Obama`s Doppelganger
March 23, 2007, 03:49 PM
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Perhaps the most interesting character in Sen. Barack Obama`s Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance is his half-brother "Mark," even though he appears only briefly. Another half-white son of Barack Obama Sr., Mark, a physics student at Stanford, disturbs Obama with his individualism, well-adjusted personality, and lack of black racialism. He looks so much like Obama, but his values are so different.

While many whites fantasize that Obama "transcends race," the Presidential candidate`s autobiography is actually obsessed with race. It`s his estranged half-brother Mark who is the true post-racial man.

Mark is the son of Obama`s father and his third wife (and second white American wife) Ruth. She divorced Obama`s drunken dad after seven years of marriage (during which he beat her badly), then married a prosperous Tanzanian. Today, according to the Daily Mail, she works in a Kenyan school.

Unlike Obama, who long dreamed of Kenya but knew little about it, Mark spent his summers off from his American studies in Kenya at his mother and step-father`s upscale Nairobi home, where Obama met him in the late 1980s.

"`So, Mark,` I said, turning to my brother, `I hear you`re at Berkeley.`

"`Stanford,` he corrected. His voice was deep, his accent perfectly American. `I`m in my last year of the physics program there.`"

They meet once more, for lunch:

"I asked him how it felt being back for the summer.

"`Fine,` he said. `It`s nice to see my mom and dad, of course. … As for the rest of Kenya, I don`t feel much of an attachment. Just another poor African country.`

"`You don`t ever think about settling here?`

"Mark took a sip from his Coke. `No,` he said. `I mean, there`s not much work for a physicist, is there, in a country where the average person doesn`t have a telephone.`

"I should have stopped then, but something — the certainty in this brother`s voice, maybe, or our rough resemblance, like looking into a foggy mirror — made me want to push harder. I asked, "Don`t you ever feel like you might be losing something?`

"Mark put down his knife and fork, and for the first time that afternoon his eyes looked straight into mine.

"`I understand what you`re getting at,` he said flatly. `You think that somehow I`m cut off from my roots, that sort of thing.` He wiped his mouth and dropped the napkin onto his plate. `Well, you`re right. At a certain point, I made a decision not think about who my real father was. He was dead to me even when he was still alive. I knew that he was a drunk and showed no concern for his wife or children. That was enough.`

"`It made you mad.`

"`Not mad. Just numb.`

"`And that doesn`t bother you? Being numb, I mean?`

"`Towards him, no. Other things move me. Beethoven`s symphonies. Shakespeare`s sonnets. I know — it`s not what an African is supposed to care about. But who`s to tell me what I should and shouldn`t care about? Understand, I`m not ashamed of being half Kenyan. I just don`t ask myself a lot of questions about what it all means. About who I really am.` He shrugged. `I don`t know. Maybe I should. I can acknowledge the possibility that if looked more carefully at myself, I would …`

"For the briefest moment I sensed Mark hesitate, like a rock climber losing his footing. Then, almost immediately, he regained his composure and waved for the check.

"`Who knows?` he said. `What`s certain is that I don`t need the stress. Life`s hard enough without all that excess baggage.`

"… Outside we exchanged addresses and promised to write, with a dishonesty that made my heart ache."

Notice that it`s Obama`s own dishonesty that is (supposedly) making his heart ache — he can`t know what`s in Mark`s heart as they exchange addresses, but Obama knows that he never wants to hear from his own half-brother Mark again. The physicist is (at least) Obama`s intellectual equal, but his realism about Kenya, his lack of an identity crisis, lack of black ethnocentrism, and lack of illusions about their mutual father leave Obama so uncomfortable that he doesn`t want to see Mark anymore.

[Crossposted at Isteve.com]