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Obama’s ‘Dreams of My Father’


Q: Did Obama write that he would "stand with the Muslims" and that he nurses a "pervasive sense of grievance and animosity" toward whites?

A: No. A widely circulated e-mail fabricates some quotes from Obama’s books and twists others.

FULL QUESTION

Can you guys provide some context to this e-mail. Not sure if you have already but thought I would pass it along. Thanks.

Misleading Obama E-mail:
"In His Own Words"

The last quote tells all we need to know! Be sure and read that one!

This guy wants to be our President and control our government. Pay close attention to the last comment!! Below are a few lines from Obama’s books " his words:

From Dreams of My Father: "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."

[EET ]

From Dreams of My Father : "I found a solace in nursing a pervasive sense of grievance and animosity against my mother’s race."

From Dreams of My Father : "There was something about him that made me wary, a little too sure of himself, maybe. And white."

From Dreams of My Father : ; "It remained necessary to prove which side you were on, to show your loyalty to the black masses, to strike out and name names."

From Dreams of My Father : "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, Dubois and Mandela."

From Audacity of Hope: "I will stand with the Muslims should the political winds shift in an ugly direction." [/EET]

FULL ANSWER

Anyone looking for Barack Obama’s real sentiments about whites, blacks and Muslims won’t find them in this scurrilous collection of falsified, doctored and context-free "quotations." The e-mail claims to feature words taken from Obama’s books, "The Audacity of Hope" (2006) and "Dreams from My Father" (1995, republished in 2004). But we found that two of the quotes are false, and others have been manipulated or taken out of context.

We have received many inquiries about this from readers whose suspicions were aroused, with good reason. Aside from the fact that the e-mail incorrectly cites the title of Obama’s book as "Dreams of My Father," rather than "Dreams from My Father," you may have noticed that none of the quotes in this e-mail contain page references. This should be a sign to any reader that the author is trying to pull a fast one, betting that you won’t take the time to read through all 806 pages of Obama’s books to get to the facts.

False Quotes

We’ll take these supposed Obama quotes one at a time, starting with the ones that are simply false. The first has Obama confessing to a "sense of grievance" and "animosity" toward whites.

Misleading e-mail: From Dreams of My Father : "I found a solace in nursing a pervasive sense of grievance and animosity against my mother’s race." 

Actual quote from "Dreams from My Father": Nothing like this quote appears in Obama’s books.

The Obama campaign states that this quote does not appear in Obama’s book "Dreams from My Father." We carefully looked through that book, as well as "The Audacity of Hope," and found nothing similar. The popular urban legends reference site Snopes.com comes to the same conclusion. Snopes also notes that a similar quote does appear in an unfavorable review of "Dreams from My Father" that was published in the March 2007 issue of The American Conservative. But the words are those of the reviewer, Steve Sailer, not Obama.

Steve Sailer: He inherited his father’s penetrating intelligence; was raised mostly by his loving liberal white grandparents in multiracial, laid-back Hawaii, where America’s normal race rules never applied; and received a superb private school education. And yet, at least through age 33 when he wrote Dreams from My Father, he found solace in nursing a pervasive sense of grievance and animosity against his mother’s race.

We find that this e-mail takes the personal opinion of a conservative author and falsely presents it as a confession by Obama.

A second false quote has Obama saying he would "stand with the Muslims," words that don’t appear in his book. What he actually said is that he would stand with American immigrants from Pakistan or Arab countries should they be faced with something like the forced detention of Japanese-American families in World War II:

Misleading e-mail: From Audacity of Hope: "I will stand with the Muslims should the political winds shift in an ugly direction." 

Actual quote from "The Audacity of Hope" [pg. 261]: Of course, not all my conversations in immigrant communities follow this easy pattern. In the wake of 9/11, my meetings with Arab and Pakistani Americans, for example, have a more urgent quality, for the stories of detentions and FBI questioning and hard stares from neighbors have shaken their sense of security and belonging. They have been reminded that the history of immigration in this country has a dark underbelly; they need specific assurances that their citizenship really means something, that America has learned the right lessons from the Japanese internments during World War II, and that I will stand with them should the political winds shift in an ugly direction.

Obama did not say he would side with "the Muslims," which could easily be read as meaning he would side with the world’s Muslim population even if it meant working outside the best interests of the United States. He said he would side with "them," referring back to his mention of immigrant communities and specifically to "Arab and Pakistani Americans." Furthermore, he was speaking of an "ugly direction" like the mass internment of Japanese Americans.

This false quote goes hand in hand with the equally false rumor that Obama is a Muslim.

Doctored Quotes

We next turn to a quote that is manipulated to make it sound as though Obama is saying he would "never emulate" a white man, when he was actually describing a personal struggle to come to terms with his own mixed-race ancestry, and the failings of blacks and whites alike.

Misleading e-mail: From Dreams of My Father: "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, Dubois and Mandela."

Actual quote from "Dreams from My Father" [pg. 220]: Yes, I’d seen weakness in other men – Gramps and his disappointments, Lolo and his compromise. But these men had become object lessons for me, men I might love but 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, DuBois and Mandela. And if later I saw that the black men I knew – Frank or Ray or Will or Rafiq – fell short of such lofty standards; if I had learned to respect these men for the struggles they went through, recognizing them as my own – my father’s voice had nevertheless remained untainted, inspiring, rebuking, granting or withholding approval.  You do not work hard enough, Barry. You must help in your people’s struggle. Wake up, black man!

The e-mail cuts out important words, changing the quote’s meaning. Gone is the notion that he "might love" white or brown men. Gone also is that Obama was speaking not of white or brown men generally, but specifically about "these men," his white, maternal grandfather Stanley Dunham and his Indonesian stepfather Lolo Soetoro. The doctored quote makes it appear as though Obama said he would never emulate any white or brown man, based on their race. 

Gone as well is Obama’s admission that his black friends sometimes "fell short of [the] lofty standards" of black role models like Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela.

Another doctored quote is trimmed to make Obama sound as though he is wary of working for a white man because of his race, when Obama actually wrote that the "problem" of race had been raised by the man himself.

Misleading e-mail: From Dreams of My Father: "There was something about him that made me wary, a little too sure of himself, maybe. And white."

Actual quote from "Dreams from My Father" [pgs. 141-142]: Now he was trying to pull urban blacks and suburban whites together around a plan to save manufacturing jobs in metropolitan Chicago. He needed somebody to work with him, he said. Somebody black. …

He offered to start me off at ten thousand dollars the first year, with a two-thousand-dollar travel allowance to buy a car; the salary would go up if things worked out. After he was gone, I took the long way home, along the East River promenade, and tried to figure out what to make of the man. He was smart, I decided. He seemed committed to his work. Still, there was something about him that made me wary. A little too sure of himself, maybe. And white – he’d said himself that that was a problem.  

The e-mail’s edited quote makes it appear as if Obama is left with an unfavorable opinion of someone based on race. The full quote shows that Obama’s mention of Marty Kaufman’s race is made only after Kaufman raises it as a potential problem in light of his consideration to hire Obama for a job on a community organizing drive.

Obama took the job. "Kaufman" is actually a pseudonym. Obama told Chicago Sun-Times reporter Lynn Sweet that the man’s real name was Gerald Kellman, who was Obama’s boss at his first job in Chicago as a community organizer at the Calumet Community Religious Conference. Obama worked for him for three years before going on to law school. Kellman has said of Obama: "One of the remarkable things is how well he listens to people who are opposed to him."

Context, Please 

Other quotes in the e-mail are offered without their full context, which we offer here.

Misleading e-mail: From Dreams of My Father: "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."

Actual quote from "Dreams from My Father" [pg. xv]: When people who don’t know me well, black or white, discover my background (and it is usually a discovery, for I ceased to advertise my mother’s race at the age of twelve or thirteen, when I began to suspect that by doing so I was ingratiating myself to whites), I see the split-second adjustments they have to make, the searching of my eyes for some telltale sign. They no longer know who I am. Privately, they guess at my troubled heart, I suppose – the mixed blood, the divided soul, the ghostly image of the tragic mulatto trapped between two worlds. And if I were to explain that no, the tragedy is not mine, or at least not mine alone, it is yours, sons and daughters of Plymouth Rock and Ellis Island, it is yours, children of Africa, it is the tragedy of both my wife’s six-year-old cousin and his white first grade classmates, so that you need not guess at what troubles me, it’s on the nightly news for all to see, and that if we could acknowledge at least that much then the tragic cycle begins to break down…well, I suspect that I sound incurably naive, wedded to lost hopes, like those Communists who peddle their newspapers on the fringes of various college towns. Or worse, I sound like I’m trying to hide from myself.

On its own, the quote can be interpreted as Obama rejecting his white heritage and, by extension, the entire white population. But, in full context, the statement is part of Obama’s assessment of "black or white" individuals’ first impressions of him as a person of mixed race.

And finally …

Misleading e-mail: From Dreams of My Father : ; "It remained necessary to prove which side you were on, to show your loyalty to the black masses, to strike out and name names."

Actual quote from "Dreams from My Father" [pg. 100-101]: To avoid being mistaken for a sellout, I chose my friends carefully. The more politically active black students. The foreign students. The Chicanos. The Marxist professors and structural feminists and punk-rock performance poets. We smoked cigarettes and wore leather jackets. At night, in the dorms, we discussed necolonialism, Franz Fanon, Eurocentrism, and patriarchy. When we ground out our cigarettes in the hallway carpet or set our stereos so loud that the walls began to shake, we were resisting bourgeois society’s stifling constraints. We weren’t indifferent or careless or insecure. We were alienated.  But this strategy alone couldn’t provide the distance I wanted, from Joyce or my past. After all, there were thousands of so-called campus radicals, most of them white and tenured and happily tolerated. No, it remained necessary to prove which side you were on, to show your loyalty to the black masses, to strike out and name names.

On its own, the quote makes Obama appear racially militant. Whereas, in full context, the quote illustrates Obama’s confusion over his race and cultural heritage. This is emphasized in the preceding paragraph, where Obama describes himself as someone compensating for insecurity in his "racial credentials."

–Emi Kolawole and Brooks Jackson

Sources

Obama, Barack. The Audacity of Hope. New York: Crown Publishers, 2006.

Obama, Barack. Dreams from My Father. New York: Crown Publishers, 2004.

Sailer, Steve. "Obama’s Identity Crisis." The American Conservative. 26 Mar. 2007.