May 8, 2008

With Obama, it's always about Obama

The Epilogue to Dreams from My Father contains a scene where, just before he leaves Kenya, Obama visits a wise old woman Kenyan historian who had known his father. So, here is the Big Lesson of Obama's Kenyan sojourn, which takes up pp. 299-437:

I asked her why she thought black Americans were prone to disappointment when they visited Africa. She shook her head and smiled. “Because they come here looking for the authentic,” she said. “That is bound to disappoint a person. Look at this meal we are eating. Many people will tell you that the Luo are a fish-eating people. But that was not true for all Luo. Only those who lived by the lake. And even for those Luo, it was not always true. Before they settled around the lake, they were pastoralists, like the Masai. Now, if you and your sister behave yourself and eat a proper share of this food, I will offer you tea. Kenyans are very boastful about the quality of their tea, you notice. But of course we got this habit from the English. Our ancestors did not drink such a thing. Then there’s the spices we used to cook this fish. They originally came from India, or Indonesia. So even in this simple meal, you will find it very difficult to be authentic-although the meal is certainly African.” ...

I licked my fingers and washed my hands. “But isn’t there anything left that is truly African?”

“Ah, that’s the thing, isn’t it?” Rukia said. “There does seem to be something different about this place. I don’t know what it is. Perhaps the African, having traveled so far so fast, has a unique perspective on time. Or maybe it is that we have known more suffering than most. Maybe it’s just the land. I don’t know. ...My daughter, ... her first language is not Luo. Not even Swahili. It is English. When I listen to her talk with her friends, it sounds like gibberish to me. They take bits and pieces of everything-English, Swahili, German, Luo. Sometimes, I get fed up with this. Learn to speak one language properly, I tell them.” Rukia laughed to herself. “But I am beginning to resign myself-there’s nothing really to do. They live in a mixed-up world. It’s just as well, I suppose. In the end, I’m less interested in a daughter who’s authentically African than one who is authentically herself.” [pp. 433-434]

Obviously, the main reason "black Americans were prone to disappointment when they visited Africa" is not because Africa isn't "authentic." That's just laughable.

Granted, it's too much to expect Obama to admit that the main reason African-American tourists are prone to disappointment with Africa is because it's disappointing. They go hoping to see what the black man can accomplish without the white man around holding him down, and, well ...

Yet, why did Obama feel compelled to bring this question up and feature Rukia's nonsensical answer so prominently as the Climactic Insight of His Life?

Because her answer, ridiculous as it is, at least validates the central concern of Obama's existence: to prove he's black enough. If even Africans in Africa aren't authentic, as this learned African scholar says, then his being half-white and brought up in a wholly non-black environment doesn't disqualify him from being black enough.

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

25 comments:

Anonymous said...

Of course Obama isn't really African. That's just an socio-political affectation.

He's at least 50% white. The average African-American has nearly 25% non-african genes.
African-Americans have an IQ around 85 while the unalloyed Africans they meet when they visit have IQs around 70.



A society run by people with IQs of 70 is likely to be a schock to visitors used to a society run by people with an averge IQ of 100. Many common services are likely to run less efficiently.

This I believe is the same point you were making. I am just being more blunt.

Born Again Democrat said...

African wise woman: "I’m less interested in a daughter who’s authentically African than one who is authentically herself.”

Steve's take on why Obama felt compelled to bring this question up: "Because her answer . . .at least validates the central concern of Obama's existence: to prove he's black enough."

More generous as well as more obvious interpretration:

Because her answer validates Obama's desire to be himself: not black, not white, but just the particular unique individual he happens to be. Certainly that is the way he is presenting himself today.

If this is indeed the climax of the book, then I think it also represents the resolution of Obama's long, drawn-out identity crisis. And a very good one too.

Leaving aside whether Obama will make a great or even a moderately good President, he at least has the quality of finding middle-ground and seeing both sides of a question: of admitting that some of Reagan's ideas were good after all, or that the question of school choice needs to be considered. This is an indispensable quality -- though not the only one -- of a good politician, or of a great statesman.

Argent Paladin said...

I think there is something to it. But it is not that they are disappointed about a lack of authenticity, but about a lack of concern for authenticity, i.e. "keeping it black" and of anti-Americanism.
There is not much colonial resentment or anti-Western ideology among the vast majority of Africans. In fact, most love America and desperately want to go there, so they really don't understand the complaints by Amfrican-Americans about their hard lives, when they are, by African standars, rich beyond belief.
Many tourists are looking for ethnic solidarity, Pan-africanism, and realize, again, that Africans don't think like that. They are tribal, nationalistic, etc.

masaponax said...

With Steve Sailer, its always about Obama. Sorry. Couldn't resist.

Johnson said...

Pretty strange post. I understand the general gist that you're trying to get at, that Obama's identity is a mystery, and that he is divided between his heart and his head, he has a pastor....ok

But for all purposes, he's the Democratic nominee. Put these posts in perspective in that Obama is running against the third term of the worst president in US history.

Hey, I believe just as much as you about genetics, IQ, and Africa. But regarding the serious issues, whether Obama is black enough or not, that doesn't seem very relevant.

Anonymous said...

Steve, enough psychoanalysis of Obama! I'm beginning to imagine him lying on a couch in your office, with you sitting next to him, scribbling away and asking, "...and how did that make you feel?"

TGGP said...

If Obama can deceive himself into thinking Africa is dissappointing because of "authenticity", why not a Kenyan?

Anonymous said...

born again democrat,

I'm verkplempt, really.

Steve,
The moby trolls are one thing, but my blood sugar can't handle the sweetness and light of born again democrat. You must do something!

kurt said...

Steve,

You are usually quite insightful, especially about Obama.

However, on this I must partially agree with "Born Again Democrat". I think you are reading too much in Obama's writing. I think he may have been genuinely disappointed that much of what is passed off as African has been actually borrowed from other cultures. Also, this does not necessarily reflect on the low mean IQ of Africans. Many cultures, such as Japan, have many influences that are originally foreign imports.

Martin said...

"“But isn’t there anything left that is truly African?”"

Yeah, poverty.

Of course the presumption behind his question is a fraud. Black Americans who go to Africa don't go to Kenya, as virtually no american blacks are descended from Kenya. Being half white American and half black Kenyan, Obama has no more claim to being "authentically Black-American" then would a half-Chinese/half-Swede who grew up in Martinique and Boliva and settled in Marseille to being "authentically French"

testing99 said...

Obama's obsession over being "Black Enough" has led him to all kinds of idiocies that will sink him and Dems in the General Election:

*His reflexive anti-Americanism got him endorsed by Hamas.
*His reflexive defense of losers like Ayers.
*His reflexive defense of Wright.

Obama is a bad politician because he's not comfortable who he is and is always trying to prove he's "Black Enough." Which might work on the South Side or if you opponent is Alan Keyes. It won't work against even a bad, Press-love driven Candidate like McCain.

The smart thing would have been to have picked fights with Wright, Ayers, and heck Hamas-Iran-Hezbollah but Obama can't and won't do that. Because he's obsessed with being "Black Enough" and all that Third World Solidarity junk. That also informs his inability to offer panders/bribes to middle class Americans, and his habit of talking down to them. Seen larger in Michelle Obama.

He's already whining about McCain noting that Hamas endorsed Obama. Stupid.

Part of Obama's other problem is his worship of the Big Man and Big Man style African politics. Dalrymple in one of his books notes his African colleagues in Rhodesia got paid the same, were just as skilled, but lived poorly because much of their income was spent being the Big Man, causing resentment towards European doctors who did not have to be Big Man.

The other reason Blacks are disappointed in Africa is that it shows Big Man failure writ large. Sure a dictator grabs all the loot like a Giant-Sized Gangsta, but the place is a wreck because of it.

simon newman said...

"They go hoping to see what the black man can accomplish without the white man around holding him down, and, well..."

Maybe they should go to Barbados. Although a black Barbadan told me that tourists to Barbados are often disappointed because it's not 'vibrant' (grotty and dangerous) enough, being boringly safe, well-governed and reminiscent of 1950s England.

Steve Sailer said...

Every February since 1999, I've volunteered to go to Barbados and study it, as long as some public-spirited soul would pay for my airfare, beach hotel, and drinks with umbrellas in them. Nobody has taken me up on my generous offer.

BGC said...

JFK = Obama = elite liberal patronage

Aside from the fact that they are both electrifying orators - why should intellectuals get _so_ excited about JFK (then) and Obama (now)?

Reading James D Watson's (excellent) memoir - Avoid Boring People - it is crystal clear that the US intellectual elites (especially those in Harvard) were _so_ excited about JFK because of the promise (or hope) of patronage.

And sure enough it came - and a few (like McGeorge Bundy and JK Galbraith) got big jobs, while scores more (like Jim Watson) were given an intoxicating sniff of political power.

That's exactly what I see in relation to Obama that is getting the liberal intellectuals in a lather - the sense that he is 'one of us' and the intoxicating hope that he will be sending lots of patronage 'our' way.

(Of course, it was the same with Bill Clinton, for a while; but that undifferentiated and unrealistic hope doesn't transfer to Hillary since the Clintons are a known quantity and the scope and nature of their patronage can already be guessed - while the potentia patronage of Obama is bounded only by the limitations of his supporter's imagination.)

Anonymous said...

I'm reminded of the disappointment I felt the first time I went to Harlem and stayed there for a couple of days. I was expecting to find some authentic black American culture (combined with yummy gentrification), but mostly what I experienced was a run-down neighborhood, scary-looking youths lurking on street corners, and the first rat I saw in NYC. To be fair, I did have some nice meatloaf and cornbread at a local soul food restaurant.

William said...

Surely you ain't telling me this guy looks like a gangster?

(Isn't he Fava Flav?)

Of course Obama isn't really African. That's just an socio-political affectation. He's at least 50% white. The average African-American has nearly 25% non-african genes.

Obama's father wasn't African-American though. Genetically, Obama is slightly more white than black because his mother was white, and mother's pass on more DNA to their sons than fathers do (the Y chromosome has few genes, the X has lots, and then there's the mtDNA). He somehow managed to get two copies of the Afrocentric gene, though.

AMac said...

Blood-sugar qualms aside, I too agree with Born Again Democrat on this one. This is about the most encouraging quote you've excerpted from Dreams From My Father.

Interns at Colonial Williamsburg and hucksters at Machu Picchu or Giza aside, "authenticity" is vastly overrated--hardly news to Steve or to readers here.

"I've structured my life according to pop-multiculti stereotypes of how some of my Ancestors used to live!" Hey, sounds like fun, have at it.

"That makes me a better person than you!" Well, if you say so.

If the wise Kenyan crone Rukia can begin to disabuse Obama of this dopey indulgence, good for her.

And the authenticity-obsessed Obama thought highly enough of his readers to include the exchange in his quasi-autobiography. I'm glad to find something to admire about the guy. I wish there were many more such anecdotes to be had.

Josh said...

"I'm less intersed in a daughter who's authentically African than one who is authentically herself." HUH? Do Africans,even wise old women Africans,talk this way?? From what self-help book did she pick up this gibberish? Isnt Africa where the women do all or most of the work,where the girls are subject to clitoridectomy, ( As opposed to Rush Limbaughs sex change operation,the "addedictomy" ),etc etc? Hard to believe having a daughter who is "self actualized,her own person,looking out for #1,and her own best friend" ad nauseum is highly valued in Africa! Should Obama add a "writers embellishment" tag to this section?

Anonymous said...

This reads like one of those earth-shaking epiphanies Tom Friedman has in every one of his columns. I think Obama put at least a few words in this person's mouth. The dialogue does not ring 'authentic'. Even wise old Kenyans don't talk like that.

Udolpho said...

What's interesting is that Obama wrote two BS books that reflect a certain kind of authorial narcissism, and as a result we have a chance to really look into the mind (such as it is) of a presidential candidate. Steve has done groundbreaking work on this, I think it's safe to predict he is tilling the soil that many an Obama biographer will harvest years hence. Steve, I hope you are outlining a biography of your own.

Anonymous said...

The conversation with the wise old African woman continued: "...Yes, Yes, young man. I am much less interested in a granddaughter that is authentically African than one who is authentically herself. Like you, my favorite nephew, Bursuq. Or what was your name again? Oh, yes, Barack. Did I mention you were my favorite nephew?"

"Young Barack, I love America and would love to come visit you in Washington. Unfortunately, my pills have been very expensive lately so I cannot afford the plane tickets.

Oh, it is no problem but my vegetable garden has been invaded by baboons and they have spoiled the crop. Yes, Yes, young Barack. Did I mention the ancient African custom of helping your family? When I have money, I will be sure to send as much as I have to you. Here is what I have today, 5 American dollars. I will give this to you. But for my vegetables, unfortunately I will need only at most $2000 to recover the damage to this year's crop. Did I mention how beautiful the pictures of your home in Chicago were. This house is fit for a king and surely must have been very expensive. Surely you could not sleep in this nice home knowing your closest great-aunt-twice-removed has no vegetables to sell and might even die with no nerve pills?"

Gene Callahan said...

"Granted, it's too much to expect Obama to admit that the main reason African-American tourists are prone to disappointment with Africa is because it's disappointing."

Ah, yes, and opium puts us to sleep because of its dormative powers. Now everything is clear.

"They go hoping to see what the black man can accomplish without the white man around holding him down, and, well ..."

Talk about laughable, Steve! You're claiming that black Americans who are wealthy enough to saunter off to Africa, are unaware that it's a bit poor famine-ridden, has some genocides, etc. etc.

Hey, and I bet most of 'em ask to meet Tarzan when they get there, huh?

Gene Callahan said...

"Hey, I believe just as much as you about genetics, IQ, and Africa."

Hey, at least someone admits that this racists business is a religion for you guys.

Gene Callahan said...

The two posters complaining that the Kenyan woman wouldn't talk that way are hilarious! I bet, combined, they have spent about 10 minutes of their lives talking to Kenyans. They also failed to notice that the woman was an historian -- so she might have studied abroad, huh?

bigboy said...

"He's at least 50% white. The average African-American has nearly 25% non-african genes.
African-Americans have an IQ around 85 while the unalloyed Africans they meet when they visit have IQs around 70."

That's average IQ. African Americans may in fact meet a few Africans with IQs higher that 70. Just like there are African Americans with IQs above 85. Obama's father, for example, wasn't an idiot.

The real reasons so many African Americans feel disappointed when they encounter the real, as opposed to the idealized, Africa are Africans generally don't see them as long-lost Africans. In addition, the complex reality in Africa combined with the myriad problems burdening the place make it less attractive when viewed up close by people who romanticize the place.