Obama
April 21, 2011, 09:40 PM
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The NYT Magazine has an excerpt from a new book by Janny Scott about Barack Obama's mother in Indonesia. It's pretty similar to the equivalent chapter in my book on Obama. It mentions that Ann Dunham was only 17 when she was impregnated, which is very rare in the press. But the excerpt doesn't mention that her subsequent marriage was polygamous. I guess there's only so much that respectable readers can be expected to put up with.
I had pointed out that Obama had been exposed to racism in Indonesia, which he completely failed to mention in his memoir (while exaggerating the anti-black behavior he'd been exposed to at his prep school in Hawaii). But this new book makes clear the relentlessness of the anti-black racism and even violence little Barry had to put up with in Jakarta:

After lunch, the group took a walk, with Barry running ahead. A flock of Indonesian children began lobbing rocks in his direction. They ducked behind a wall and shouted racial epithets. He seemed unfazed, dancing around as though playing dodge ball "with unseen players," Bryant said. Ann did not react. Assuming she must not have understood the words, Bryant offered to intervene. "No, he's O.K.," Ann said. "He's used to it."

"We were floored that she'd bring a half-black child to Indonesia, knowing the disrespect they have for blacks," Bryant said. ...

Occasionally, she took Barry to work. Joseph Sigit, an Indonesian who worked as the office manager at the time, told me, "Our staff here sometimes made a joke of him because he looked different - the color of his skin."

Joked with him - or about him? I asked.

"With and about him," Sigit said, with no evident embarrassment.

As I pointed out in my book, the missing piece of the puzzle in Dreams from My Father is Asians. Compared to the average American, Obama had vastly more contact growing up with Asians — in Indonesia, Hawaii, California, New York, and even in Kenya on his visit, where his half-sister resentfully calls his attention to the Indian dominance of commerce in Nairobi. But, his book is just about the usual black and white stuff that his white readers would expect. He never, ever reports learning anything about blacks or whites from the existence of Asians.

Without thinking about a third group, it's hard to think intelligently about blacks and whites. This is what I call the midget-giant epistemological problem. In 2003, I wrote in VDARE:

One day in 1981, I was standing in front of UCLA's Royce Hall, when I noticed two young men walking toward me across the huge open quad. "Hey!" I said to myself. "There's something you don't see very often at UCLA. That tiny fellow talking to the normal-sized guy is a genuine midget." Then, another young man walked up to the pair. "Wow! Now there are two midgets with that regular guy," I thought. "What are the odds of that?"

Highly unlikely, I suddenly realized, as I underwent one of those gestalt snaps, like where the vase in the picture suddenly becomes two faces in profile. Now that there were three people, it became clear to me that the two "midgets" were six-footers and the "normal-sized guy" was 7'-3" 290-pound Bruin basketball center Mark Eaton (who later became a league-leading shot blocker for the Utah Jazz).

When I think about race, I'm frequently reminded of that lesson I learned in the difficulty of accurately comparing X to Y without a Z to provide perspective.

The elegant but intellectually vacuous Dreams panders to American X/Y thinking, despite all of Obama's experiences with perspective-granting Zs.
I did, however, like the President's gracious tribute in the article to his maternal grandmother, whom he had so coldly slandered — while she was still alive — for reasons of political expedience in his famous race speech to ward off questions about his relationship with Rev. Wright:

"She was a very strong person in her own way," Obama said, when I asked about Ann's limitations as a mother. "Resilient, able to bounce back from setbacks, persistent - the fact that she ended up finishing her dissertation. But despite all those strengths, she was not a well-organized person. And that disorganization, you know, spilled over. Had it not been for my grandparents, I think, providing some sort of safety net financially, being able to take me and my sister on at certain spots, I think my mother would have had to make some different decisions. And I think that sometimes she took for granted that, ‘Well, it'll all work out, and it'll be fine.' But the fact is, it might not always have been fine, had it not been for my grandmother. . . . Had she not been there to provide that floor, I think our young lives could have been much more chaotic than they were."