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After too many rants revealing our "disappointment with Obama," it is time for a change of pace and a change of mood. I'm going to review Obama's first book, DREAMS FROM MY FATHER: A STORY OF RACE AND INHERITANCE. The book is much more important now than it was when it was first published in 1995.

Several of us, former colleagues on the faculty of an Albuquerque prep school, met for lunch. We hadn't seen each other in many years -- the others were travelling through Albuquerque, having moved away decades ago. We had all held onto our progressive views, with similar attitudes toward current national and world problems. We were all disappointed with the way things were going -- bank bailouts, health care, war. One of the visitors startled me, when she blurted out, "We don't deserve him. Obama is a better man than we could have hoped for."

This book gives us amazing insight into the man. What he wants, what he wants to accomplish, his normal way of thinking and reacting are all revealed. What's gone wrong is not his fault. The problem is too much ignorance, too much unawareness and meanness and cruelty and falsehood.

Never in our history have we had the opportunity to know and understand the man who wields all that power. "Give him a chance," many wise persons have pleaded. The health care issue, war and plain old arithmetic [negative numbers!] may yet overwhelm us all, including Obama and all his hopes and all our hopes. But let's not let anyone get away with lying about what kind of man he is.

DREAMS FROM MY FATHER. I read it aloud because the print is too small for Adela. We were both able to savor the excellent writing. Don't speed-read this one, please! Reading this book will help anyone understand Obama's patience, his ability to hope, his coolness under mean and nasty fire, his good humor, his willingness to compromise. Impatient people, like me, wonder what's with all the hesitancy to confront, to push, to insist, to prosecute. This fellow doesn't work that way. And his awareness of his blackness makes him wiser than we impetuous types would be in such a situation.

This book comes in three sections. The first section is called "Origins." His black African father is absent. But Barack has to decide who he is, that is, what he is. It isn't urgent in Hawaii, where a little brown boy can live with his white, that is, pink, mother and pink grandparents. It's even less of a problem in Indonesia, where he lived with his dark-skinned stepfather and white mother. But when he went to college in Southern California, a decision had to be made. He decided he was black. He could hardly do otherwise, given the color of his skin and the prevailing attitudes in this country. There is no slavery in his background, but nevertheless he joins the black movement.

The second section, called "Chicago," tells of his experiences in community organizing in that city. He worked mostly with black churches and black politicians. Results were meager and frustrating, but extremely satisfying when they turned up. Persistence, patience, courtesy, solidarity -- this is where he learn all about all that.

The third section takes place in Africa, where Barack meets all this stepmothers and half-siblings, who don't bother calling it "half" at all -- he is simply "brother" and "son." The reader may be confused a little at first, but it is worth persisting, to appreciate the richness of extended family life, and to see one more time the devastating effect Europeans have had on people of color.

There is nothing mysterious about Barack Obama. Family, race, career, accomplishments -- he's just like us, only clearer. There is insight in this book about being black. Here's one who decided to be black. But the important thing is getting clear. Accept the genes you have. Get past the bitterness. Be yourself, not someone else's appendage. And be thankful for allies, helpers, kin.

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Copyright © 2009 Harry Willson

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