I Studied My Own Self

I Studied My Own Self


ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes



Barack’s grandfather made the transition seemingly effortless in the white man’s world and though he would

not take a caning he was well-liked by colonial officers and households because of his superb skills as a

kind of butler and servant organizing household staff. He was thrifty, saved his money, bought land. . .



 I Studied My Own Self

Obama’s Dreams from My Father

Review by Rudolph Lewis


“I studied my own self,” responds a bluesmen, questioned on the authenticity of his blues. These words could have been a title for Dreams from My Father. For the bluesman is always searching—on the move, looking for a better chance, for wholeness, an escape from fragmentation. Barack Obama too searches: spurred greatly by the absent father, a loss (an impulse) inexplicable, seemingly, a small matter—his father’s brief visit in which he demanded excellence, the special extra, from his son, though abandoned by the substance of that voice.  There was a lack of affection, communication.

But Barack—who becomes a cosmopolitan man product of the post-colonial and civil rights ages—is more than just the cotton-picking bluesman of the stereotypical Delta, whipped about randomly by forces of nature and man. To his social and familial predicament, Barack Junior applies astute analysis, creative prose, and poetry. He is as well the man of intellect and reason. This memoir in a sense heals the breach.

The Obamas (the Luos of Kenya to Barack), we discover through their Western educated children, are more than just sojourners. They have purpose and force, even if wrong headed, they exhibit endurance and caution. The demanding Obama grandfather accepted and excelled in the new colonial order. This story of the Obamas is a long meditation, partly fictive, at times reading like a novel, but seemingly to true effect. For it is indeed subtitled “a story.” The power and the meaning of his father and his father’s life (including the extended family) are unraveled. First through the eyes and life of his Kansas family and how they came to embrace their daughter’s choice and their son—a typical American family but not yet so far from that which is best in America.

Dreams from My Father is a book about identity—the search for self.. Its discovery. Its significance. Its role as determinant of one’s sense of duty and destiny. Obama was only 24 with a bachelor’s when he went to Chicago determined to develop as a community organizer. The memoir is divided into three sections: Origins, Chicago, and Kenya. There is nothing in Origins that prepares us for the social readiness of the organizer Barack Obama who is fixated on succeeding politically in Chicago as a social reformer. After three years in Chicago (24 t0 27 years old), Obama is fairly well-respected by the grassroots people as well as social professionals to political makers and shakers. He leaves Chicago temporarily for Harvard Law School.

In between, he spends several weeks in his father’s Luo Kenya. Continuing a method began in part two Chicago, relatives (sons, aunts, cousins, etc.) relate, first his sister Auma studying linguistics in Germany, their memories of the senior Barack, his father, his wives, his children, his people, his tribe. They provide greater context than he could have known through his white relatives. Their post-colonial realities, far too many pushed farther down in what became to be called poverty, that many of the Obamas live in a state in which many have been reduced to begging. Their children leave their rural, land short parents to become “lost” in the city. Caught in a tax system, like hut taxes, farmers are forced to work for wages.

Even before Barack’s Kansas mother, the Obamas were caught between two worlds. The British colonial world diminished the power and influence of the tribal life in ordering day to day activities of literacy and international business. Barack’s grandfather made the transition seemingly effortless in the white man’s world and though he would not take a caning he was well-liked by colonial officers and households because of his superb skills as a kind of butler and servant organizing household staff. He was thrifty, saved his money, bought land, used recent techniques in farming, and held a few cattle. Terrible for his kinsmen, the grandfather had a mania for cleanliness and order. Women found him difficult and married only when he found it could sustain his businesses.

The grandfather and Barack Senior had a falling out that never repaired itself. The boy he felt was undisciplined.  The son tried to prove him wrong. Barack Senior, with a little help from white female friends, far exceeded his father in accomplishments. He wrote a school in Hawaii and received a scholarship. His study led him to Harvard and a doctorate. He returned to Kenya with a government appointment. Thinking free speech of government operations was to be encouraged, Barack Senior made accusations of tribal favoritism in Kenyatta’s government. Jomo Kenyatta, then head of government, made Barack Senior unable to work in government or businesses contracted by government. The life of Barack Senior was thrown into disarray and a downward spiral.

He drank more without joy. Fear of government reprisals, his friends abandoned him. He became more abusive to his children and his wife. His children had a hard time. The life of his second American wife is poignant. Ruth’s story. Auma’ story. That of David and Mark. Roy and Bernard, and the son about eight years old. Barack Obama Senior regained some of that which he lost. But his age mates had already outstripped him in achievement. And then there was the tragic car accident—a life snuffed out too soon, leaving five, six children several wives in wonder, anguish, and pain.  Barack Junior too regains his loss, his abandonment—by searching and by intellect. One cannot escape the sense of wholeness in Barack Senior’s tragic life.

Barack Junior through Dreams from My Father, that is, the peculiarities of his own life become a means of discovering his place (his identity, his manhood) in a much more complex world than his father inherited. In a way the memoir is also a critique of the worlds he inherited—black and white and other—Kenya, America, Indonesia. Auma serves as Barack’s guide through the matrix of Luo tribal manners, understanding and history through the lives of the Obamas. Barry cannot but become Barack, no more than his African Luo grandfather could choose to become a Muslim rather than a Christian. A Luo consciousness must be part of this identity Obama constructs if it is balanced and credible of a learned, scholarly colored man. Barack “studied his own self.”

Considering white women, politically. Obama throws a sinking curve. It drops off the table for a strike. He keeps coming at you like that, you know Satchel Paige long legs and arms all up in your face. Now you see it now you don’t. Maybe it’s a natural trait. (The Luos should be checked for the possibilities as MLB pitchers.) Barack seems to have chosen consciously against mixed marriage; that for him white marriage would take him off the road of identity seeking and political success. He tells the story of a white girl friend who invited him to her family’s place, inherited by her father, and her father’s grandfather and his grandfather. That world in its longevity, grandeur, and connections to American power and wealth would shut down his search. It’s a peculiar critique, well-crafted.

There would be a matter of acceptance of that upper class world and its telescopic vision of the social deprivations and oppression of the weak and poor. As far as wealth with skills, connections and talented, Barack Obama could have been a super wealthy black, and still that possibility is opened after his presidency. But millionaires come frequent within our communities with the buying and selling of black bodies, as athletes for universities and other money making institutions. Barack Junior took his date to a play by black women about black women and black lives. Outside she broke into tears, “I cannot be black!”

It’s rough on both sides and it stirs deeply. In a sense one asks for troubles. Barack needed a woman who was black if he was going to get to the White House. Chicago is a tough town. Obama was offered Gary. He insisted on Chicago as his base. He wanted to be a tough guy, helping the powerless to get the services they are titled to by law, changing the law to sustain the working poor. Many of these are women, when we have the feminization of poverty. Those Barack organized to be leaders were mostly women. Male voices were seldom heard, except negatively.

Chicago was a place too where Southern strategies were thrown back like lightweights by Northern or Mid-West hard hats and families mouthing, screaming more cruel epithets than could be harnessed by neo-Nazis and old KKK elements. This was working class v. working class. King hit a brick wall and had to settle for peanuts. Jesse continued and brought King strategies into a new era of electoral politics and lobbying for black businesses and farmers, encouragement of punitive acts against discriminators in jobs and hiring; negotiations with large corporations for equity in services and employment. But it was clearly left-wing ideologically, his PUSH and rainbow coalition, and other political campaigns. Jesse became the successor to the King legacy, No. 1 race leader.

But America has tired and somewhat neutered racial nationalism among the vast 30 million persons. There is this consideration of racial nationalism in Dreams of My Father—from its most unconscious forms (e.g., impulse defense of Michael Jackson) to the Nation of Islam, its most radical, the scientists of revolution, those who follow the line of communists. (See Black Studies in the Age of Obama .)  These nationalists groups seem to have a small membership (50 or less) and are very little in reformist grassroots organizing. Grassroots organizing to pressure government to do its duty, for Barack, seems central to any substantial community leadership. He argues his organizing is not about race or racial nationalism but something much larger.

Obama in his identity search sought/seeks that which is much larger than just the individual (the race), but that impulse which strives for a larger community. Dreams from My Father is a kind of Bible that should be near the nightstand. Obama was born again at Trinity during a sermon titled, “The Audacity of Hope.” I look forward to reading Barack’s book of the same title. Maybe brevity will be more emphasized.

My reigning question remains how this guy got to be so smart so quick? Though ever a puzzle, Barack Junior would suggest excellence comes when we study our own selves, scrupulously, critically balanced. That kind of honesty will take one far. The essential Barack, the mind working in the creation of Dreams from My Father, seems the same man we have in the White House. Older, wise, loving to get what is possible done. This book is the work of a genius. Brilliant! Fascinating!  How wonderful it will be to see him as more than a consolation—one capable of governing within narrow political margins, the power of a LBJ but without his tools of arm twisting. The Right is frightened by his gifts. His blues is global. His hands are limited at home, more extensive in matters of war. His will be a long presidency.

27 July 2009

*   *   *   *   *’s 25 Best Selling Books

For July 1st through August 31st 2011  


#1 – Justify My Thug by Wahida Clark #2 – Flyy Girl by Omar Tyree #3 – Head Bangers: An APF Sexcapade by Zane #4 – Life Is Short But Wide by J. California Cooper #5 – Stackin’ Paper 2 Genesis’ Payback by Joy King #6 – Thug Lovin’ (Thug 4) by Wahida Clark #7 – When I Get Where I’m Going by Cheryl Robinson #8 – Casting the First Stone by Kimberla Lawson Roby #9 – The Sex Chronicles: Shattering the Myth by Zane

#10 – Covenant: A Thriller  by Brandon Massey

#11 – Diary Of A Street Diva  by Ashley and JaQuavis

#12 – Don’t Ever Tell  by Brandon Massey

#13 – For colored girls who have considered suicide  by Ntozake Shange

#14 – For the Love of Money : A Novel by Omar Tyree

#15 – Homemade Loves  by J. California Cooper

#16 – The Future Has a Past: Stories by J. California Cooper

#17 – Player Haters by Carl Weber

#18 – Purple Panties: An Anthology by Sidney Molare

#19 – Stackin’ Paper by Joy King

#20 – Children of the Street: An Inspector Darko Dawson Mystery by Kwei Quartey

#21 – The Upper Room by Mary Monroe

#22 – Thug Matrimony  by Wahida Clark

#23 – Thugs And The Women Who Love Them by Wahida Clark

#24 – Married Men by Carl Weber

#25 – I Dreamt I Was in Heaven – The Rampage of the Rufus Buck Gang by Leonce Gaiter


#1 – Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable #2 – Confessions of a Video Vixen by Karrine Steffans #3 – Dear G-Spot: Straight Talk About Sex and Love by Zane #4 – Letters to a Young Brother: MANifest Your Destiny by Hill Harper #5 – Peace from Broken Pieces: How to Get Through What You’re Going Through by Iyanla Vanzant #6 – Selected Writings and Speeches of Marcus Garvey by Marcus Garvey #7 – The Ebony Cookbook: A Date with a Dish by Freda DeKnight #8 – The Isis Papers: The Keys to the Colors by Frances Cress Welsing #9 – The Mis-Education of the Negro by Carter Godwin Woodson

#10 – John Henrik Clarke and the Power of Africana History  by Ahati N. N. Toure

#11 – Fail Up: 20 Lessons on Building Success from Failure by Tavis Smiley

#12 –The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander

#13 – The Black Male Handbook: A Blueprint for Life by Kevin Powell

#14 – The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore

#15 – Why Men Fear Marriage: The Surprising Truth Behind Why So Many Men Can’t Commit  by RM Johnson

#16 – Black Titan: A.G. Gaston and the Making of a Black American Millionaire by Carol Jenkins

#17 – Brainwashed: Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority by Tom Burrell

#18 – A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose by Eckhart Tolle

#19 – John Oliver Killens: A Life of Black Literary Activism by Keith Gilyard

#20 – Alain L. Locke: The Biography of a Philosopher by Leonard Harris

#21 – Age Ain’t Nothing but a Number: Black Women Explore Midlife by Carleen Brice

#22 – 2012 Guide to Literary Agents by Chuck Sambuchino #23 – Chicken Soup for the Prisoner’s Soul by Tom Lagana #24 – 101 Things Every Boy/Young Man of Color Should Know by LaMarr Darnell Shields

#25 – Beyond the Black Lady: Sexuality and the New African American Middle Class  by Lisa B. Thompson

*   *   *   *   *


Sex at the Margins

Migration, Labour Markets and the Rescue Industry

By Laura María Agustín

This book explodes several myths: that selling sex is completely different from any other kind of work, that migrants who sell sex are passive victims and that the multitude of people out to save them are without self-interest. Laura Agustín makes a passionate case against these stereotypes, arguing that the label ‘trafficked’ does not accurately describe migrants’ lives and that the ‘rescue industry’ serves to disempower them. Based on extensive research amongst both migrants who sell sex and social helpers, Sex at the Margins provides a radically different analysis. Frequently, says Agustin, migrants make rational choices to travel and work in the sex industry, and although they are treated like a marginalised group they form part of the dynamic global economy. Both powerful and controversial, this book is essential reading for all those who want to understand the increasingly important relationship between sex markets, migration and the desire for social justice. “Sex at the Margins rips apart distinctions between migrants, service work and sexual labour and reveals the utter complexity of the contemporary sex industry. This book is set to be a trailblazer in the study of sexuality.”—Lisa Adkins, University of London

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The New Jim Crow

Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness

By Michele Alexander

Contrary to the rosy picture of race embodied in Barack Obama’s political success and Oprah Winfrey’s financial success, legal scholar Alexander argues vigorously and persuasively that [w]e have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it. Jim Crow and legal racial segregation has been replaced by mass incarceration as a system of social control (More African Americans are under correctional control today… than were enslaved in 1850). Alexander reviews American racial history from the colonies to the Clinton administration, delineating its transformation into the war on drugs. She offers an acute analysis of the effect of this mass incarceration upon former inmates who will be discriminated against, legally, for the rest of their lives, denied employment, housing, education, and public benefits. Most provocatively, she reveals how both the move toward colorblindness and affirmative action may blur our vision of injustice: most Americans know and don’t know the truth about mass incarceration—but her carefully researched, deeply engaging, and thoroughly readable book should change that.—Publishers Weekly

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

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posted 27 July 2009



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