I recently finished reading Barack Obama’s memoir named Dreams From My Father. I began to read this book because I realized I didn’t know a lot about him and I was curious.
Something that made this book more meaningful, at least for me and maybe others in Kenya, is that a large portion of the book references Kenya. Obama’s dad was from Kenya, so much of the book is Obama grappling with his feelings on that. Also in part three, Obama visits Kenya for the first time and he spends many pages describing the scenery, Nairobi, the wildlife, going on a safari, riding in matatus, and visiting his family in Western Kenya. It is fun to be able to relate to a book in such a concrete way.
For the majority of the book, however, Obama wrestles with race and what his race means to him: while in the US, or Kenya, or Indonesia, or anywhere else. He experiences race and racism firsthand in Hawaii with his African American basketball friends and their acceptance of the “situation”. They are young men who have fully accepted the stereotypes of a black man and are unashamed to conform. He reads Baldwin, DeBois, and Hughes in an attempt to find other people’s words to speak when he couldn’t find his own words. He also sees racism at work in the young moms and struggling teens on the south side of Chicago.
And he tries to understand how race is affecting him and all that he does. One of the bigger factors in confronting his race and its implications is his attempt to make peace with the legacy and memories his father left him. To accomplish this, he felt the need to visit Kenya, see his heritage in a different light, and learn more about it. When he visited Kenya, he saw life as his father must have seen it, and only then could fully envelop his heritage, his ancestry, and his race. In Kenya, he felt “the circle close”.
One thing that I believe makes this book applicable to people, like myself, who have almost nothing in common with Obama, is his exploration of his heritage. He does not resign to it, without thought. I think this allows in us a feeling that we could do the same.
Obama’s book can serve to remind us to embrace our heritage for what it is and what it can contribute to our life.