Rethinking Obama

Topics: Barack Obama, President of the United States, Democratic Party Pages: 27 (6316 words) Published: November 7, 2014

Obama - Hope


Barack Obama’s complex upbringing has polarised the media and brought a lot of controversy.2 His multicultural background made him a hero and villain at the same time. Chicago native? First African American President? Half white? Hawaiian? Indonesian? All of these labels have been used to simply box him into one of these categories. But we should not ignore the life experiences this brought and eventually defined his identity. Obama, like any American president, wanted to make history and be remembered by future generations for his greatness.3 On his quest to leave a mark on this earth, his public image has changed from being the coming-book superhero4 who would help Americans out of the recession to a terrible President who cannot fulfil his citizens expectations.

Before we can find out if he was rather a hero or a villain, we need to know who Barack Obama is, why he matters and why we have chosen him for this book.

Barack Hussein Obama II was born on August 4, 1961, in Hawaii to Ann Dunham, a white American from Kansas, and Barack Obama Sr., a black Kenyan. They met as students at the University of Hawaii. When Obama was two years old, his father left the family and returned to Kenya, where he died in a car accident nineteen years later. In 1963, Ann Dunham met another foreign student at the University of Hawaii, Lolo Soetoro of Indonesia. They got married and moved to Indonesia, where Obama lived from age six to ten with his mother and stepfather. He attended Catholic and Muslim schools.5

"I was raised as an Indonesian child and a Hawaiian child and as a black child and as a white child," Obama later recalled. "And so what I benefited from is a multiplicity of cultures that all fed me."6

In 1971 Obama's mother sent him back to Hawaii so he could get a better education. He lived with her parents, Stanley and Madelyn Dunham, and attended Hawaii's prestigious Punahou School from fifth grade through graduation from high school. Obama was a good but not outstanding student at Punahou, enjoyed playing basketball and experienced drugs and alcohol during that time, including marijuana and cocaine. Because his parents and grandparents were not religious he did not practise religion in his household.7

After high school, Obama left Hawaii in 1979 for college, enrolling first at Occidental College in Los Angeles for his freshman and sophomore years, and then at Columbia University in New York City. He read deeply and widely about political and international affairs, graduating from Columbia with a political science major in 1983. After spending an additional year in New York as a researcher with Business International Group, a global business consulting firm, Obama accepted an offer to work as a community organiser in Chicago's largely poor and black South Side.8

Obama’s main assignment was amongst other to improve conditions in the poorly maintained public housing project. The complex city bureaucracy was challenging and he realised that he could not achieve anything without a law degree. In 1988, Obama enrolled at Harvard Law School, where he excelled as a student, graduating magna cum laude and winning election as president of the prestigious Harvard Law Review for the academic year 1990-1991. As the first African American president in the long history of the law review, Obama drew widespread media attention and a contract from Random House to write a book about race relations. The book, Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance (1995), turned out to be mostly a personal memoir, focusing in particular on his struggle to come to terms with his identity as a black man raised by whites in the absence of his African father.9

During a summer internship at Chicago's Sidley and Austin law firm after his first year at Harvard, Obama met Michelle Robinson, a South Side native and Princeton University and Harvard Law School graduate who...
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