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With Obama, It`s Always About Obama
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May 09, 2008, 04:49 AM
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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.