Talk Talk Talk Talk Talk Myself to Death: On Obama's Return Home

Thursday, October 23, 2008

On Obama's Return Home

The occasion of Barack Obama traveling to Hawaii to spend some time with his grandmother has given rise to an interesting meme across Greater Blogistan. Andrew Sullivan posted this picture:

It's Obama's grandparents, and it's actually been cut to fit the blog format (although it's still too big for this blog on at least some browsers--sorry). As you can see here, the original also included Obama's mother as a girl. It's striking, if you weren't already aware of it, how much Barack Obama looks like his grandfather, Stanley Dunham. I'd seen a picture of Dunham as a young man in his army uniform on TV at some point, and his smile was the same we've come to know from Obama (unfortunately, I poked around and couldn't come up with that picture online). That family resemblance inspired a handful of other posts from Sullivan and a variety of other bloggers reflecting on the Dunhams' decision to embrace their daughter and her biracial child in the early 1960s. I don't know everything that went into that decision (although we do know that the Dunhams weren't initially happy with their daughter's decision to marry an African man), but we should remember that this wasn't necessarily an obvious resolution for the time. It wasn't unheard of for sons or daughters to be disowned and shunned in such circumstances.

The most affecting post on these ideas I came upon was this one by Ta-Nehisi Coates. The final paragraph is certainly worth quoting:

We often give a pass to racists by noting that they were "of their times." Fair enough, and I know Hawaii was a different beast, but still, today, let us speak of people who were ahead of their times, who were outside of their times. Let us remember that Barack Obama learned the great lessons of life from courageous white people. Let us speak of those who do what normal, right people should always do when faced with a child--commit an act love. Here's to doing the right thing.


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