Self has been greatly enjoying Barack Obama’s Dreams From My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance. It is so poignant and at the same time so clear-eyed about race, class, and power.
In the excerpt below, Obama describes his mother’s impressions of Indonesia shortly after the family moved there to join Obama’s stepfather.
She saw a woman in bare feet and a tattered shawl wandering through an open gate and up the driveway, where a group of men were washing a fleet of Mercedes-Benzes and Land Rovers. One of the men shouted at the woman to leave, but the woman stood where she was, a bony arm stretched out before her, her face shrouded in shadow. Another man finally dug in his pocket and threw out a handful of coins. The woman ran after the coins with terrible speed, checking the road suspiciously as she gathered them into her bosom.
Power. The word fixed in my mother’s mind like a curse. In America, it had generally remained hidden from view until you dug beneath the surface of things; until you visited an Indian reservation or spoke to a black person whose trust you had earned. But here power was undisguised, indiscriminate, naked, always fresh in the memory. Power had taken Lolo and yanked him back into line just when he thought he’d escaped, making him feel its weight, letting him know that his life wasn’t his own. That’s how things were; you couldn’t change it, you could just live by the rules, so simple once you learned them. And so Lolo had made his peace with power, learned the wisdom of forgetting . . .
“Guilt,” Obama quotes his stepfather as saying, “is a luxury only foreigners can afford.”
Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.