Saturday, July 14, 2007

Reading Obama...

"We are such stuff as dreams are made of,
and our little life is rounded with a sleep."
(Image from Wikipedia)

One doesn't read many memoirs by credible presidential candidates that include material like this:
I had begun to see a new map of the world, one that was frightening in its simplicity, suffocating in its implications. We were always playing on the white man's court, ... by the white man's rules. If the principal, or the coach, or a teacher, ... wanted to spit in your face, he could, because he had power and you didn't. If he decided not to, if he treated you like a man or came to your defense, it was because he knew that the words you spoke, the clothes you wore, the books you read, your ambitions and desires, were already his. Whatever he decided to do, it was his decision to make, not yours, and because of that fundamental power he held over you, because it preceded and would outlast his individual motives and inclinations, any distinction between good and bad whites held negligible meaning. In fact, you couldn't even be sure that everything you had assumed to be an expression of your black, unfettered self -- the humor, the song, the behind-the-back pass -- had been freely chosen by you. At best, these things were a refuge; at worst, a trap. Following this maddening logic, the only thing you could choose as your own was withdrawal into a smaller and smaller coil of rage, until being black meant only the knowledge of your own powerlessness, of your own defeat. And the final irony: Should you refuse this defeat and lash out at your captors, they would have a name for that, too, a name that could cage you just as good. Paranoid. Militant. Violent. Nigger. (Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance, page 85)
One can safely remark that this stuff ain't whitewashed. Part of the story's interest lies in keeping the reader wondering how the hell Obama got from that maddening, seemingly inexorable logic to where he stands today.

Reading Obama, one wants the story to be an everyman's story, but it isn't, of course. It's Obama's story, and like that line in a Charley Pride song, it says "all I have to offer you is me."

Well, that and a few position papers...

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At 5:59 AM, Blogger Hathor said...

Why do you think he moved from that logic?

At 8:59 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I'm wondering.

Maybe because he did recognize that it led to defeat. Maybe because he saw that it wasn't the only choice. Maybe because the Civil Rights Movement had opened up some other possibilities. Maybe because he wanted more out of life. Maybe for more than one reason.

What do you think?

Jeffery Hodges

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At 9:53 AM, Blogger Hathor said...

I understood what he said, it may not have been written for everyman, but for quite of few. That realization of just how much freewill you have and the accompanying rage. I assume reading more of the book would tell how he decided not to take the path of violence, being militant or paranoid. I think he chose, like most of us, just to ignore those thoughts and move about life as best one can. Sometime in an instant, someone can snap you back in that frame of mind.

I heard a reporter ask his wife how she felt about the secret service protection and the added risk of being killed. She had to remind the reporter, as a black man he could be shot just going to the gas station. You see, whites still see him as half white as if that is some kind of ID or something. So that kind of ignorance from that reporter sparked paranoia in my mind: "things haven't changed that much, whites still don't get it."

I think you know how I think, so I may not be the person to ask.

At 10:38 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

One fascinating thing for me in reading the passage lay in just how convincing he made the logic seem.

Now, that partly depends upon context, which I haven't provided -- and won't, so anyone curious about that should read the book, which is really good literature, by the way.

So, with such convincing logic -- the practical logic of lived experience -- how did he escape? You're doubtless right, namely, that he simply made a choice. Why, or how, he made that choice is part of the story. I've seen some hints -- mainly his friendships with other African-Americans who had already made that decision and showed him why.

But I'll keep you posted. Have you read the book?

Jeffery Hodges

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At 12:24 PM, Blogger Hathor said...

No. I had read some reviews that sort of discouraged me. I didn't get the sense of the book, as I have here.

At 8:01 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I read some reviews of his second book that made it sound more 'cautious'...

When he wrote his first book, he had just finished Harvard Law School and hadn't yet become a politician, so he was more willing to write something risky ... or so 'they' say.

But I might read that one next anyway. Obama is extremely bright and writes very well. I think that his memoir ranks up there with W. E. B. Du Bois's Autobiography. It's good literature ... and Obama has something to say.

I recommend it.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 9:44 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm very glad that he came out of that cul de sac. He's a good writer. Some months ago I read an extract from a later book which had more of the political invertebrate whiff about it. That may be the result of the American majoritarian electoral system (first past the post) where the result is decided by the floating voter. A curious thing; giving your nation's governance into the hands of people of no fixed principles.

Having read the outline of his political positions on Wiki and if I were an American for whom abortion was a crunch issue, I would have to rule him out but then again one wonders who wrote this summary. Is it an attempt to claim him or to sink him? In a crude system you are offered stark alternatives.

At 4:15 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I don't yet know Obama's political positions.

Abortion is an issue for me, but other issues loom even larger. I'd need to know his views on terrorism and how he intends to deal with it.

As Paul Berman has noted, this is partly a war of ideas, something that Bush isn't especially gifted for (since he seems to have started his serious reading rather late), so I'd like to know what Obama thinks.

I don't yet know if I'd vote for him, but I'm glad that he's on the political scene.

Jeffery Hodges

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