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Slandering Obama with out-of-context quotes

By Glenn Sacks 
web posted July 21, 2008

A few readers have sent me an e-mail that has been circulating around the internet warning about Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama.  The e-mail says:

Think you know who this man is?  This possible President of the United States!! We CANNOT have someone with this type of mentality running our GREAT nation!!  I don't care whether you a Democrat or a Conservative. We CANNOT turn ourselves over to this type of character in a President. PLEASE help spread the word.

It then calls our attention to several quotations from Obama's book Dreams from My Father.  I happen to be reading that book right now -- I'm not quite finished -- and thought I would examine some of the quotes in light of what I've read.  I'm sure there are many other people who have done this too, but below is my version.

Quote #1: "There was something about him that made me wary, a little too sure of himself, maybe. And white."

This quote is taken out of context. Obama was referring to Marty, a community organizer in Chicago under whom Obama worked.  They were working almost exclusively in black Chicago. Marty was white. Naturally, that meant he had to prove himself a little more than a black organizer. 

I've done community organizing work vaguely similar to what Obama did, in the same types of black or Latino low income neighborhoods, and faced the same suspicions myself.  There is nothing racist or "reverse racist" about what Obama is saying here -- it would apply to any group. 

Quote #2: "I ceased to advertise my mother's race at the age of 12 or 13, when I began to suspect that by doing so I was ingratiating myself to whites."

Quote #3: "I found a solace in nursing a pervasive sense of grievance and animosity against my mother's race."

Quote # 4:  "It remained necessary to prove which side you were on, to show your loyalty to the black masses, to strike out and name names."

Three more meaningless quotes.  Much of the book deals with Obama's struggle to find himself as a man, half black and half white, in a racially divided nation.  According to his autobiography, he spent much of his teens and his 20s ruminating over this. 

On one level, I can completely understand and sympathize.  On another, it eventually became a little boring to read about, at times feeling like listening to a 16-year-old endlessly pondering the meaning of life. 

Regardless, the quotes above reflect this struggle.  If he considered himself white, or immersed himself in so-called white culture, he would be called a sellout or an Uncle Tom by blacks.  Looking at the poverty and racism that many blacks endured, he felt a desire and a responsibility to try to help them.  To be "loyal" to them.   

On the other hand, if he embraced black culture, he felt as if he would be disrespecting his white mother, and his two white grandparents who largely raised him.  It's a legitimate dilemma, and his discussion of it hardly merits these attempts to take quotes out of context and make them seem incendiary.

Quote #5: "I never emulate white men and brown men whose fates didn't speak to my own. It was into my father's image, the black man, son of Africa , that I'd packed all the attributes I sought in myself , the attributes of Martin and Malcolm, Du Bois and Mandela."

It is particularly hard to understand why this quote is considered so terrible.  Two of the four men he mentions -- Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela -- are indisputably heroes.  Mandela, for example, spent 27 years in a South African prison as part of his struggle against that country's racial apartheid.

The other two men mentioned here -- Malcolm X and  W. E. B. Du Bois -- are also admirable. Du Bois helped found the NAACP and was a civil rights leader in an era when it was unpopular and dangerous to be one.

Malcolm X can be admired for several reasons.  For one, he raised himself up from being a junkie and a criminal to being a justifiably respected leader of a political movement, as well as being a good family man. He became a leader of the Nation of Islam at a time when this was an understandable thing to do.  He later broke with the Nation of Islam because of its hostility towards whites, declaring the enemy is not whites but instead white racism.

I would also add that I've taught in many black schools and pictures of these four men are often displayed.  It is hardly unusual or sensational for a modern black man or woman to admire "the attributes of Martin and Malcolm, Du Bois and Mandela."

On a larger level, I like Obama's background.  I like that his perspective is different from those of practically any other presidential candidate. I like the fact that he has spent so much of his efforts considering how to help poor people and black people.  He seems more complex and less one-dimensional than most candidates and former presidents. 

That being said, I can't say I think he is qualified to become the next president of the United States.  He often touts his background as a community organizer. However, having read his autobiographical description of his years as a community organizer, it's real, real hard to see how this qualifies him to be president of the United States. Given his thin legislative history, I don't see a lot else he's done which does. 

Regardless, we should be judging him based on who he is, instead of misleading, out of context quotes. ESR

Glenn Sacks’ columns on men's and fathers' issues have appeared in dozens of the largest newspapers in the United States. He invites readers to visit his website at www.GlennSacks.com.


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