The recent victory of Barack Obama in the United States Presidential Election of 2008 is one of the biggest issues among many other big events that have occurred in America this year. This year’s election was even more controversial because of the racial issue, which they barely, if at all, had in previous elections. During the course of the campaigns, other candidates may have mentioned the racial difficulties in their speech or public pledge, but no candidate ever represented him-self as a minority. Despite these barriers, Barack Obama has managed to rise above all of the issues and presented himself as the new face of America.
The character and the political will of President Obama catapulted him from relative fame to the world’s attention. From humble beginnings, he has managed to make the best of every opportunity in life and has risen to the public’s consciousness in a unique fashion, as a representative of a minority. It is this meteoric rise to fame and power that is best explained in his memoir entitled, Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance, which recounts his experiences growing up and provide a good view of how these have shaped his political ideologies.
Before embarking on a discussion on how race relations and the importance of family teaches individuals how to succeed in contemporary America, it is important to briefly outline the experiences of Barack Obama growing up. Born in Honolulu, Hawaii, Barack Obama was of mixed heritage. His father was a native from Kenya while his mother was from Wichita, Kansas. While he did not have the benefit of growing up with his father, Barack Obama grew from the tutelage that he received from his mother and his grandparents.
It was not long before another experience in his life would change the way he perceived the world. When his mother, Ann Dunham married Lolo Soetoro, he moved with his family to Jakarta. He spent his first ten years here and these were formative of his perspectives on race and individual identity. According to President Obama, his years in Indonesia made him more aware of himself and of his role in the world. He had a keen understanding of the many different people in the world because of this background and this allowed him to better understand the racial differences in relation to himself.
Moving back to Hawaii was another big step in the development of his character as he was only one of three black students in the entire school which was comprised of students of Asian-American descent. It was here that his concept of individuality gave way to the higher consciousness of race and the meaning of being an African-American. He realized that he was different from everyone else and while majority of his classmates were not white they were also not black and this led to certain tenuous relations, as he recounts in his book.
This was also important for the reason that his educational years at Punahou Academy were a major turning point for his family. The elevation in status was a big thing for the family and Obama realized this. He not only saw but experienced firsthand the social differences and economic classes that comprise society. This was crucial to his keen understanding of politics and social classes which became his strengths during the Presidential campaign period.
High school years were challenging for him as he narrates a different lifestyle. He also recounts how he majored in political science at Columbia College. It was not until he moved to Chicago, however, that he began taking an avid interest in social reform, involving himself with non-profit institutions and community organizations such as the Altgeld Gardens Housing Project. It was during this experience and the challenges that he faced that he saw how detrimental to development a closed way of thinking is.
One such experience he had was the resistance that his group encountered in the implementation of their projects due to the resistance that he met at the hands of the entrenched community leaders who were set in their ways. They fervently lobbied against the plans of the group and made it nearly impossible for them to carry out their advocacy. This was even aggravated by the fact that the bureaucracy that was established was apathetic to their cause. Obama felt just how difficult it was to grow up in such a community where even those who are trying to help are being prevented from doing such.
In the book’s final scene, Obama recounts a life changing experience of his in Kenya. Before entering Harvard Law School, Obama decided to visit his relatives in Kenya. After years of being estranged from the family of his father, he decided to come to terms with his identity and his search led him to the homeland of his father. While he was different from his Kenyan relatives due to this upbringing, he also saw the similarities. He realized that the differences are not that big and can be overcome. He saw the future of race relations and how a fractured society can ruin a country.
Perhaps the real lesson that can be gleaned form all of this comes from the fact that the idea of having an African American President was unthinkable and unimaginable ten years ago. Yet, it must be pointed out that it was only achievable because America is blended by multi-ethnicity, which means America is like a melting pot, where all different races and cultures are mixed in one particular land, often called “a country of immigrants”. The dream that this success evoked has served to inspire not only millions of Americans but also people all over the world.
The message of change is striking a chord with millions of Americans and everyone is embracing this slogan with open arms with each trying to institute change in their own way. Leading the way for this change is President Barack Obama. He has shown, through his various experiences that there is still a long way to go to improve race relations. He realizes, however, that everything must start somewhere, for him, it started by having a supportive family and being able to come to terms with his mixed heritage and his identity.
Courtney from Study Moose
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