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 Books by "former" President Obama:

 Google> Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance "PDF"
  ( SOURCE:  http://ycis.ac.in/CEGC%20Library/English/Dreams_from_My_Father.pdf  )

    >  http://ycis.ac.in/


 BY Barack Obama
" Dreams from My Father

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 Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance "PDF"
  ( SOURCE:  http://ycis.ac.in/CEGC%20Library/English/Dreams_from_My_Father.pdf  )

    >  http://ycis.ac.in/


 BY Barack Obama
" Dreams from My Father "

 “For we are strangers before them, and sojourners, as were all our fathers." [ https://biblehub.com/kjv/1_chronicles/29-15.htm ]


ALMOST A DECADE HAS passed since this book was first published.

As I mention in the original introduction, the opportunity to write the book came while I was in law school, the result of my election as the first African-American president of the Harvard Law Review.

In the wake of some modest publicity, I received an advance from a publisher and went to work with the belief that the story of my family, and my efforts to understand that story, might speak in some way to the fissures of race that have characterized the American experience, as well as the fluid state of identity-the leaps through time, the collision of cultures that mark our modern life.

Like most first-time authors, I was filled with hope and despair upon the book’s publication-hope that the book might succeed beyond my youthful dreams, despair that I had failed to say anything worth saying. The reality fell somewhere in between.

The reviews were mildly favorable. People actually showed up at the readings my publisher arranged. The sales were underwhelming.

And, after a few months, I went on with the business of my life, certain that my career - as an author - would be short-lived, but glad to have survived the process with my dignity more or less intact.

I had little time for reflection over the next ten years.

I ran a voter registration project in the 1992 election cycle, began a civil rights practice, and started teaching constitutional law at the University of Chicago.

My wife ( Michelle ) and I bought a house, were blessed with two gorgeous, healthy, and mischievous daughters, and struggled to pay the bills.

When a seat in the ( Illinois ) state legislature opened up in 1996, some friends persuaded me to run for the office, and I won. 

I had been warned, before taking office, that state politics lacks the glamour of its Washington counterpart; one labors largely in obscurity, mostly on topics that mean a great deal - to some - but that the "average" man or woman on the street can safely ignore (the regulation of mobile homes, say, or the tax consequences of farm equipment depreciation).

Nonetheless, I found the work satisfying, mostly because the scale of state politics allows for concrete results - an expansion of health insurance for poor children, or a reform of laws that send innocent men to death row within a meaningful time frame.

And too, because within the capitol building of a big, industrial state, one sees (every day) the face of a nation in constant conversation: inner-city mothers and corn and bean farmers, immigrant day laborers alongside suburban investment bankers - all jostling to be heard, all ready to tell their stories.

A few months ago, I won the Democratic nomination for a seat as the U.S. senator from Illinois.

It was a difficult race, in a crowded field of well-funded, skilled, and prominent candidates; without organizational backing or personal wealth, a black man with a funny name, I was considered a long shot.

And so, when I won a majority of the votes in the Democratic primary, winning in white areas as well as black, in the suburbs as well as Chicago, the reaction that followed echoed the response to my election to the Law Review.

Mainstream commentators expressed surprise and genuine hope that my victory signaled a broader change in our racial politics.

Within the black community, there was a sense of pride regarding my accomplishment, a pride mingled with frustration that fifty years after Brown v. Board of Education and forty years after the passage of the Voting Rights Act, we should still be celebrating the possibility (and only the possibility, for I have a tough general election coming up) that I might be the sole African American - and only the third (since Reconstruction) -to serve in the Senate.

My family, friends, and I were mildly bewildered by the attention, and constantly aware of the gulf between the hard sheen of media reports and the messy, mundane realities of life as it is truly lived. Just as that spate of publicity prompted my publisher’s interest a decade ago, so has this fresh round of news clippings encouraged the book’s re-publication.

For the first time in many years, I’ve pulled out a copy and read a few chapters to see how much my voice may have changed over time. I confess to wincing every so often at a poorly chosen word, a mangled sentence, an expression of emotion that seems indulgent or overly practiced.

I have the urge to cut the book by fifty pages or so, possessed as I am with a keener appreciation for brevity.

I cannot honestly say, however, that the voice in this book is not mine - that I would tell the story much differently [today] than I did ten years ago, even if certain passages have proven to be inconvenient politically, the grist for pundit commentary and opposition research.

What has changed, of course, dramatically, decisively, is the context in which the book might now be read. I began writing against a backdrop of Silicon Valley and a booming stock market; the collapse of the Berlin Wall; Mandela-in slow, sturdy steps-emerging from prison to lead a country; the signing of peace accords in Oslo.

Domestically, our cultural debates-around guns and abortion and rap lyrics-seemed so fierce precisely because Bill Clinton’s "Third Way", a scaled-back welfare state without grand ambition but without sharp edges, seemed to describe a broad, underlying consensus on bread-and-butter issues, a consensus to which even George W. Bush’s first campaign, with its “compassionate conservatism,” would have to give a nod.

Internationally, writers announced the end of history, the ascendance of free markets and liberal democracy, the replacement of old hatreds and wars between nations with virtual communities and battles for market share.

And then, on September 11, 2001, the world fractured. It’s beyond my skill (as a writer) to capture that day, and the days that would follow - the planes, like specters, vanishing into steel and glass; the slow-motion cascade of the towers crumbling into themselves; the ash-covered figures wandering the streets; the anguish and the fear.

Nor do I pretend to understand the stark nihilism that drove the terrorists that day and that drives their brethren still. My powers of empathy, my ability to reach into another’s heart, cannot penetrate the blank stares of those who would murder innocents with abstract, serene satisfaction.

What I do know is that history returned that day with a vengeance; that, in fact, as Faulkner reminds us, the past is never dead and buried - it isn’t even past.

 ( This collective history, this past, directly touches my own.) Not merely because the bombs of Al Qaeda have marked, with an eerie precision, some of the landscapes of my life-the buildings and roads and faces of Nairobi, Bali, Manhattan; not merely because, as a consequence of 9/11, my name is an irresistible target of mocking websites from overzealous Republican operatives.

But also - because,  the underlying struggle-between worlds of plenty and worlds of want; between the modern and the ancient; between those who embrace our teeming, colliding, irksome diversity, while still insisting on a set of values that binds us together, and those who would seek, under whatever flag or slogan or sacred text, a certainty and simplification [that] justifies cruelty toward those not like us - is the struggle set forth, on a miniature scale, in this book.

I know, I have seen, the desperation and disorder of the powerless: how it twists the lives of children on the streets of Jakarta or Nairobi - in much the same way as it does the lives of children on Chicago’s South Side, how narrow the path is for them between humiliation and untrammeled fury, how easily they slip into violence and despair.

I know that the response - of the powerful - to this disorder - alternating as it does - between a dull complacency - and, when the disorder spills out of its proscribed confines, a steady, unthinking application of force, of longer prison sentences and more sophisticated military hardware -is inadequate to the task.

I know that the hardening of lines, the embrace of fundamentalism and tribe, dooms us all.

And so - what was a more interior, intimate effort on my part, to understand this struggle and to find my place in it, has converged with a broader public debate, a debate in which I am professionally engaged; one that will shape our lives and the lives of our children for many years to come.

The policy implications of all this are a topic for another book. Let me end instead on a more personal note.

Most of the characters in this book remain "a part of my life", albeit in varying degrees -a function of work, children, geography, and turns of fate.

 The exception is my mother, whom we lost, with a brutal swiftness, to cancer a few months after this book was published.
  She had spent the previous ten years doing what she loved.

GOOGLE > "BARACK OBAMA'S MOTHER" > ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ann_Dunham ...  "...
 On August 4, 1961, at the age of 18, Dunham gave birth to her first child, Barack Obama in Honolulu.  ..."  )

She [ Stanley Ann Dunham ] traveled the world, working in the distant villages of Asia and Africa, helping women buy a sewing machine or a milk cow or [buy/get] an education that might give them a foothold in the world’s economy. She gathered friends from high and low, took long walks, stared at the moon, and foraged through the local markets of Delhi or Marrakesh for some trifle, a scarf or stone carving that would make her laugh or please the eye. ... She wrote reports, read novels, pestered her children, and dreamed of grandchildren. We saw each other frequently, our bond unbroken.

During the writing of this book, she would read the drafts, correcting stories that I had misunderstood, careful not to comment on my characterizations (of her) but quick to explain or defend the less flattering aspects of my father’s character.

She managed her illness with grace and good humor, and she helped my sister [  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maya_Soetoro-Ng ]  and me push on with our lives, despite our dread, our denials, our sudden constrictions of the heart.

I think sometimes [that] had I known she would not survive her illness, I might have written a different book - [A book] less a meditation on the absent parent, more a celebration of the one who was the single constant in my life.

In my daughters  I see her every day, her joy, her capacity for wonder. I won’t try to describe how deeply I mourn her passing still.

I know that she was the kindest, most generous spirit I have ever known, and that what is best in me - I owe to her.


I ORIGINALLY INTENDED A VERY different book. The opportunity to write it [the book] first arose while I was still in law school, after my election as the first black president of the Harvard Law Review, a legal periodical largely unknown outside the profession.


"Harvard Law Review"  >  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harvard_Law_Review

A burst of publicity followed that election, including several newspaper articles that testified less to my modest accomplishments - than to Harvard Law School’s peculiar place in the American mythology, as well as America’s hunger for any optimistic sign from the racial front - a morsel of proof that, after all, some progress has been made.

A few publishers called, and I, imagining myself to have something original to say about the current state of race relations, agreed to take off a year - after graduation - and put my thoughts to paper. In that last year of law school, I began to organize in my mind, with a frightening confidence, just how the book would proceed.

There would be an essay on the limits of civil rights litigation in bringing about racial equality, thoughts on the meaning of community and the restoration of public life through grassroots organizing, musings on affirmative action and Afrocentrism -the list of topics filled an entire page.

I’d include personal anecdotes, to be sure, and analyze the sources of certain recurring emotions. But all in all it was an intellectual journey that I imagined for myself, complete with maps and restpoints and a strict itinerary: the first section completed by March, the second submitted for revision in August….

When I actually sat down and began to write, though, I found my mind pulled toward rockier shores.

First, longings leapt up to brush my heart.

Distant voices appeared, and ebbed, and then appeared again. I remembered the stories that my mother and her parents told me as a child, the stories of a family trying to explain itself.

I recalled my first year as a community organizer in Chicago and my awkward steps toward manhood.

I listened to my grandmother, sitting under a mango tree as she braided my sister’s hair, describing the father I had never truly known.

Compared to this flood of memories, all my well-ordered theories seemed insubstantial and premature.

Still, I strongly resisted the idea of offering up my past in a book, a past that left me feeling exposed, even slightly ashamed.

Not because that past is particularly painful or perverse - but because it speaks to those aspects of myself that resist conscious choice and that - on the surface, at least - contradict the world I now occupy.

After all, I’m thirty-three now; I work as a lawyer - active in the social and political life of Chicago, a town that’s accustomed to its racial wounds and prides itself on a certain lack of sentiment.

If I’ve been able to fight off cynicism, I nevertheless like to think of myself as wise to the world, careful not to expect too much.

And yet - what strikes me most - when I think about the story of my family - is a running strain of innocence, an innocence that seems unimaginable, even by the measures of childhood.

My wife’s cousin, only six years old, has already lost such innocence:
  A few weeks ago he reported to his parents that some of his first grade classmates had refused to play with him because of his dark, unblemished skin.

Obviously his parents, born and raised in Chicago and Gary, lost their own innocence (long ago), and - although they aren’t bitter - the two of them being as strong and proud and resourceful as any parents I know - one hears the pain in their voices, as they begin to have second thoughts about having moved out of the city into a mostly white suburb, a move they made to protect their son from the possibility of being caught in a gang shooting and the certainty of attending an underfunded school.

They know too much, we have all seen too much, to take my parents’ brief union - a black man and white woman, an African and an American-at face value.

As a result, some people have a hard time taking me at face value. When people - who don’t know me well, - black or white, discover my background (and it is usually a discovery, for I ceased to advertise my mother’s race at the age of twelve or thirteen; When I began to suspect that - by doing so - I was "ingratiating myself to whites". I see the split-second adjustments they have to make, the searching of my eyes for some telltale sign. They no longer know who I am.

Privately, they [ who I have told my mother is white ] guess at my troubled heart; I suppose-the "mixed blood", the "divided soul", the ghostly image of the tragic mulatto trapped between two worlds. And, if I were to explain that no, the tragedy is not mine, or at least not mine alone, it is yours, sons and daughters of Plymouth Rock and Ellis Island, it is yours, children of Africa. It is the tragedy of both my wife’s six-year-old cousin and his white first grade classmates. 

So that you need not guess at what troubles me, it’s on the nightly news - for all to see, and that if we could acknowledge - at least that much - then the tragic cycle begins to break down…well, I suspect that I sound "incurably naive", wedded to "lost hopes", like those Communists who peddle their newspapers on the fringes of various college towns.

Or worse, I sound like I’m trying to hide from myself. I don’t fault people their suspicions. I learned long ago to distrust my childhood and the stories that shaped it.

It was only many years later, after I had sat at my father’s grave and spoken to him through Africa’s red soil, that I could circle back and evaluate these early stories for myself.

  [ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Red_soil  ] 

Or, more accurately, it was only - then - that I understood [that] I had spent much of my life - trying to rewrite these stories, plugging up holes in the narrative, accommodating unwelcome details, projecting individual choices against the blind sweep of history, all in the hope of extracting some granite slab of truth upon which my unborn children can firmly stand.

At some point, then, in spite of a stubborn desire to protect myself from scrutiny, in spite of the periodic impulse to abandon the entire project, what has found its way onto these pages - is a record of a personal, interior journey - a boy’s search for his father, and through that search - a workable meaning for his life as a black American. 

The result is autobiographical, although whenever someone’s asked me over the course of these last three years just what the book is about, I’ve usually avoided such a description.

An autobiography promises feats worthy of record, conversations with famous people, a central role in important events. There is none of that here. At the very least, an autobiography implies a summing up, a certain closure, that hardly suits someone of my years, still busy charting his way through the world.

I can’t even hold up my experience as being somehow representative of the black American experience (“After all, you don’t come from an underprivileged background,” a Manhattan publisher helpfully points out to me); indeed, learning to accept that particular truth-that I can embrace my black brothers and sisters, whether in this country or in Africa, and affirm a common destiny without pretending to speak to, or for, all our various struggles - is part of what this book’s about.

Finally, there are the dangers inherent in any autobiographical work: the temptation to color events in ways favorable to the writer, the tendency to overestimate the interest one’s experiences hold for others, selective lapses of memory. Such hazards are only magnified when the writer lacks the wisdom of age; the distance that can cure one of certain vanities.

I can’t say that I’ve avoided all, or any, of these hazards successfully. Although much of this book is based on contemporaneous journals or the oral histories of my family, the dialogue is necessarily an approximation of what was actually said or relayed to me.

For the sake of compression, some of the characters (that appear) are composites of people I’ve known, and some events appear out of precise chronology. With the exception of my family and a handful of public figures, the names of most characters have been changed for the sake of their privacy. Whatever the label that attaches to this book - autobiography, memoir, family history, or something else - what I’ve tried to do is write an honest account of a particular province of my life. When I’ve strayed, I’ve been able to look to my agent, Jane Dystel, for her faith and tenacity; to my editor, Henry Ferris, for his gentle but firm correctives; to Ruth Fecych and the staff at Times Books, for their enthusiasm and attention in shepherding the manuscript through its various stages;

to my friends, especially Robert Fisher, for their generous readings; and to my wonderful wife, Michelle, for her wit, grace, candor, and unerring ability to encourage my best impulses. It is to my family, though-my mother, my grandparents, my siblings, stretched across oceans and continents-that I owe the deepest gratitude and to whom I dedicate this book.

Without their constant love and support, without their willingness to let me sing their song and their toleration of the occasional wrong note, I could never have hoped to finish. If nothing else, I hope that the love and respect I feel for them shines through on every page.

page 5

 A FEW MONTHS AFTER MY twenty-first birthday, a stranger called to give me the news.

I was living in New York at the time, on Ninety-fourth between Second and First; part of that unnamed, shifting border
between East Harlem and the rest of Manhattan.

It was an uninviting block, treeless and barren, lined with soot-colored walk-ups that cast heavy shadows for most of the day.
The apartment was small, with slanting floors and irregular heat and a buzzer downstairs that didn’t work. 

[Thus] so that, visitors had to call ahead from a pay phone at the corner gas station, where a black Doberman - the size of a wolf - paced through the night in vigilant patrol, its jaws clamped around an empty beer bottle.

 None of this concerned me much, for I didn’t get many visitors. I was impatient in those days - busy with work and unrealized plans, and prone to see other people as unnecessary distractions.

It wasn’t that I didn’t appreciate company exactly. I enjoyed exchanging Spanish pleasantries with my mostly Puerto Rican
neighbors; and, on my way back from classes I’d usually stop to talk to "the boys" - who hung out on the stoop
all summer long - about the Knicks; or the gunshots they’d heard the night before.

When the weather was good, my roommate and I might sit out on the fire escape to smoke cigarettes and study the dusk washing
blue over the city, or watch white people from the better neighborhoods - nearby - walk their dogs down our
block to let the animals shit on our curbs. “Scoop the poop, you bastards!” my roommate would shout with
impressive rage - and we’d laugh at the faces of both master and beast, grim and unapologetic as they
hunkered down to do the deed.

 I enjoyed such moments -but only in brief. If the talk began to wander, or cross the border into
familiarity, I would soon find reason to excuse myself. I had grown too comfortable in my solitude, the safest
place I knew.

 I remember, there was an old man living next door - who seemed to share my disposition. He lived alone;
a gaunt, stooped figure who wore a heavy black overcoat and a misshapen fedora on those rare occasions
when he left his apartment. Once in a while, I’d run into him on his way back from the store, and I would offer
to carry his groceries up the long flight of stairs. He would look at me and shrug, and we would begin our
ascent, stopping at each landing so that he could catch his breath. When we finally arrived at his apartment,
I’d carefully set the bags down on the floor and he would offer a courtly nod of acknowledgment before
shuffling inside and closing the latch. Not a single word would pass between us; and, not once did he ever
thank me for my efforts.

 The old man’s silence impressed me; I thought him a kindred spirit. Later, my roommate would find him
crumpled up on the third-floor landing, his eyes wide open, his limbs stiff and curled up like a baby’s. A
crowd gathered; a few of the women crossed themselves, and the smaller children whispered with
excitement. Eventually, the paramedics arrived to take away the body and the police let themselves into the
old man’s apartment. It was neat, almost empty - a chair, a desk, the faded portrait of a woman with heavy
eyebrows and a gentle smile set atop the mantelpiece. Somebody opened the refrigerator and found close
to a thousand dollars - in small bills - rolled up inside wads of old newspaper and carefully arranged behind
mayonnaise and pickle jars.

 The loneliness of the scene affected me, and for the briefest moment I wished that I had learned the
old man’s name. Then, almost immediately, I regretted my desire, along with its companion grief. I felt as if
an understanding had been broken between us - as if, in that barren room, the old man was whispering an
untold history, telling me things I preferred not to hear.

 It must have been a month or so later, on a cold, dreary November morning, the sun faint behind a gauze of clouds, that the other call came.

I was in the middle of making myself breakfast, with coffee on the stove and two eggs in the skillet, when my roommate handed me the phone.

[ Google > "Barack Obama" "Barry"  > https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barry_(2016_film) ] :  My given name is "Susan" - but, I was called: Susie, Sue growing up

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barack_Obama_Sr.  < Barack's father

The line was thick with static.
 “Barry? Barry, is this you?”  ( Barack was called "Barry" in school, etc.
 “Yes…. Who’s this?”
 “Yes, Barry…this is your Aunt Jane. In Nairobi. Can you hear me?” 
 “I’m sorry-who did you say you were?”
 “Aunt Jane. Listen, Barry, your father is dead. He is killed in a car accident. Hello? Can you hear me?
I say, your father is dead. Barry, please call your uncle in Boston and tell him. I can’t talk now, okay, Barry. I will try to call you again….”

 That was all. The line cut off, and I sat down on the couch, smelling eggs burn in the kitchen, staring at
cracks in the plaster, trying to measure my loss.

 At the time of his death, my father remained a myth to me, both more and less than a man. He had left
Hawaii back in 1963, when I was only two years old; So [that as a child] I knew him only through the stories
that my mother and grandparents told. They all had their favorites, each one seamless, burnished smooth from repeated use.

I can still picture "Gramps" leaning back in his old stuffed chair after dinner, sipping
whiskey and cleaning his teeth with the cellophane from his cigarette pack, recounting the time that my
father almost threw a man off the Pali Lookout because of a pipe…. 

 “See, your mom and dad decided to take this friend of his sightseeing around the island. So they drove
up to the Lookout, and Barack was probably on the wrong side of the road the whole way over there-”

 “Your father was a terrible driver,” my mother explains to me. “He’d end up on the left-hand side, the
way the British drive, and if you said something he’d just huff about silly American rules-”

 “Well, this particular time they arrived in one piece, and they got out and stood at the railing to admire
the view. And Barack (Sr.) , he was puffing away on this pipe - that I’d given him for his birthday, pointing out all the
sights with the stem, like a sea captain-”

 “Your father was really proud of this pipe,” my mother interrupts again. “He’d smoke it all night while he
studied, and sometimes-”
 “Look, Ann, do you want to tell the story or are you going to let me finish?”
 “Sorry, Dad. Go ahead.”
 “Anyway, this poor fella - he was another African student, wasn’t he? Fresh off the boat. This poor kid
must’ve been impressed with the way Barack was holding forth with this pipe, ’cause - he asked if he could
"give it a try?". Your dad thought about it for a minute, and finally agreed, and as soon as the fella took his first
puff, he started coughing up a fit. Coughed so hard that the pipe slipped out of his hand and dropped over
the railing, a hundred feet down the face of the cliff.”

 Gramps stops to take another nip from his flask before continuing. “Well, now, your dad was gracious
enough to wait until his friend stopped coughing before he told him to climb over the railing and bring the
pipe back. The man took one peek down this ninety-degree incline and told Barack that he’d buy him a replacement-”

 “Quite sensibly,”  Toot says from the kitchen.
(We call my grandmother Tutu, Toot for short; it means “grandparent” in Hawaiian, for she decided on the day I was born that she was still too young to be called
Gramps scowls but decides to ignore her.
 “-but Barack was adamant about getting his pipe back, because it was a gift and couldn’t be replaced.
So the fella took another look, and shook his head again, and that’s when your dad picked him clear off the
ground and started dangling him over the railing!”
 Gramps lets out a hoot and gives his knee a jovial slap. As he laughs, I imagine myself looking up at
my father, dark against the brilliant sun, the transgressor’s arms flailing about as he’s held aloft. A fearsome
vision of justice.
“He wasn’t really holding him over the railing, Dad,” my mother says, looking to me with concern, but
Gramps takes another sip of whiskey and plows forward.
 “At this point, other people were starting to stare, and your mother was begging Barack to stop. I guess
Barack’s friend was just holding his breath and saying his prayers. Anyway, after a couple of minutes, your
dad set the man back down on his feet, patted him on the back, and suggested, calm as you please, that
they all go find themselves a beer.

 And don’t you know, that’s how your dad acted for the rest of the "tour" -- like nothing happened.
Of course, your mother was still pretty upset when they got home. In fact, she was
barely talking to your dad. Barack wasn’t helping matters any, either, ’cause when your mother tried to tell
us what had happened he just shook his head and started to laugh.
 ‘Relax, Anna,’ he said to her
 -your dad had this deep baritone, see, and this British accent.” My grandfather tucks his chin into his neck at this
point, to capture the full effect. “‘Relax, Anna,’ he said. ‘I only wanted to teach the chap a lesson about the
proper care of other people’s property!’ ”
  Gramps would start to laugh again until he started to cough, and Toot would mutter under her breath
that she supposed it was a good thing that my father had realized that dropping the pipe had just been an
accident - because who knows what might have happened otherwise, and my mother would roll her eyes at
me and say they were exaggerating.

 “Your father can be a bit domineering,” my mother would admit with a hint of a smile. “But. it’s just that
he is basically a very honest person. That makes him uncompromising sometimes.”
 She preferred a gentler portrait of my father. She would tell the story of when he arrived to accept his
Phi Beta Kappa key in his favorite outfit-jeans and an old knit shirt with a leopard-print pattern.

  “Nobody told him it was this big honor, so he walked in and found everyone standing around this elegant room dressed in
tuxedos. The only time I ever saw him embarrassed.”

 And Gramps, suddenly thoughtful, would start nodding to himself “It’s a fact, Bar,” he would say. “Your
dad could handle just about any situation, and that made everybody like him. Remember the time he had to
sing at the International Music Festival? He’d agreed to sing some African songs, but when he arrived it
turned out to be this big to-do, and the woman who performed just before him was a semi-professional
singer, a Hawaiian gal with a full band to back her up.

Anyone else would have stopped right there, you
know, and explained that there had been a mistake. But not Barack (Sr.). He got up and started singing in front
of this big crowd-which is no easy feat, let me tell you-and he wasn’t great, but he was so sure of himself
that before you knew it he was getting as much applause as anybody.”

 My grandfather would shake his head and get out of his chair to flip on the TV set. “Now there’s
something you can learn from your dad,” he would tell me. “Confidence. The secret to a man’s success.”

 That’s how all the stories went-compact, apocryphal, told in rapid succession in the course of one
evening, then packed away for months, sometimes years, in my family’s memory. Like the few photographs
of my father that remained in the house, old black-and-white studio prints that I might run across while
rummaging through the closets in search of Christmas ornaments or an old snorkle set.

At the point where my own memories begin, my mother had already begun a courtship with the man who would become her
second husband, and I sensed - without explanation - why the photographs had to be stored away.

But - once in a while, sitting on the floor with my mother, the smell of dust and mothballs rising from the crumbling album,
I would stare at my father’s likeness-the dark laughing face, the prominent forehead and thick glasses that
made him appear older than his years-and listen as the events of his life tumbled into a single narrative.

 He was an African, I would learn, a Kenyan of the Luo tribe, born on the shores of Lake Victoria in a place called Alego, [Kenya]. (map)
The village was poor, but his father -my other grandfather, Hussein Onyango Obamahad been a prominent farmer, an elder of the tribe, a medicine man with healing powers.

My father grew up herding his father’s goats and attending the local school, set up by the British colonial administration, where
he had shown great promise.

He eventually won a scholarship to study in Nairobi; and then, on the eve of
Kenyan independence, he had been selected by Kenyan leaders and American sponsors to attend a
university in the United States, joining the first large wave of Africans to be sent forth to master Western
technology and bring it back to forge a new, modern Africa.

 In 1959, at the age of twenty-three, he arrived at the University of Hawaii as that institution’s first
African student. He studied econometrics, worked with unsurpassed concentration, and graduated in three
years at the top of his class. His friends were legion, and he helped organize the International Students
Association, of which he became the first president. In a Russian language course, he met an awkward, shy
American girl, only eighteen, and they fell in love. The girl’s parents, wary at first, were won over by his
charm and intellect; the young couple married, and she bore them a son, to whom he bequeathed his name.

He won another scholarship -this time to pursue his Ph.D. at Harvard-but not the money to take his new family with him.

A separation occurred, and he returned to Africa to fulfill his promise to the continent. The
mother and child stayed behind, but the bond of love survived the distances….
There,  the album would close, and I would wander off content, swaddled in a tale that placed me in the
center of a vast and orderly universe. Even in the abridged version that my mother and grandparents
offered, there were many things I didn’t understand.

But I rarely asked for the details that might resolve the meaning of “Ph.D.” or “colonialism,” or locate Alego on a map.

Instead, the path of my father’s life occupied
the same terrain as a book my mother once bought for me, a book called Origins, a collection of creation
tales from around the world, stories of Genesis and the tree where man was born,

Prometheus and the gift of fire, the tortoise of Hindu legend that floated in space, supporting the weight of the world on its back.
Later, when I became more familiar with the narrower path to happiness to be found in television and the
movies, I’d become troubled by questions. What supported the tortoise?
Why did an omnipotent God let a snake cause such grief? Why didn’t my father return? But at the age of five or six I was satisfied to leave
these distant mysteries intact, each story self-contained and as true as the next, to be carried off into
peaceful dreams.

 That my father looked nothing like the people around me -that he was black as pitch, my mother white
as milk-barely registered in my mind.
 In fact, I can recall only one story that dealt explicitly with the subject of race; as I got older, it would be
repeated more often, as if it captured the essence of the "morality tale" that my father’s life had become.

According to the story, after long hours of study, my father had joined my grandfather and several other
friends at a local Waikiki bar.

Everyone was in a festive mood, eating and drinking to the sounds of a slack-key guitar, when a white man abruptly announced to the bartender, loudly enough for everyone to hear, that he shouldn’t have to drink good liquor “next to a nigger.”

The room fell quiet and people turned to my father, expecting a fight.
Instead, my father stood up, walked over to the man, smiled, and proceeded to lecture
him about the folly of bigotry, the promise of the American dream, and the universal rights of man.

“This fella felt so bad when Barack was finished,” Gramps would say, “that he reached into his pocket and gave
Barack a hundred dollars on the spot. Paid for all our drinks and puu-puus for the rest of the night-and your
dad’s rent for the rest of the month.”
 By the time I was a teenager, I’d grown skeptical of this story’s veracity and had set it aside with the
rest. Until I received a phone call, many years later, from a Japanese-American man who said he had been
my father’s classmate in Hawaii and now taught at a midwestern university. He was very gracious, a bit
embarrassed by his own impulsiveness; he explained that he had seen an interview of me in his local paper
and that the sight of my father’s name had brought back a rush of memories. Then, during the course of our
conversation, he repeated the same story that my grandfather had told, about the white man who had tried
to purchase my father’s forgiveness.
“I’ll never forget that,” the man said to me over the phone; and in his
voice I heard the same note that I’d heard from Gramps so many years before, that note of disbelief-and hope.

 Miscegenation. The word is humpbacked, ugly, portending a monstrous outcome: like antebellum or
octoroon, it evokes images of another era, a distant world of horsewhips and flames, dead magnolias and
crumbling porticos. And yet, it wasn’t until 1967 - the year I celebrated my sixth birthday and Jimi Hendrix
performed at Monterey, three years after Dr. King received the Nobel Peace Prize, a time when America
had already begun to weary of black demands for equality, the problem of discrimination presumably
solved-that the Supreme Court of the United States would get around to telling the state of Virginia that its
ban on interracial marriages violated the Constitution.

In 1960, the year that my parents were married,
miscegenation still described a felony in over half the states in the Union. In many parts of the South, my
father could have been strung up from a tree for merely looking at my mother the wrong way; in the most
sophisticated of northern cities, the hostile stares, the whispers, might have driven a woman in my mother’s
predicament into a back-alley abortion - or at the very least, to a distant convent that could arrange for

Their very image together would have been considered lurid and perverse, a handy retort to the
handful of softheaded liberals who supported a civil rights agenda.

 Sure - but would you let your daughter marry one?
 The fact that my grandparents had answered yes to this question, no matter how grudgingly, remains
an enduring puzzle to me. There was nothing in their background to predict such a response, no New
England transcendentalists or wild-eyed socialists in their family tree. True, Kansas had fought on the Union
side of the Civil War; Gramps liked to remind me that various strands of the family contained ardent
abolitionists. If asked, Toot would turn her head in profile to show off her beaked nose, which, along with a
pair of jet-black eyes, was offered as proof of Cherokee blood.

 But an old, sepia-toned photograph on the bookshelf spoke most eloquently of their roots. It showed
Toot’s grandparents, of Scottish and English stock, standing in front of a ramshackle homestead, unsmiling
and dressed in coarse wool, their eyes squinting at the sun-baked, flinty life that stretched out before them.

 Theirs were the faces of American Gothic, the WASP bloodline’s poorer cousins, and in their eyes one
could see truths that I would have to learn later as facts: that Kansas had entered the Union free - only after a
violent precursor to the Civil War, the battle in which John Brown’s sword tasted first blood; that, while one of
my great-great-grandfathers, Christopher Columbus Clark, had been a decorated Union soldier, his wife’s
mother was rumored to have been a second cousin of Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederacy; that
although another distant ancestor had indeed been a full-blooded Cherokee, such lineage was a source of
considerable shame to Toot’s mother, who blanched whenever someone mentioned the subject and hoped
to carry the secret to her grave.

 That was the world in which my grandparents had been raised, the dab-smack, [ smack dab] landlocked center of
the country, a place where decency and endurance and the pioneer spirit were joined at the hip with
conformity and suspicion and the potential for unblinking cruelty. They had grown up less than twenty miles
away from each other-my grandmother in Augusta, my grandfather in El Dorado, towns too small to warrant
boldface on a road map-and the childhoods they liked to recall for my benefit portrayed small-town,
Depression-era America in all its innocent glory: Fourth of July parades and the picture shows on the side of
a barn; fireflies in a jar and the taste of vine-ripe tomatoes, sweet as apples; dust storms and hailstorms and
classrooms filled with farm boys who got sewn into their woolen underwear at the beginning of winter and
stank like pigs as the months wore on.

 Even the trauma of bank failures and farm foreclosures seemed romantic when spun through the loom
of my grandparents’ memories, a time when hardship, the great leveler that had brought people closer
together, was shared by all. So you had to listen carefully to recognize the subtle hierarchies and unspoken
codes that had policed their early lives, the distinctions of people who don’t have a lot and live in the middle
of nowhere.

It had to do with something called respectability - there were "respectable people" and "not-sorespectable people" - and although you didn’t have to be rich to be respectable, you sure had to work harder at it if you weren’t [rich].
 Toot’s family was respectable. Her father held a steady job all through the Depression, managing an oil
lease for Standard Oil. Her mother had taught normal school before the children were born. The family kept
their house spotless and ordered Great Books through the mail; they read the Bible but generally shunned
the tent revival circuit, preferring a straight-backed form of Methodism that valued reason over passion and
temperance over both.

 My grandfather’s station was more troublesome. Nobody was sure why -the grandparents who had
raised him and his older brother weren’t very well off, but they were decent, God-fearing Baptists,
supporting themselves with work in the oil rigs around Wichita. Somehow, though, Gramps had turned out a bit wild.

Some of the neighbors pointed to his mother’s suicide: it was Stanley, after all, then only eight years
old, who had found her body. Other, less charitable, souls would simply shake their heads: The boy takes
after his philandering father, they would opine, the undoubtable cause of the mother’s unfortunate demise.

 Whatever the reason, Gramps’s reputation was apparently well deserved. By the age of fifteen he’d
been thrown out of high school for punching the principal in the nose. For the next three years he lived off
odd jobs, hopping rail cars to Chicago, then California, then back again, dabbling in moonshine, cards, and

As he liked to tell it, he knew his way around Wichita, where both his and Toot’s families had
moved by that time, and Toot doesn’t contradict him; certainly, Toot’s parents believed the stories that
they’d heard about the young man and strongly disapproved of the budding courtship. The first time Toot
brought Gramps over to her house - to meet the family, her father took one look at my grandfather’s black,
slicked-back hair and his perpetual wise-guy grin and offered his unvarnished assessment.  “He looks like a wop.”

 My grandmother didn’t care. To her, a home economics major fresh out of high school and tired of
respectability, my grandfather must have cut a dashing figure. I sometimes imagine them in every American
town in those years before the war, him in baggy pants and a starched undershirt, brim hat cocked back on
his head, offering a cigarette to this smart-talking girl with too much red lipstick and hair dyed blond and legs
nice enough to model hosiery for the local department store. He’s telling her about the big cities, the
endless highway, his imminent escape from the empty, dust-ridden plains, where "big plans" mean a job as a
bank manager and entertainment means an ice-cream soda and a Sunday matinee, where fear and lack of
imagination choke your dreams so that you already know on the day that you’re born just where you’ll die
and who it is that’ll bury you. He won’t end up like that, my grandfather insists; he has dreams, he has
plans; he will infect my grandmother with the great peripatetic itch that had brought both their forebears
across the Atlantic and half of a continent so many years before.

 They eloped just in time for the bombing of Pearl Harbor, and my grandfather enlisted. And, at this point
the story quickens in my mind like one of those old movies that show a wall calendar’s pages peeled back
faster and faster by invisible hands, the headlines of Hitler and Churchill and Roosevelt and Normandy
spinning wildly to the drone of bombing attacks, the voice of Edward R. Murrow and the BBC. I watch as my
mother is born at the army base where Gramps is stationed; my grandmother is Rosie the Riveter, working
on a bomber assembly line; my grandfather sloshes around in the mud of France, part of Patton’s army.

 Gramps returned from the war never having seen real combat, and the family headed to California,
where he enrolled at Berkeley under the GI bill. But the classroom couldn’t contain his ambitions, his
restlessness, and so the family moved again, first back to Kansas, then through a series of small Texas
towns, then finally to Seattle, where they stayed long enough for my mother to finish high school.

Gramps worked as a furniture salesman; they bought a house and found themselves bridge partners.
They were pleased that my mother proved bright in school, although when she was offered early admission into the
University of Chicago, my grandfather forbade her to go, deciding that she was still too young to be living on
her own.

 And that’s where the story might have stopped: a home, a family, a respectable life. Except something
must have still been gnawing at my grandfather’s heart. I can imagine him standing at the edge of the
Pacific, his hair prematurely gray, his tall, lanky frame bulkier now, looking out at the horizon until he could
see it curve and still smelling, deep in his nostrils, the oil rigs and corn husks and hard-bitten lives that he
thought he had left far behind. So that when the manager of the furniture company where he worked
happened to mention that a new store was about to open in Honolulu, that business prospects seemed
limitless there, what with statehood right around the corner, he would rush home that same day and talk my
grandmother into selling their house and packing up yet again, to embark on the final leg of their journey,
west, toward the setting sun….

 He would always be like that, my grandfather, always searching for that new start, always running
away from the familiar. By the time the family arrived in Hawaii, his character would have been fully formed,
I think-the generosity and eagerness to please, the awkward mix of sophistication and provincialism, the
rawness of emotion that could make him at once tactless and easily bruised.

His was an American character, one typical of men of his generation, men who embraced the notion of freedom and individualism
and the open road without always knowing its price, and whose enthusiasms could as easily lead to the
cowardice of McCarthyism as to the heroics of World War II. Men who were both dangerous and promising
precisely because of their fundamental innocence; men prone, in the end, to disappointment.

 In 1960, though, my grandfather had not yet been tested; the disappointments would come later, and
even then - they would come slowly, without the violence that might have changed him, for better or worse. In
the back of his mind he had come to consider himself as something of a freethinker-bohemian, even.

He wrote poetry on occasion, listened to jazz, counted a number of Jews he’d met in the furniture business as
his closest friends. In his only skirmish into organized religion, he would enroll the family in the local
Unitarian Universalist congregation; he liked the idea that Unitarians drew on the scriptures of all the great
religions (“It’s like you get five religions in one,” he would say). Toot would eventually dissuade him of his
views on the church (“For Christ’s sake, Stanley, religion’s not supposed to be like buying breakfast cereal!”),
but, if my grandmother was more skeptical by nature, and disagreed with Gramps on some of his
more outlandish notions, her own stubborn independence, her own insistence on thinking something
through for herself, generally brought them into rough alignment.

 All this marked them as vaguely liberal, although their ideas would never congeal into anything like a
firm ideology; in this, too, they were American.

And so, when my mother came home one day and mentioned a friend she had met at the University of Hawaii,
 an African student named Barack, their first impulse was to invite him over for dinner.

The poor kid’s probably lonely, Gramps would have thought, so
far away from home. Better take a look at him, Toot would have said to herself. When my father arrived at
the door, Gramps might have been immediately struck by the African’s resemblance to Nat King Cole, one
of his favorite singers; I imagine him asking my father if he can sing, not understanding the mortified look on
my mother’s face. Gramps is probably too busy telling one of his jokes or arguing with Toot over how to
cook the steaks to notice my mother reach out and squeeze the smooth, sinewy hand beside hers. Toot
notices, but she’s polite enough to bite her lip and offer dessert; her instincts warn her against making a
scene. When the evening is over, they’ll both remark on how intelligent the young man seems, so dignified,
with the measured gestures, the graceful draping of one leg over another-and how about that accent!
 But would they let their daughter marry one?

 We don’t know yet; the story to this point doesn’t explain enough. The truth is that, like most white
Americans at the time, they had never really given black people much thought. Jim Crow had made its way
north into Kansas well before my grandparents were born, but at least around Wichita it appeared in its
more informal, genteel form, without much of the violence that pervaded the Deep South. The same
unspoken codes that governed life among whites kept contact between the races to a minimum; when black
people appear at all in the Kansas of my grandparents’ memories, the images are fleeting-black men who
come around the oil fields once in a while, searching for work as hired hands; black women taking in the
white folks’ laundry or helping clean white homes. Blacks are there but not there, like Sam the piano player
or Beulah the maid or Amos and Andy on the radio - shadowy, silent presences that elicit neither passion nor fear.

 It wasn’t until my family moved to Texas, after the war, that questions of race began to intrude on their
lives. During his first week on the job there, Gramps received some friendly advice from his fellow furniture
salesmen about serving black and Mexican customers: “If the coloreds want to look at the merchandise,
they need to come after hours and arrange for their own delivery.” Later, at the bank where she worked,
Toot made the acquaintance of the janitor, a tall and dignified black World War II vet she remembers only
as Mr. Reed.

While the two of them chatted in the hallway one day, a secretary in the office stormed up and
hissed that Toot should never, ever, “call no nigger ‘Mister.’ ” Not long afterward, Toot would find Mr. Reed
in a corner of the building weeping quietly to himself. When she asked him what was wrong, he straightened
his back, dried his eyes, and responded with a question of his own.
 “What have we ever done to be treated so mean?”

 My grandmother didn’t have an answer that day, but the question lingered in her mind, one that she
and Gramps would sometimes discuss once my mother had gone to bed. They decided that Toot would
keep calling Mr. Reed “Mister,” although she understood, with a mixture of relief and sadness, the careful
distance that the janitor now maintained whenever they passed each other in the halls. Gramps began to
decline invitations from his coworkers to go out for a beer, telling them he had to get home to keep the wife
happy. They grew inward, skittish, filled with vague apprehension, as if they were permanent strangers in town.

 This bad new air hit my mother the hardest. She was eleven or twelve by this time, an only child just
growing out of a bad case of asthma. The illness, along with the numerous moves, had made her something
of a loner -cheerful and easy-tempered but prone to bury her head in a book or wander off on solitary walks
and Toot began to worry that this latest move  had only made her daughter’s eccentricities more pronounced.


My mother made few friends at her new school. She was teased mercilessly for her name,
Stanley Ann (one of Gramps’s less judicious ideas -he had wanted a son). Stanley Steamer, they called her.
Stan the Man. When Toot got home from work, she would usually find my mother alone in the front yard,
swinging her legs off the porch or lying in the grass, pulled into some solitary world of her own.

 Except for one day. There was that one hot, windless day when Toot came home to find a crowd of
children gathered outside the picket fence that surrounded their house. As Toot drew closer, she could
make out the sounds of mirthless laughter, the contortions of rage and disgust on the children’s faces.
The children were chanting, in a high-pitched, alternating rhythm:
 “Nigger lover!”
 “Dirty Yankee!”
 “Nigger lover!”

 The children scattered when they saw Toot, but not before one of the boys had sent the stone in his
hand sailing over the fence. Toot’s eyes followed the stone’s trajectory as it came to rest at the foot of a
tree. And there she saw the cause for all the excitement: my mother and a black girl of about the same age
lying side by side on their stomachs in the grass, their skirts gathered up above their knees, their toes dug
into the ground, their heads propped up on their hands in front of one of my mother’s books. From a
distance the two girls seemed perfectly serene beneath the leafy shade. It was only when Toot opened the
gate that she realized the black girl was shaking and my mother’s eyes shone with tears. The girls remained
motionless, paralyzed in their fear, until Toot finally leaned down and put her hands on both their heads.
 “If you two are going to play,” she said, “then for goodness sake, go on inside. Come on. Both of you.”
She picked up my mother and reached for the other girl’s hand, but before she could say anything more, the
girl was in a full sprint, her long legs like a whippet’s as she vanished down the street.
 Gramps was beside himself when he heard what had happened. He interrogated my mother, wrote
down names. The next day he took the morning off from work to visit the school principal. He personally
called the parents of some of the offending children to give them a piece of his mind. And from every adult
that he spoke to, he received the same response:
 “You best talk to your daughter, Mr. Dunham. White girls don’t play with coloreds in this town.”

 It’s hard to know how much weight to give to these episodes, what permanent allegiances were made
or broken, or whether they stand out only in the light of subsequent events. Whenever he spoke to me
about it, Gramps would insist that the family left Texas - in part - because of their discomfort with such racism.

 Toot would be more circumspect; once, when we were alone, she told me that they had moved from Texas
only because Gramps wasn’t doing particularly well on his job, and because a friend in Seattle had
promised him something better. According to her, the word racism wasn’t even in their vocabulary back
then. “Your grandfather and I just figured we should treat people decently, Bar. That’s all.”

 She’s wise that way, my grandmother, suspicious of overwrought sentiments or overblown claims,
content with common sense. Which is why I tend to trust her account of events; it corresponds to what I
know about my grandfather, his tendency to rewrite his history to conform with the image he wished for

 And yet, I don’t entirely dismiss Gramps’s recollection of events as a convenient bit of puffery, another
act of white revisionism. I can’t, precisely because - I know how strongly Gramps believed in his fictions, how
badly he wanted them to be true, even if he didn’t always know how to make them so.

After Texas I suspect that black people became a part of these fictions of his, the narrative that worked its way through his
dreams. The condition of the black race, their pain, their wounds, would in his mind become merged with his
own: the absent father and the hint of scandal, a mother who had gone away, the cruelty of other children,
the realization that he was no fair-haired boy - that he looked like a “wop.” Racism was part of that past, his
instincts told him, part of convention and respectability and status, the smirks and whispers and gossip that
had kept him on the outside looking in.

 Those instincts count for something, I think; for many white people of my grandparents’ generation and
background, the instincts ran in an opposite direction, the direction of the mob. And although Gramps’s
relationship with my mother was already strained by the time they reached Hawaii - she would never quite
forgive his instability and often-violent temper and would grow ashamed of his crude, ham-fisted manners.

It was this desire of his to obliterate the past, this confidence in the possibility of remaking the world from
whole cloth, that proved to be his most lasting patrimony.

Whether Gramps realized it or not, the sight of his daughter with a black man offered at some deep unexplored level a window into his own heart.

 Not that such self-knowledge, even if accessible, would have made my mother’s engagement any
easier for him to swallow. In fact, how and when the marriage occurred remains a bit murky, a bill of
particulars that I’ve never quite had the courage to explore. There’s no record of a real wedding, a cake, a
ring, a giving away of the bride. No families were in attendance; it’s not even clear that people back in
Kansas were fully informed.

 Just a small civil ceremony, a justice of the peace. The whole thing seems so
fragile in retrospect, so haphazard. And perhaps that’s how my grandparents intended it to be, a trial that
would pass, just a matter of time, so long as they maintained a stiff upper lip and didn’t do anything drastic.

 If so, they miscalculated not only my mother’s quiet determination - but also the sway of their own
emotions. First the baby arrived, eight pounds, two ounces, with ten toes and ten fingers and hungry for
food. What in the heck were they supposed to do?
Then time and place began to conspire, transforming potential misfortune into something tolerable,
even a source of pride.

Sharing a few beers with my father, Gramps might listen to his new son-in-law
sound off about politics or the economy, about far-off places like Whitehall or the Kremlin, and imagine
himself seeing into the future. He would begin to read the newspapers more carefully, finding early reports
of America’s newfound integrationist creed, and decide in his mind that the world was shrinking, sympathies
changing; that the family from Wichita had  - in fact -  moved to the forefront of Kennedy’s "New Frontier" and Dr.
King’s "magnificent dream". How could America send men into space and still keep its black citizens in
bondage? One of my earliest memories is of sitting on my grandfather’s shoulders as the astronauts from
one of the Apollo missions arrived at Hickam Air Force Base after a successful splashdown.
I remember the astronauts, in aviator glasses, as being far away, barely visible through the portal of an isolation chamber.
But Gramps would always swear that one of the astronauts waved just at me and that I waved back. It was
part of the story he told himself. With his black son-in-law and his brown grandson, Gramps had entered the space age.

 And what better port for setting off on this new adventure than Hawaii, the Union’s newest member?
Even now, with the state’s population quadrupled, with Waikiki jammed wall to wall with fast-food
emporiums and pornographic video stores and subdivisions marching relentlessly into every fold of green
hill, I can retrace the first steps I took as a child and be stunned by the beauty of the islands. The trembling
blue plane of the Pacific. The moss-covered cliffs and the cool rush of Manoa Falls, with its ginger blossoms
and high canopies filled with the sound of invisible birds. The North Shore’s thunderous waves, crumbling
as if in a slow-motion reel. The shadows off Pali’s peaks; the sultry, scented air.
 Hawaii! To my family, newly arrived in 1959, it must have seemed as if the earth itself, weary of
stampeding armies and bitter civilization, had forced up this chain of emerald rock where pioneers from
across the globe could populate the land with children bronzed by the sun. The ugly conquest of the native
Hawaiians through aborted treaties and crippling disease brought by the missionaries; the carving up of rich
volcanic soil by American companies for sugarcane and pineapple plantations; the indenturing system that
kept Japanese, Chinese, and Filipino immigrants stooped sunup to sunset in these same fields; the
internment of Japanese-Americans during the war-all this was recent history. And yet, by the time my family
arrived, it had somehow vanished from collective memory, like morning mist that the sun burned away.

There were too many races, with power among them too diffuse, to impose the mainland’s rigid caste
system; and so few blacks that the most ardent segregationist could enjoy a vacation secure in the
knowledge that race mixing in Hawaii had little to do with the established order back home.

 Thus the legend was made of Hawaii as the one true melting pot, an experiment in racial harmony. My
grandparents-especially Gramps, who came into contact with a range of people through his furniture
business-threw themselves into the cause of mutual understanding. An old copy of Dale Carnegie’s How to
Win Friends and Influence People still sits on his bookshelf. And growing up, I would hear in him the breezy,
chatty style that he must have decided would help him with his customers. He would whip out pictures of the
family and offer his life story to the nearest stranger; he would pump the hand of the mailman
or make offcolor jokes to our waitresses at restaurants.
 Such antics used to make me cringe, but people more forgiving than a grandson appreciated his
curiosity, so that while he never gained much influence, he made himself a wide circle of friends. A
Japanese-American man who called himself Freddy and ran a small market near our house would save us
the choicest cuts of aku for sashimi and give me rice candy with edible wrappers. Every so often, the
Hawaiians who worked at my grandfather’s store as deliverymen would invite us over for poi and roast pig,
which Gramps gobbled down heartily (Toot would smoke cigarettes until she could get home and fix herself
some scrambled eggs). Sometimes I would accompany Gramps to Ali’i Park, where he liked to play
checkers with the old Filipino men who smoked cheap cigars and spat up betel-nut juice as if it were blood.

And - I still remember how, one early morning, hours before the sun rose, a Portuguese man to whom my
grandfather had given a good deal on a sofa set took us out to spear fish off Kailua Bay. A gas lantern hung
from the cabin on the small fishing boat as I watched the men dive into inky-black waters, the beams of their
flashlights glowing beneath the surface until they emerged with a large fish, iridescent and flopping at the
end of one pole. Gramps told me its Hawaiian name, humu-humu-nuku-nuku-apuaa, which we repeated to
each other the entire way home.

 In such surroundings, my racial stock caused my grandparents few problems, and they quickly adopted
the scornful attitude local residents took toward visitors who expressed such hang-ups.

Sometimes when
Gramps saw tourists watching me play in the sand, he would come up beside them and whisper, with
appropriate reverence, that I was the great-grandson of King Kamehameha, Hawaii’s first monarch. a

“I’m sure that your picture’s in a thousand scrapbooks, Bar,” he liked to tell me with a grin, “from Idaho to
Maine.” That particular story is ambiguous, I think; I see in it a strategy to avoid hard issues. And yet
Gramps would just as readily tell another story, the one about the tourist who saw me swimming one day
and, not knowing who she was talking to, commented that “swimming must just come naturally to these

To which he responded that that would be hard to figure, since “that boy happens to be my
grandson, his mother is from Kansas, his father is from the interior of Kenya, and there isn’t an ocean for
miles in either damn place.”

For my grandfather, race wasn’t something you really needed to worry about
anymore; if ignorance still held fast in certain locales, it was safe to assume that the rest of the world would
be catching up soon.

 In the end, I suppose that’s what all the stories of my father were really about. They said less about the
man himself than about the changes that had taken place in the people around him, the halting process by
which my grandparents’ racial attitudes had changed.

The stories gave voice to a spirit that would grip the nation for that fleeting period between Kennedy’s election
 and the passage of the Voting Rights Act:
the seeming triumph of universalism over parochialism and narrow-mindedness, a bright new world where
differences of race or culture would instruct and amuse and perhaps even ennoble.

A useful fiction, one that haunts me - no less than it haunted my family, evoking as it does some lost Eden that extends beyond mere childhood.
There was only one problem: my father was missing. He had left paradise, and nothing that my mother
or grandparents told me could obviate that single, unassailable fact.

Their stories didn’t tell me why he had
left. They couldn’t describe what it might have been like had he stayed.

Like the janitor, Mr. Reed, or thblack girl who churned up dust as she raced down a Texas road, my father became a prop in someone
else’s narrative.

An attractive prop -the alien figure with the heart of gold, the mysterious stranger who saves
the town and wins the girl-but a prop nonetheless.

 I don’t really blame my mother or grandparents for this.

My father may have preferred the image they created for him-indeed, he may have been complicit in its creation.




 In an article published in the Honolulu Star-Bulletin upon his graduation,
he appears guarded and responsible, the model student, ambassador for his continent.

He mildly scolds the university for herding visiting students into dormitories and forcing them
to attend programs designed to promote cultural understanding - a "distraction", he says, from the practical training he seeks.

Although he hasn’t experienced any problems himself, he detects self-segregation and
overt discrimination taking place between the various ethnic groups and expresses wry amusement at the
fact that “Caucasians” in Hawaii are occasionally at the receiving end of prejudice.

But,  if his assessment is relatively clear-eyed, he is careful to end on a happy note: One thing other nations can learn from Hawaii,
he says, is the willingness of races to work together toward common development, something he has found
whites elsewhere too often unwilling to do.

 I discovered this article, folded away among my birth certificate and old vaccination forms, when I was
in high school.

It’s a short piece, with a photograph of him. No mention is made of my mother or me, and I’m
left to wonder whether the omission was intentional on my father’s part, in anticipation of his long departure.

Perhaps the reporter failed to ask personal questions, intimidated by my father’s imperious manner;
 or - perhaps it was an editorial decision, not part of the simple story that they were looking for.

I wonder, too, whether the omission caused a fight between my parents.
 I would not have known at the time, for I was too young to realize [that] I was supposed to have a live-in father;
  just as I was too young to know that I needed a race.

For an improbably short span it seems that my father fell under the same spell as my mother and her parents;
 and for the first six years of my life, even as that spell was broken  - and the worlds that they thought they’d left behind reclaimed each of them, I occupied
the place where their dreams had been.


 THE ROAD TO THE embassy was choked with traffic: cars, motorcycles, tricycle rickshaws, buses
and jitneys filled to twice their capacity, a procession of wheels and limbs all fighting for space in the
midafternoon heat.

We nudged forward a few feet, stopped, found an opening, stopped again.

Our taxi driver shooed away a group of boys - who were hawking gum and loose cigarettes, then barely avoided a
motor scooter carrying an entire family on its back  -father, mother, son, and daughter - all leaning as one into
a turn, their mouths wrapped with handkerchiefs to blunt the exhaust - a family of bandits.

Along the side of the road, wizened brown women in faded brown sarongs stacked straw baskets high with ripening fruit, and
a pair of mechanics squatted before their open-air garage, lazily brushing away flies as they took an engine apart.

Behind them, the brown earth dipped into a smoldering dump where a pair of roundheaded tots frantically chased a scrawny black hen.

The children slipped in the mud and corn husks and banana leaves, squealing with pleasure, until they disappeared down the dirt road beyond.

 Things eased up once we hit the highway, and the taxi dropped us off in front of the embassy, where a
pair of smartly dressed Marines nodded in greeting. Inside the courtyard, the clamor of the street was
replaced by the steady rhythm of gardening clippers.

 My mother’s "boss" was a portly black man with closely cropped hair sprinkled gray at the temples.

An American flag draped down in rich folds from the pole beside
his desk. He reached out and offered a firm handshake: “How are you, young man?”
 He smelled of aftershave and his starched collar cut hard into his neck. I stood at attention as I answered his questions about
the progress of my studies. The air in the office was cool and dry, like the air of mountain peaks: the pure and heady breeze of privilege.
 Our audience over, my mother sat me down in the library while she went off to do some work. I finished
my comic books and the homework - my mother had made me bring - before climbing out of my chair to
browse through the stacks.

Most of the books held little interest for a nine-year-old boy-World Bank reports,
geological surveys, five-year development plans.

But - in one corner - I found a collection of Life magazines neatly displayed in clear plastic binders.

I thumbed through the glossy advertisements-Goodyear Tires and
Dodge Fever, Zenith TV (“Why not the best?”) and Campbell’s Soup (“Mm-mm good!”), men in white
turtlenecks pouring Seagram’s over ice as women in red miniskirts looked on admiringly-and felt vaguely reassured.

When I came upon a news photograph, I tried to guess the subject of the story - before reading the caption.

The photograph of French children dashing over cobblestoned streets: that was a happy scene,
a game of hide-and-go-seek after a day of schoolbooks and chores; their laughter spoke of freedom.
The photograph of a Japanese woman cradling a young, naked girl in a shallow tub: that was sad; the girl was
sick, her legs twisted, her head fallen back against the mother’s breast, the mother’s face tight with grief,
perhaps she blamed herself….

 Eventually I came across a photograph of an older man in dark glasses and a raincoat walking down
an empty road. I couldn’t guess what this picture was about; there seemed nothing unusual about the
subject. On the next page was another photograph, this one a close-up of the same man’s hands.

They had a strange, unnatural pallor, as if blood had been drawn from the flesh. Turning back to the first picture, I now
saw that the man’s crinkly hair, his heavy lips and broad, fleshy nose, all had this same uneven, ghostly hue.

 He must be terribly sick, I thought. A radiation victim, maybe, or an "albino". I had seen one of those on
the street a few days before, and my mother had explained about such things. Except when I read the
words that went with the picture, that wasn’t it at all.

The man had received a chemical treatment, the article explained, to lighten his complexion.
He had paid for it with his own money. He expressed some regret
about trying to pass himself off as a white man, (AND) was sorry about how badly things had turned out. But the
results were irreversible. There were thousands of people like him, black men and women back in America
who’d undergone the same treatment in response to advertisements that promised happiness as a white person.

 I felt my face and neck get hot. My stomach knotted; the type began to blur on the page. Did my
mother know about this? What about her boss? - Why was he so calm, reading through his reports a few feet
down the hall? I had a desperate urge to jump out of my seat, to show them what I had learned, to demand
some explanation or assurance. But something held me back. As in a dream, I had no voice for my
newfound fear. By the time my mother came to take me home, my face wore a smile and the magazines
were back in their proper place. The room, the air, was quiet as before.

 We had lived in Indonesia for over three years by that time, the result of my mother’s marriage to an
Indonesian named Lolo, another student she had met at the University of Hawaii.

His name meant “crazy” in Hawaiian, which tickled Gramps to no end, but the meaning didn’t suit the man, for Lolo possessed the
good manners and easy grace of his people. He was short and brown, handsome, with thick black hair and
features that could have as easily been Mexican or Samoan as Indonesian;

his tennis game was good; His smile uncommonly even, and his temperament imperturbable.

For two years, from the time I was four - until I
was six, he endured endless hours of chess with Gramps and long wrestling sessions with me.

When my mother sat me down one day to tell me that Lolo had proposed and wanted us to move with him to a
faraway place, I wasn’t surprised and expressed no objections.

I did ask her - "if she loved him?" I had been around long enough to know such things were important.

My mother’s chin trembled, as it still does when
she’s fighting back tears, and she pulled me into a long hug that made me feel very brave, although I wasn’t sure why.
 Lolo left Hawaii quite suddenly after that, and my mother and I spent months in preparation-passports,
visas, plane tickets, hotel reservations, an endless series of shots. While we packed, my grandfather pulled
out an atlas and ticked off the names in Indonesia’s island chain: Java, Borneo, Sumatra, Bali.
 ( https://www.google.com/maps/search/%22Java%22,+%22Borneo%22,+%22Sumatra%22,+%22Bali%22/@-0.8595403,88.7963139,4z/data=!3m1!4b1 )
He remembered some of the names, he said, from reading Joseph Conrad as a boy. ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maluku_Islands )

The "Spice Islands", they were called back then, enchanted names, shrouded in mystery. 

 “Says here they still got tigers over there,” he said. “And orangutangs.”

 He looked up from the book and his eyes widened. “Says here - they even got headhunters!”

Meanwhile, Toot called the State Department to find out if the country was stable. Whoever
she spoke to there informed her that the situation was under control. Still, she insisted that we pack several
trunks full of foodstuffs: Tang, powdered milk, cans of sardines. “You never know what these people will
eat,” she said firmly. My mother sighed, but Toot tossed in several boxes of candy to win me over to her side.
Finally, we boarded a Pan Am jet for our flight around the globe. I wore a long-sleeved white shirt and
a gray clip-on tie, and the stewardesses plied me with puzzles and extra peanuts and a set of metal pilot’s
wings that I wore over my breast pocket.

On a three-day stopover in Japan, we walked through bonechilling rains to see the great bronze Buddha at Kamakura and ate green tea ice cream on a ferry that
passed through high mountain lakes. In the evenings my mother studied flash cards.

Walking off the plane in Djakarta, the tarmac rippling with heat, the sun bright as a furnace; I clutched her hand, determined to
protect her from whatever might come.

  Lolo was there to greet us, a few pounds heavier, a bushy mustache - now hovering over his smile.

He hugged my mother, hoisted me up into the air, and told us to follow a small, wiry man who was carrying our
luggage straight past the long line at customs and into an awaiting car. The man smiled cheerfully as he
lifted the bags into the trunk, and my mother tried to say something to him - but the man just laughed and nodded his head.

People swirled around us, speaking rapidly in a language I didn’t know, smelling unfamiliar.

For a long time - we watched Lolo talk to a group of brown-uniformed soldiers. The soldiers had
guns in their holsters, but they appeared to be in a jovial mood, laughing at something that Lolo had said.
When Lolo finally joined us, my mother asked if the soldiers needed to check through our bags.
 “Don’t worry…that’s been all taken care of,” Lolo said, climbing into the driver’s seat. “Those are friends of mine.”

 The car was borrowed, he told us, but he had bought a brand-new motorcycle-a Japanese make, but
good enough for now. The new house was finished; just a few touch-ups remained to be done.

I was already enrolled in a nearby school, and the relatives were anxious to meet us. As he and my mother
talked, I stuck my head out the backseat window and stared at the passing landscape, brown and green
uninterrupted, villages falling back into forest, the smell of diesel oil and wood smoke. Men and women
stepped like cranes through the rice paddies, their faces hidden by their wide straw hats. A boy, wet and
slick as an otter, sat on the back of a dumb-faced water buffalo, whipping its haunch with a stick of bamboo.

The streets became more congested, small stores and markets and men pulling carts loaded with gravel
and timber, then - the buildings grew taller, like buildings in Hawaii - "Hotel Indonesia, very modern", Lolo said;
and the new shopping center, white and gleaming -but only a few were higher than the trees that now cooled
the road. When we passed a row of big houses with high hedges and sentry posts, my mother said
something I couldn’t entirely make out, something about the government and a man named Sukarno.

 “Who’s Sukarno?” I shouted from the backseat, but Lolo appeared not to hear me.
Instead, he touched my arm and motioned ahead of us. “Look,” he said, pointing upward.
There, standing astride the road, was a towering giant at least ten stories tall, with the body of a man and the face of an ape.
 “That’s Hanuman,” Lolo said - as we circled the statue, “the monkey god.”

I turned around in my seat, mesmerized by the solitary figure, so dark against the sun, poised to leap into the sky as puny traffic swirled
around its feet.

“He’s a great warrior,” Lolo said firmly. “Strong as a hundred men. When he fights the demons, he’s never defeated.”

 The house was in a "still-developing area" on the outskirts of town. The road ran over a narrow bridge
that spanned a wide brown river; as we passed, I could see villagers bathing and washing clothes along the
steep banks below. The road then turned from tarmac to gravel to dirt as it wound past small stores and
whitewashed bungalows - until it finally petered out into the narrow footpaths of the kampong. ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kampong )

The house (itself) was modest stucco and red tile, but it was open and airy, with a big mango tree in the small courtyard
in front. As we passed through the gate, Lolo announced that he had a surprise for me; but before he could
explain we heard a deafening howl from high up in the tree.

My mother and I jumped back with a start and saw a big, hairy creature with a small, flat head and long, menacing arms drop onto a low branch.
 “A monkey!” I shouted.
 “An ape,” my mother corrected.

  Lolo drew a peanut from his pocket and handed it to the animal’s grasping fingers. “His name is Tata,”
he said. “I brought him all the way from New Guinea for you.”
 I started to step forward to get a closer look, but Tata threatened to lunge, his dark-ringed eyes fierce
and suspicious. I decided to stay where I was.

  “Don’t worry,” Lolo said, handing Tata another peanut. “He’s on a leash. Come-there’s more.”

 I looked up at my mother, and she gave me a tentative smile. In the backyard, we found what seemed
like a small zoo: chickens and ducks running every which way, a big yellow dog with a baleful howl, two
birds of paradise, a white cockatoo, and finally two baby crocodiles, half submerged in a fenced-off pond
toward the edge of the compound. Lolo stared down at the reptiles. “There were three,” he said, “but the
biggest one crawled out through a hole in the fence. Slipped into somebody’s rice field and ate one of the
man’s ducks. We had to hunt it by torchlight.”

 There wasn’t much light left, but we took a short walk down the mud path into the village. Groups of
giggling neighborhood children waved from their compounds, and a few barefoot old men came up to shake
our hands.

We stopped at the common, where one of Lolo’s men was grazing a few goats, and a small boy
came up beside me holding a dragonfly that hovered at the end of a string. When we returned to the house,
the man who had carried our luggage was standing in the backyard with a rust-colored hen tucked under his
arm and a long knife in his right hand. He said something to Lolo, who nodded and called over to my mother
and me. My mother told me to wait where I was and sent Lolo a questioning glance.

  “Don’t you think he’s a little young?”

 Lolo shrugged and looked down at me. “The boy should know where his dinner is coming from."
... "Whatdo you think, Barry?” I looked at my mother, then turned back to face the man holding the chicken.
Lolo nodded again, and I watched the man set the bird down, pinning it gently under one knee and pulling its
neck out across a narrow gutter. For a moment the bird struggled, beating its wings hard against the
ground, a few feathers dancing up with the wind. Then - it grew completely still. The man pulled the blade
across the bird’s neck in a single smooth motion. Blood shot out in a long, crimson ribbon. The man stood
up, holding the bird far away from his body, and suddenly tossed it high into the air. It landed with a thud,
then struggled to its feet, its head lolling grotesquely against its side, its legs pumping wildly in a wide,
wobbly circle. I watched as the circle grew smaller, the blood trickling down to a gurgle, until finally the bird
collapsed, lifeless on the grass.

 Lolo rubbed his hand across my head and told me and my mother to go wash up before dinner. The
three of us ate quietly under a dim yellow bulb -chicken stew and rice, and then a dessert of red, hairyskinned fruit - so sweet at the center that only a stomachache could make me stop.

Later, lying alone beneath a mosquito net canopy, I listened to the crickets chirp under the moonlight and remembered the
last twitch of life - that I’d witnessed a few hours before. I could barely believe my good fortune.

 “The first thing to remember is how to protect yourself.”
 Lolo and I faced off in the backyard. A day earlier, I had shown up at the house with an egg-sized lump
on the side of my head. Lolo had looked up from washing his motorcycle and asked me what had
happened, and I told him about my tussle with an older boy who lived down the road.

The boy had "...run off with my friend’s soccer ball ...", I said, in the middle of our game. When I chased after him, the boy picked up a
rock. It wasn’t fair, I said, my voice choking with aggrievement. He had cheated.
 Lolo had parted my hair with his fingers and silently examined the wound. “It’s not bleeding,” he said
finally, before returning to his chrome.

 I thought that had ended the matter. But, when he came home from work the next day, he had with him
two pairs of boxing gloves. They smelled of new leather, the larger pair black, the smaller pair red, the laces
tied together and thrown over his shoulder.
 He now finished tying the laces on my gloves and stepped back to examine his handiwork. My hands
dangled at my sides like bulbs at the ends of thin stalks. He shook his head and raised the gloves to cover
my face.
 “There. Keep your hands up.” He adjusted my elbows, then crouched into a stance and started to bob.
“You want to keep moving, but always stay low -don’t give them a target. How does that feel?” I nodded,
copying his movements as best I could. After a few minutes, he stopped and held his palm up in front of my
  “Okay,” he said. “Let’s see your swing.”
 This I could do. I took a step back, wound up, and delivered my best shot. His hand barely wobbled.
 “Not bad,” Lolo said. He nodded to himself, his expression unchanged. “Not bad at all. Agh, but look
where your hands are now. What did I tell you? Get them up….”
  I raised my arms, throwing soft jabs at Lolo’s palm, glancing up at him every so often and realizing how
familiar his face had become after our two years together, as familiar as the earth on which we stood.

It had taken me less than six months to learn Indonesia’s language, its customs, and its legends.

I had survived chicken pox, measles, and the sting of my teachers’ bamboo switches.

The children of farmers, servants,
and low-level bureaucrats had become my best friends, and together we ran the streets morning and night,
hustling odd jobs, catching crickets, battling swift kites with razor-sharp lines-the loser watched his kite soar
off with the wind, and knew that somewhere other children had formed a long wobbly train, their heads
toward the sky, waiting for their prize to land.

With Lolo, I learned how to eat small green chill peppers raw
with dinner (plenty of rice), and, away from the dinner table, I was introduced to dog meat (tough), snake
meat (tougher), and roasted grasshopper (crunchy).

Like many Indonesians, Lolo followed a brand of Islam
 - that could "make room" for the remnants of more ancient animist and Hindu faiths.

He explained that a man took on the powers of whatever he ate: One day soon, he promised, he would bring home a piece of tiger
meat for us to share.

 That’s how things were, one long adventure, the bounty of a young boy’s life.

In letters to my grandparents, I would faithfully record many of these events, confident that more civilizing packages of
chocolate and peanut butter would surely follow.

But not everything made its way into my letters;
some things I found too difficult to explain. I didn’t tell Toot and Gramps about the face of the man who had come
to our door one day with a gaping hole where his nose should have been: the whistling sound he made as
he asked my mother for food. Nor did I mention the time that one of my friends told me in the middle of
recess that his baby brother had died the night before of an evil spirit brought in by the wind-the terror that
danced in my friend’s eyes for the briefest of moments before he let out a strange laugh and punched my
arm and broke off into a breathless run.

There was the empty look on the faces of farmers the year the rains
never came, the stoop in their shoulders as they wandered barefoot through their barren, cracked fields,
bending over every so often to crumble earth between their fingers; and their desperation the following year
when the rains lasted for over a month, swelling the river and fields until the streets gushed with water and
swept as high as my waist and families scrambled to rescue their goats and their hens even as chunks of their huts washed away.

 The world was violent, I was learning, unpredictable and often cruel. My grandparents knew nothing
about such a world, I decided; there was no point in disturbing them with questions they couldn’t answer.

Sometimes, when my mother came home from work, I would tell her the things I had seen or heard, and
she would stroke my forehead, listening intently, trying her best to explain what she could. I always
appreciated the attention -her voice, the touch of her hand, defined all that was secure.
But her knowledge of floods and exorcisms and cockfights left much to be desired.

Everything was as new to her as it was to me,
and I would leave such conversations feeling that my questions had only given her unnecessary cause for concern.


 So it was to Lolo that I turned for guidance and instruction.

 He didn’t talk much, but he was easy to be with.
 With his family and friends he introduced me as his son, but he never pressed things beyond matterof-fact advice or pretended that our relationship was more than it was. I appreciated this distance; it implied
a manly trust. And his knowledge of the world seemed inexhaustible.

Not just how to change a flat tire or
open in chess. He knew more elusive things, ways of managing the emotions I felt, ways to explain fate’s
constant mysteries. 

 Like how to deal with beggars. They seemed to be everywhere, a gallery of ills-men, women, children,
in tattered clothing matted with dirt, some without arms, others without feet, victims of scurvy or polio or
leprosy walking on their hands or rolling down the crowded sidewalks in jerry-built carts, their legs twisted
behind them like contortionists’.

At first, I watched my mother give over her money to anyone who stopped
at our door or stretched out an arm as we passed on the streets. Later, when it became clear that the tide of
pain was endless, she gave more selectively, learning to calibrate the levels of misery. Lolo thought her
moral calculations endearing but silly, and whenever he caught me following her example with the few coins
in my possession, he would raise his eyebrows and take me aside.

 “How much money do you have?” he would ask.

 I’d empty my pocket. “Thirty rupiah.”
 “How many beggars are there on the street?”
 I tried to imagine the number that had come by the house in the last week. “You see?” he said, once it
was clear I’d lost count. “Better to save your money and make sure you don’t end up on the street yourself.”

  He was the same way about servants. They were mostly young villagers newly arrived in the city, often
working for families not much better off than themselves, sending money to their people back in the country
or saving enough to start their own businesses. If they had ambition, Lolo was willing to help them get their
start, and he would generally tolerate their personal idiosyncrasies:
 -- for over a year, he employed a goodnatured young man  - who liked to dress up as a woman on weekends- Lolo loved the man’s cooking.

But he would fire the servants without compunction if they were clumsy, forgetful, or otherwise cost him money;
and,  he would be baffled when either my mother or I tried to protect them from his judgment.

 “Your mother has a soft heart,” Lolo would tell me one day after my mother tried to take the blame for
knocking a radio off the dresser.
“That’s a good thing in a woman. But you will be a man someday, and a man needs to have more sense.”


 It had nothing to do with good or bad, he explained, like or dislike. It was a matter of taking life on its own terms.
 I felt a hard knock to the jaw, and looked up at Lolo’s sweating face.
 “Pay attention. Keep your hands up.”

We sparred for another half hour before Lolo decided it was time for a rest. My arms burned; my head
flashed with a dull, steady throb. We took a jug full of water and sat down near the crocodile pond.
 “Tired?” he asked me.
 I slumped forward, barely nodding. He smiled, and rolled up one of his pant legs to scratch his calf. I
noticed a series of indented scars that ran from his ankle halfway up his shin.
 “What are those?”
 “Leech marks,” he said. “From when I was in New Guinea. They crawl inside your army boots while
you’re hiking through the swamps. At night, when you take off your socks, they’re stuck there, fat with blood.
You sprinkle salt on them and they die, but you still have to dig them out with a hot knife.”

I ran my finger over one of the oval grooves. It was smooth and hairless where the skin had been
singed. I asked Lolo if it had hurt.
 “Of course it hurt,” he said, taking a sip from the jug. “Sometimes you can’t worry about hurt.
Sometimes you worry only about getting where you have to go.”

 We fell silent, and I watched him out of the corner of my eye. I realized that I had never heard him talk
about what he was feeling. I had never seen him really angry or sad. He seemed to inhabit a world of hard
surfaces and well-defined thoughts. A queer notion suddenly sprang into my head.

 “Have you ever seen a man killed?” I asked him.

 He glanced down, surprised by the question.
 “Have you?” I asked again.
 “Yes,” he said.
 “Was it bloody?”
 I thought for a moment. “Why was the man killed? The one you saw?”
 “Because he was weak.”
 “That’s all?”
 Lolo shrugged and rolled his pant leg back down. “That’s usually enough. Men take advantage of
weakness in other men.
They’re just like countries in that way. The strong man takes the weak man’s land.
He makes the weak man work in his fields. If the weak man’s woman is pretty, the strong man will take her.”
He paused to take another sip of water, then asked, “Which would you rather be?”
 I didn’t answer, and Lolo squinted up at the sky. “Better to be strong,” he said finally, rising to his feet.
“If you can’t be strong, be clever and make peace with someone who’s strong. But always better to be
strong yourself. Always.”

 My mother watched us from inside the house, propped up at her desk grading papers. What are they
talking about? she wondered to herself. Blood and guts, probably; swallowing nails. Cheerful, manly things.

 She laughed aloud, then caught herself. That wasn’t fair. She really was grateful for Lolo’s solicitude
toward me. He wouldn’t have treated his own son very differently. She knew that she was lucky for Lolo’s
basic kindness. She set her papers aside and watched me do push-ups. He’s growing so fast, she thought.
She tried to picture herself on the day of our arrival, a mother of twenty-four with a child in tow, married to a
man whose history, whose country, she barely knew. She had known so little then, she realized now, her
innocence carried right along with her American passport. Things could have turned out worse. Much worse.

 She had expected it to be difficult, this new life of hers. Before leaving Hawaii, she had tried to learn all
she could about Indonesia: the population, fifth in the world, with hundreds of tribes and dialects; the history
of "colonialism", first the Dutch for over three centuries, then the Japanese during the war, seeking control
over vast stores of oil, metal, and timber; the fight for independence after the war and the emergence of a
freedom fighter named Sukarno [above] as the country’s first president.

Sukarno had recently been replaced, but all
the reports said it had been a bloodless coup, and that the people supported the change.
Sukarno had grown corrupt, they said; he was a demagogue, totalitarian, too comfortable with the Communists.
A poor country, underdeveloped, utterly foreign-this much she had known. She was prepared for the
dysentery and fevers, the cold water baths and having to squat over a hole in the ground to pee, the
electricity’s going out every few weeks, the heat and endless mosquitoes. Nothing more than
inconveniences, really, and she was tougher than she looked, tougher than even she had known herself to
be. And anyway, that was part of what had drawn her to Lolo after Barack (Sr.) had left, the promise of
something new and important, helping her husband rebuild a country in a charged and challenging place
beyond her parents’ reach.

 But she wasn’t prepared for the loneliness. It was constant, like a shortness of breath. There was
nothing definite that she could point to, really. Lolo had welcomed her warmly and gone out of his way to
make her feel at home, providing her with whatever creature comforts he could afford. His family had
treated her with tact and generosity, and treated her son as one of their own.

 Still, something had happened between her and Lolo -  in the year that they had been apart. In Hawaii he
had been so full of life, so eager with his plans. At night when they were alone, he would tell her about
growing up as a boy during the war, watching his father and eldest brother leave to join the revolutionary
army, hearing the news that both had been killed and everything lost, the Dutch army’s setting their house
aflame, their flight into the countryside, his mother’s selling her gold jewelry a piece at a time in exchange
for food.

Things would be changing -  now that the Dutch had been driven out, Lolo had told her; he would
return and teach at the university, be a part of that change.

 He didn’t talk that way anymore. In fact, it seemed as though he barely spoke to her at all, only out of
necessity or when spoken to, and even then only of the task at hand, repairing a leak  - or planning a trip to
visit some distant cousin. It was as if he had pulled into some dark hidden place, out of reach, taking with
him the brightest part of himself.

On some nights, she would hear him up after everyone else had gone to
bed, wandering through the house with a bottle of imported whiskey, nursing his secrets. Other nights he
would tuck a pistol under his pillow before falling off to sleep. Whenever she asked him what was wrong, he
would gently rebuff her, saying he was just tired. It was as if he had come to mistrust words somehow.

Words, and the sentiments words carried.

 She suspected these problems had something to do with Lolo’s job. He was working for the army as a
geologist, surveying roads and tunnels, when she arrived. It was mind-numbing work that didn’t pay very
much; the refrigerator alone cost two months’ salary. And now -  with a wife and child to provide for…no
wonder he was depressed. She hadn’t traveled all this way to be a burden, she decided. She would carry
her own weight.

 She found herself a job right away teaching English to Indonesian businessmen at the American
embassy, part of the U.S. foreign aid package to developing countries. The money helped but didn’t relieve
her loneliness. The Indonesian businessmen weren’t much interested in the niceties of the English
language, and several made passes at her.

The Americans were mostly older men, careerists in the State Department,
the occasional economist or journalist who would mysteriously disappear for months at a time,
their affiliation or function in the embassy never quite clear.

Some of them were caricatures of the "ugly American", [ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ugly_American_(pejorative) ]
prone to making jokes about Indonesians until they found out that she was married to one, and
then they would try to play it off. ... Don’t take Jim too seriously, the heat’s gotten to him, how’s your son by the
way, fine, fine boy.

 These men knew the country, though, or parts of it anyway, the closets where the skeletons were
buried. Over lunch or casual conversation they would share with her things she couldn’t learn in the
published news reports.

They explained how - Sukarno had frayed badly the nerves of a U.S. government -
already obsessed with the march of communism through Indochina, what with his nationalist rhetoric and
his politics of "nonalignment" - he was as bad as Lumumba or Nasser, only worse, given Indonesia’s strategic

Word was that the CIA had played a part in the coup, although nobody knew for sure.
More certain was the fact [that] after the coup the military had swept the countryside for supposed Communist
sympathizers. The death toll was anybody’s guess: a few hundred thousand, maybe; half a million. Even the
smart guys at the Agency had lost count.

 Innuendo, half-whispered asides;
that’s how she found out that we had arrived in Djakarta less than a
year after one of the more brutal and swift campaigns of suppression in modern times.

The idea frightened
her, the notion that history could be swallowed up so completely, the same way the rich and loamy earth
could soak up the rivers of blood that had once coursed through the streets; the way people could continue
about their business beneath giant posters of the new president as if nothing had happened, a nation busy
developing itself.

As her circle of Indonesian friends widened, a few of them would be willing to tell her other
stories -about the corruption that pervaded government agencies, the shakedowns by police and the military;
Entire industries "carved out" for the president’s family and entourage. And with each new story, she would go
to Lolo in private and ask him: “Is it true?”

 He would never say. The more she asked, the more steadfast he became in his good-natured silence.
“Why are you worrying about such talk?” he would ask her. “Why don’t you buy a new dress for the party?”
She had finally complained to one of Lolo’s cousins, a pediatrician who had helped look after Lolo during the war.

 “You don’t understand,” the cousin had told her gently.
 “Understand what?”
 “The circumstances of Lolo’s return. He hadn’t planned on coming back from Hawaii so early, you know.
During the purge, all students studying abroad had been summoned without explanation, their
passports revoked.

When Lolo stepped off the plane, he had no idea of what might happen next.
We couldn’t see him; the army officials took him away and questioned him. They told him that he had just been
conscripted and would be going to the jungles of New Guinea for a year. And he was one of the lucky ones.

Students studying in Eastern Bloc countries did much worse. Many of them are still in jail. Or vanished.
 “You shouldn’t be too hard on Lolo,” the cousin repeated. “Such times are best forgotten.”

 My mother  ( Stanley Anne Dunham ) had left the cousin’s house in a daze. Outside, the sun was high, the air full of dust, but
instead of taking a taxi home, she began to walk without direction. She found herself in a wealthy
neighborhood where the diplomats and generals lived in sprawling houses with tall wrought-iron gates.

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; just as his brother-in-law had done, making
millions as a high official in the national oil company; just as another brother had tried to do, only he had
miscalculated and was now reduced to stealing pieces of silverware whenever he came for a visit, selling
them later for loose cigarettes.

 She remembered what Lolo had told her once when her constant questioning had finally touched a
nerve. “Guilt is a luxury only foreigners can afford,” he had said. “Like saying whatever pops into your head.”
She didn’t know what it was like to lose everything, to wake up and feel her belly eating itself. She didn’t
know how crowded and treacherous the path to security could be. Without absolute concentration, one
could easily slip, tumble backward.

 He was right, of course. She was a foreigner, middle-class and white and protected by her heredity
whether she wanted protection or not. She could always leave if things got too messy.

That possibility negated anything she might say to Lolo; it was the unbreachable barrier between them. She looked out the
window now and saw that Lolo and I had moved on, the grass flattened where the two of us had been. The
sight made her shudder slightly, and she rose to her feet, filled with a sudden panic.
 Power was taking her son.

 Looking back, I’m not sure that Lolo ever fully understood what my mother was going through during
these years, why the things he was working so hard to provide for her seemed only to increase the distance
between them.

He was not a man to ask himself such questions. Instead, he maintained his concentration,
and over the period that we lived in Indonesia, he proceeded to climb. With the help of his brother-in-law, he
landed a new job in the government relations office of an American oil company.

We moved to a house in a better neighborhood;
 - a car replaced the motorcycle; a television and hi-fi replaced the crocodiles and Tata, the ape;

Lolo could sign for our dinners at a company club. Sometimes I would overhear him and my mother
arguing in their bedroom, usually about her refusal to attend his company dinner parties, where American
businessmen from Texas and Louisiana would slap Lolo’s back and boast about the palms they had
greased to obtain the new offshore drilling rights, while their wives complained to my mother about the
quality of Indonesian help.

He would ask her how it would look for him to go alone, and remind her that these were her own people, and my mother’s voice would rise to almost a shout.
 "They are not my people!"

 Such arguments were rare, though; my mother and Lolo would remain cordial through the birth of my
sister, Maya, through the separation and eventual divorce, up until the last time I saw Lolo, ten years later,
when my mother helped him travel to Los Angeles to treat a liver ailment that would kill him at the age of fifty-one.

What tension I noticed had mainly to do with the gradual shift in my mother’s attitude toward me.

 She had always encouraged my rapid acculturation in Indonesia: It had made me relatively self-sufficient,
undemanding on a tight budget, and extremely well mannered when compared to other American children.
She had taught me to disdain the blend of ignorance and arrogance that too often characterized Americans
abroad. But she now had learned, just as Lolo had learned, the chasm that separated the life chances of an
American from those of an Indonesian. She knew which side of the divide she wanted her child to be on.

 I was an American, she decided, and my true life lay elsewhere.
 Her initial efforts centered on education. Without the money to send me to the International School,
where most of Djakarta’s foreign children went, she had arranged from the moment of our arrival to
supplement my Indonesian schooling with lessons from a U.S. correspondence course.

 Her efforts now redoubled. Five days a week, she came into my room at four in the morning, force-fed
me breakfast, and proceeded to teach me my English lessons for three hours before I left for school and
she went to work.

I offered stiff resistance to this regimen, but in response to every strategy I concocted,
whether unconvincing (“My stomach hurts”) or indisputably true (my eyes kept closing every five minutes),
she would patiently repeat her most powerful defense:
 “This is no picnic for me either, buster.”

 Then there were the periodic concerns with my safety, the voice of my grandmother ascendant.

I remember coming home after dark one day to find a large search party of neighbors that had been
assembled in our yard. My mother didn’t look happy, but she was so relieved to see me that it took her
several minutes to notice a wet sock, brown with mud, wrapped around my forearm.
 “What’s that?”
 “That. Why do you have a sock wrapped around your arm?”
 “I cut myself.”
 “Let’s see.”
 “It’s not that bad.”
 “Barry. Let me see it.”

  I unwrapped the sock, exposing a long gash that ran from my wrist to my elbow. It had missed the vein
by an inch, but ran deeper at the muscle, where pinkish flesh pulsed out from under the skin. Hoping to
calm her down, I explained what had happened: A friend and I had hitchhiked out to his family’s farm, and it
started to rain, and on the farm was a terrific place to mudslide, and there was this barbed wire that marked
the farm’s boundaries, and….

 My mother laughs at this point when she tells this story, the laughter of a mother forgiving her child
those sins that have passed. But her tone alters slightly as she remembers that Lolo suggested we wait until
morning to get me stitched up, and that she had to browbeat our only neighbor with a car to drive us to the

 She remembers that most of the lights were out at the hospital when we arrived, with no
receptionist in sight; she recalls the sound of her frantic footsteps echoing through the hallway until she
finally found two young men in boxer shorts playing dominoes in a small room in the back. When she asked
them where the doctors were, the men cheerfully replied “We are the doctors” and went on to finish their
game before slipping on their trousers and giving me twenty stitches that would leave an ugly scar.

And -  through it all - was the pervading sense that her child’s life might slip away when she wasn’t looking, that
everyone else around her would be too busy trying to survive to notice-that, when it counted, she would
have plenty of sympathy - but no one beside her who believed in fighting against a threatening fate.

 It was those sorts of issues, I realize now, less tangible than school transcripts or medical services,
that became the focus of her lessons with me. “If you want to grow into a human being,” she would say to
me, “you’re going to need some values.”

 Honesty - Lolo should not have hidden the refrigerator in the storage room when the tax officials came,
even if everyone else, including the tax officials, expected such things.

 Fairness -the parents of wealthier
students should not give television sets to the teachers during Ramadan, and their children could take no
pride in the higher marks they might have received.

 Straight talk - if you didn’t like the shirt I bought you for
your birthday, you should have just said so instead of keeping it wadded up at the bottom of your closet.

Independent judgment - just because the other children tease the poor boy about his haircut doesn’t mean
you have to do it too.

 It was as if, by traveling halfway around the globe, away from the smugness and hypocrisy that
familiarity had disclosed, my mother could give voice to the virtues of her midwestern past and offer them
up in distilled form.

The problem was that she had few reinforcements; whenever she took me aside for
such commentary, I would dutifully nod my assent, but she must have known that many of her ideas
seemed rather impractical.

Lolo had merely explained the poverty, the corruption, the constant scramble for
security; he hadn’t created it.

It remained all around me and bred a relentless skepticism. My mother’s
confidence in needlepoint virtues depended on a faith I didn’t possess, a faith that she would refuse to
describe as religious; that, in fact, her experience told her was sacrilegious: a faith that rational, thoughtful
people could shape their own destiny. In a land where fatalism remained a necessary tool for enduring
hardship, where ultimate truths were kept separate from day-to-day realities, she was a lonely witness for
secular humanism, a soldier for New Deal, Peace Corps, position-paper liberalism.
 She had only one ally in all this, and that was the distant authority of my father. Increasingly, she would
remind me of his story, how he had grown up poor, in a poor country, in a poor continent; how his life had
been hard, as hard as anything that Lolo might have known. He hadn’t cut corners, though, or played all the
angles. He was diligent and honest, no matter what it cost him. He had led his life according to principles
that demanded a different kind of toughness, principles that promised a higher form of power. I would follow
his example, my mother decided. I had no choice. It was in the genes.
 “You have me to thank for your eyebrows…your father has these little wispy eyebrows that don’t
amount to much. But your brains, your character, you got from him.”
 Her message came to embrace black people generally. She would come home with books on the civil
rights movement, the recordings of Mahalia Jackson, the speeches of Dr. King. When she told me stories of
schoolchildren in the South who were forced to read books handed down from wealthier white schools but
who went on to become doctors and lawyers and scientists, I felt chastened by my reluctance to wake up
and study in the mornings. If I told her about the goose-stepping demonstrations my Indonesian Boy Scout
troop performed in front of the president, she might mention a different kind of march, a march of children
no older than me, a march for freedom. Every black man was Thurgood Marshall or Sidney Poitier; every
black woman Fannie Lou Hamer or Lena Horne. To be black was to be the beneficiary of a great
inheritance, a special destiny, glorious burdens that only we were strong enough to bear.
 Burdens we were to carry with style. More than once, my mother would point out: “Harry Belafonte is
the best-looking man on the planet.”

 It was in this context that I came across the picture in Life magazine of the black man who had tried to
peel off his skin. I imagine other black children, then and now, undergoing similar moments of revelation.

Perhaps it comes sooner for most-the parent’s warning not to cross the boundaries of a particular
neighborhood, or the frustration of not having hair like Barbie no matter how long you tease and comb, or
the tale of a father’s or grandfather’s humiliation at the hands of an employer or a cop, overheard while
you’re supposed to be asleep. Maybe it’s easier for a child to receive the bad news in small doses, allowing
for a system of defenses to build up-although I suspect I was one of the luckier ones, having been given a
stretch of childhood free from self-doubt.

 I know that seeing that article was violent for me, an ambush attack.

My mother had warned me about
bigots-they were ignorant, uneducated people one should avoid. If I could not yet consider my own
mortality, Lolo had helped me understand the potential of disease to cripple, of accidents to maim, of
fortunes to decline. I could correctly identify common greed or cruelty in others, and sometimes even in
myself. But that one photograph had told me something else: that there was a hidden enemy out there, one
that could reach me without anyone’s knowledge, not even my own. When I got home that night from the
embassy library, I went into the bathroom and stood in front of the mirror with all my senses and limbs
seemingly intact, looking as I had always looked, and wondered if something was wrong with me. The
alternative seemed no less frightening-that the adults around me lived in the midst of madness.

 The initial flush of anxiety would pass, and I would spend my remaining year in Indonesia much as I
had before. I retained a confidence that was not always justified and an irrepressible talent for mischief. But
my vision had been permanently altered.

On the imported television shows that had started running in the
evenings, I began to notice that Cosby never got the girl; on I Spy, that the black man on Mission Impossible
spent all his time underground.

I noticed that there was nobody like me in the Sears, Roebuck Christmas catalog that Toot and Gramps sent us, and that Santa was a white man.

 I kept these observations to myself, deciding that either my mother didn’t see them or she was trying to
protect me and that I shouldn’t expose her efforts as having failed. I still trusted my mother’s love
- but I now faced the prospect [that] her account of the world, and my father’s place in it, was somehow incomplete. 



 I T TOOK ME A while to recognize them in the crowd. When the sliding doors first parted, all I could
make out was the blur of smiling, anxious faces tilted over the guardrail. Eventually I spotted a tall, silverhaired man toward the rear of the crowd, with a short, owlish woman barely visible beside him. The pair
began to wave in my direction, but before I could wave back they disappeared behind frosted glass.
 I looked to the front of the line, where a Chinese family seemed to be having some problems with the
customs officials. They had been a lively bunch during the flight from Hong Kong, the father taking off his
shoes and padding up and down the aisles, the children clambering over seats, the mother and
grandmother hoarding pillows and blankets and chattering endlessly to one another. Now the family was
standing absolutely still, trying to will themselves invisible, their eyes silently following the hands that riffled
through their passports and luggage with a menacing calm. The father reminded me of Lolo somehow, and I
looked down at the wooden mask I was carrying in my hand. It was a gift from the Indonesian copilot, a
friend of my mother’s who had led me away as she and Lolo and my new sister, Maya, stood by at the gate.
I closed my eyes and pressed the mask to my face. The wood had a nutty, cinnamon smell, and I felt myself
drifting back across oceans and over the clouds, into the violet horizon, back to the place where I had once
 Someone shouted out my name. The mask dropped to my side, and with it my daydream, and I saw
my grandparents again standing there, waving almost frantically now. This time I waved back; and then,
without thinking, I brought the mask again up to my face, swaying my head in an odd little dance. My
grandparents laughed and pointed at me and waved some more until the customs official finally tapped me
on the shoulder and asked me if I was an American. I nodded and handed him my passport.
 “Go ahead,” he said, and told the Chinese family to step to one side.
 The sliding doors closed behind me. Toot gathered me into a hug and tossed candy-and-chewing-gum
leis around my neck. Gramps threw an arm over my shoulder and said that the mask was a definite
improvement. They took me to the new car they had bought, and Gramps showed me how to operate the
air-conditioning. We drove along the highway, past fast-food restaurants and economy motels and used-car
lots strung with festoons. I told them about the trip and everyone back in Djakarta. Gramps told me what
they’d planned for my welcome-back dinner. Toot suggested that I’d need new clothes for school.
 Then, suddenly, the conversation stopped. I realized that I was to live with strangers.
 The new arrangement hadn’t sounded so bad when my mother first explained it to me. It was time for
me to attend an American school, she had said; I’d run through all the lessons of my correspondence
course. She said that she and Maya would be joining me in Hawaii very soon-a year, tops-and that she’d try
to make it there for Christmas. She reminded me of what a great time I’d had living with Gramps and Toot
just the previous summer-the ice cream, the cartoons, the days at the beach. “And you won’t have to wake
up at four in the morning,” she said, a point that I found most compelling.
 It was only now, as I began to adjust to an indefinite stay and watched my grandparents in the rhythm
of their schedules, that I realized how much the two of them had changed. After my mother and I left, they
had sold the big, rambling house near the university and now rented a small, two-bedroom apartment in a
high-rise on Beretania Street. Gramps had left the furniture business to become a life insurance agent, but
as he was unable to convince himself that people needed what he was selling and was sensitive to
rejection, the work went badly. Every Sunday night, I would watch him grow more and more irritable as he
gathered his briefcase and set up a TV tray in front of his chair, following the lead of every possible
distraction, until finally he would chase us out of the living room and try to schedule appointments with
prospective clients over the phone. Sometimes I would tiptoe into the kitchen for a soda, and I could hear
the desperation creeping out of his voice, the stretch of silence that followed when the people on the other
end explained why Thursday wasn’t good and Tuesday not much better, and then Gramps’s heavy sigh
after he had hung up the phone, his hands fumbling through the files in his lap like those of a cardplayer
who’s deep in the hole.
 Eventually, a few people would relent, the pain would pass, and Gramps would wander into my room to
tell me stories of his youth or the new joke he had read in Reader’s Digest. If his calls had gone especially
well that night, he might discuss with me some scheme he still harbored-the book of poems he had started
to write, the sketch that would soon bloom into a painting, the floor plans for his ideal house, complete with
push-button conveniences and terraced landscaping. I saw that the plans grew bolder the further they
receded from possibility, but in them I recognized some of his old enthusiasm, and I would usually try to
think up encouraging questions that might sustain his good mood. Then, somewhere in the middle of his
presentation, we would both notice Toot standing in the hall outside my room, her head tilted in accusation.
 “What do you want, Madelyn?”
 “Are you finished with your calls, dear?”
 “Yes, Madelyn. I’m finished with my calls. It’s ten o’clock at night!”
 “There’s no need to holler, Stanley. I just wanted to know if I could go into the kitchen.”
 “I’m not hollering! Jesus H. Christ, I don’t understand why-” But before he could finish, Toot would have
retreated into their bedroom, and Gramps would leave my room with a look of dejection and rage.
 Such exchanges became familiar to me, for my grandparents’ arguments followed a well-worn groove,
a groove that originated in the rarely mentioned fact that Toot earned more money than Gramps. She had
proved to be a trailblazer of sorts, the first woman vice-president of a local bank, and although Gramps liked
to say that he always encouraged her in her career, her job had become a source of delicacy and bitterness
between them as his commissions paid fewer and fewer of the family’s bills.
 Not that Toot had anticipated her success. Without a college education, she had started out as a
secretary to help defray the costs of my unexpected birth. But she had a quick mind and sound judgment,
and the capacity for sustained work. Slowly she had risen, playing by the rules, until she reached the
threshold where competence didn’t suffice. There she would stay for twenty years, with scarcely a vacation,
watching as her male counterparts kept moving up the corporate ladder, playing a bit loose with information
passed on between the ninth hole and the ride to the clubhouse, becoming wealthy men.
 More than once, my mother would tell Toot that the bank shouldn’t get away with such blatant sexism.
But Toot would just pooh-pooh my mother’s remarks, saying that everybody could find a reason to complain
about something. Toot didn’t complain. Every morning, she woke up at five A.M. and changed from the
frowsy muu-muus she wore around the apartment into a tailored suit and high-heeled pumps. Her face
powdered, her hips girdled, her thinning hair bolstered, she would board the six-thirty bus to arrive at her
downtown office before anyone else. From time to time, she would admit a grudging pride in her work and
took pleasure in telling us the inside story behind the local financial news. When I got older, though, she
would confide in me that she had never stopped dreaming of a house with a white picket fence, days spent
baking or playing bridge or volunteering at the local library. I was surprised by this admission, for she rarely
mentioned hopes or regrets. It may or may not have been true that she would have preferred the alternative
history she imagined for herself, but I came to understand that her career spanned a time when the work of
a wife outside the home was nothing to brag about, for her or for Gramps-that it represented only lost years,
broken promises. What Toot believed kept her going were the needs of her grandchildren and the stoicism
of her ancestors.
 “So long as you kids do well, Bar,” she would say more than once, “that’s all that really matters.”
 That’s how my grandparents had come to live. They still prepared sashimi for the now-infrequent
guests to their apartment. Gramps still wore Hawaiian shirts to the office, and Toot still insisted on being
called Toot. Otherwise, though, the ambitions they had carried with them to Hawaii had slowly drained
away, until regularity-of schedules and pastimes and the weather-became their principal consolation. They
would occasionally grumble about how the Japanese had taken over the islands, how the Chinese
controlled island finance. During the Watergate hearings, my mother would pry out of them that they had
voted for Nixon, the law-and-order candidate, in 1968. We didn’t go to the beach or on hikes together
anymore; at night, Gramps watched television while Toot sat in her room reading murder mysteries. Their
principal excitement now came from new drapes or a stand-alone freezer. It was as if they had bypassed
the satisfactions that should come with the middle years, the convergence of maturity with time left, energy
with means, a recognition of accomplishment that frees the spirit. At some point in my absence, they had
decided to cut their losses and settle for hanging on. They saw no more destinations to hope for.

 As the summer drew to a close, I became increasingly restless to start school. My main concern was
finding companions my own age; but for my grandparents, my admission into Punahou Academy heralded
the start of something grand, an elevation in the family status that they took great pains to let everyone
know. Started by missionaries in 1841, Punahou had grown into a prestigious prep school, an incubator for
island elites. Its reputation had helped sway my mother in her decision to send me back to the States: It
hadn’t been easy to get me in, my grandparents told her; there was a long waiting list, and I was considered
only because of the intervention of Gramps’s boss, who was an alumnus (my first experience with
affirmative action, it seems, had little to do with race).
 I had gone for several interviews with Punahou’s admissions officer the previous summer. She was a
brisk, efficient-looking woman who didn’t seem fazed that my feet barely reached the floor as she grilled me
on my career goals. After the interview, the woman had sent Gramps and me on a tour of the campus, a
complex that spread over several acres of lush green fields and shady trees, old masonry schoolhouses
and modern structures of glass and steel. There were tennis courts, swimming pools, and photography
studios. At one point, we fell behind the guide, and Gramps grabbed me by the arm.
 “Hell, Bar,” he whispered, “this isn’t a school. This is heaven. You might just get me to go back to
school with you.”
 With my admission notice had come a thick packet of information that Toot set aside to pore over one
Saturday afternoon. “Welcome to the Punahou family,” the letter announced. A locker had been assigned to
me; I was enrolled in a meal plan unless a box was checked; there was a list of things to buy-a uniform for
physical education, scissors, a ruler, number two pencils, a calculator (optional). Gramps spent the evening
reading the entire school catalog, a thick book that listed my expected progression through the next seven
years-the college prep courses, the extracurricular activities, the traditions of well-rounded excellence. With
each new item, Gramps grew more and more animated; several times he got up, with his thumb saving his
place, and headed toward the room where Toot was reading, his voice full of amazement: “Madelyn, get a
load of this!”
 So it was with a great rush of excitement that Gramps accompanied me on my first day of school. He
had insisted that we arrive early, and Castle Hall, the building for the fifth and sixth graders, was not yet
opened. A handful of children had already arrived, busy catching up on the summer’s news. We sat beside
a slender Chinese boy who had a large dental retainer strapped around his neck.
 “Hi there,” Gramps said to the boy. “This here’s Barry. I’m Barry’s grandfather. You can call me
Gramps.” He shook hands with the boy, whose name was Frederick. “Barry’s new.”
 “Me too,” Frederick said, and the two of them launched into a lively conversation. I sat, embarrassed,
until the doors finally opened and we went up the stairs to our classroom. At the door, Gramps slapped both
of us on the back.
 “Don’t do anything I would do,” he said with a grin.
 “Your grandfather’s funny,” Frederick said as we watched Gramps introduce himself to Miss Hefty, our
homeroom teacher.
 “Yeah. He is.”
 We sat at a table with four other children, and Miss Hefty, an energetic middle-aged woman with short
gray hair, took attendance. When she read my full name, I heard titters break across the room. Frederick
leaned over to me.
 “I thought your name was Barry.”
 “Would you prefer if we called you Barry?” Miss Hefty asked. “Barack is such a beautiful name. Your
grandfather tells me your father is Kenyan. I used to live in Kenya, you know. Teaching children just your
age. It’s such a magnificent country. Do you know what tribe your father is from?”
 Her question brought on more giggles, and I remained speechless for a moment. When I finally said
“Luo,” a sandy-haired boy behind me repeated the word in a loud hoot, like the sound of a monkey. The
children could no longer contain themselves, and it took a stern reprimand from Miss Hefty before the class
would settle down and we could mercifully move on to the next person on the list.
 I spent the rest of the day in a daze. A redheaded girl asked to touch my hair and seemed hurt when I
refused. A ruddy-faced boy asked me if my father ate people. When I got home, Gramps was in the middle
of preparing dinner.
 “So how was it? Isn’t it terrific that Miss Hefty used to live in Kenya? Makes the first day a little easier,
I’ll bet.”
 I went into my room and closed the door.
 The novelty of having me in the class quickly wore off for the other kids, although my sense that I didn’t
belong continued to grow. The clothes that Gramps and I had chosen for me were too old-fashioned; the
Indonesian sandals that had served me so well in Djakarta were dowdy. Most of my classmates had been
together since kindergarten; they lived in the same neighborhoods, in split-level homes with swimming
pools; their fathers coached the same Little League teams; their mothers sponsored the bake sales. Nobody
played soccer or badminton or chess, and I had no idea how to throw a football in a spiral or balance on a
 A ten-year-old’s nightmare. Still, in my discomfort that first month, I was no worse off than the other
children who were relegated to the category of misfits-the girls who were too tall or too shy, the boy who
was mildly hyperactive, the kids whose asthma excused them from PE.
 There was one other child in my class, though, who reminded me of a different sort of pain. Her name
was Coretta, and before my arrival she had been the only black person in our grade. She was plump and
dark and didn’t seem to have many friends. From the first day, we avoided each other but watched from a
distance, as if direct contact would only remind us more keenly of our isolation.
 Finally, during recess one hot, cloudless day, we found ourselves occupying the same corner of the
playground. I don’t remember what we said to each other, but I remember that suddenly she was chasing
me around the jungle gyms and swings. She was laughing brightly, and I teased her and dodged this way
and that, until she finally caught me and we fell to the ground breathless. When I looked up, I saw a group
of children, faceless before the glare of the sun, pointing down at us.
 “Coretta has a boyfriend! Coretta has a boyfriend!”
 The chants grew louder as a few more kids circled us.
 “She’s not my g-girlfriend,” I stammered. I looked to Coretta for some assistance, but she just stood
there looking down at the ground. “Coretta’s got a boyfriend! Why don’t you kiss her, mister boyfriend?”
 “I’m not her boyfriend!” I shouted. I ran up to Coretta and gave her a slight shove; she staggered back
and looked up at me, but still said nothing. “Leave me alone!” I shouted again. And suddenly Coretta was
running, faster and faster, until she disappeared from sight. Appreciative laughs rose around me. Then the
bell rang, and the teachers appeared to round us back into class.
 For the rest of the afternoon, I was haunted by the look on Coretta’s face just before she had started to
run: her disappointment, and the accusation. I wanted to explain to her somehow that it had been nothing
personal; I’d just never had a girlfriend before and saw no particular need to have one now. But I didn’t even
know if that was true. I knew only that it was too late for explanations, that somehow I’d been tested and
found wanting; and whenever I snuck a glance at Coretta’s desk, I would see her with her head bent over
her work, appearing as if nothing had happened, pulled into herself and asking no favors.
 My act of betrayal bought me some room from the other children, and like Coretta, I was mostly left
alone. I made a few friends, learned to speak less often in class, and managed to toss a wobbly football
around. But from that day forward, a part of me felt trampled on, crushed, and I took refuge in the life that
my grandparents led. After school let out, I would walk the five blocks to our apartment; if I had any change
in my pockets, I might stop off at a newsstand run by a blind man, who would let me know what new comics
had come in. Gramps would be at home to let me into the apartment, and as he lay down for his afternoon
nap, I would watch cartoons and sitcom reruns. At four-thirty, I would wake Gramps and we would drive
downtown to pick up Toot. My homework would be done in time for dinner, which we ate in front of the
television. There I would stay for the rest of the evening, negotiating with Gramps over which programs to
watch, sharing the latest snack food he’d discovered at the supermarket. At ten o’clock, I went to my room (
Johnny Carson came on at that time, and there was no negotiating around that), and I would fall asleep to
the sounds of Top 40 music on the radio.
 Nested in the soft, forgiving bosom of America’s consumer culture, I felt safe; it was as if I had dropped
into a long hibernation. I wonder sometimes how long I might have stayed there had it not been for the
telegram Toot found in the mailbox one day.
 “Your father’s coming to see you,” she said. “Next month. Two weeks after your mother gets here.
They’ll both stay through New Year’s.”
 She carefully folded the paper and slipped it into a drawer in the kitchen. Both she and Gramps fell
silent, the way I imagine people react when the doctor tells them they have a serious, but curable, illness.
For a moment the air was sucked out of the room, and we stood suspended, alone with our thoughts.
 “Well,” Toot said finally, “I suppose we better start looking for a place where he can stay.”
 Gramps took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes.
 “Should be one hell of a Christmas.”

 Over lunch, I explained to a group of boys that my father was a prince.
 “My grandfather, see, he’s a chief. It’s sort of like the king of the tribe, you know…like the Indians. So
that makes my father a prince. He’ll take over when my grandfather dies.”
 “What about after that?” one of my friends asked as we emptied our trays into the trash bin. “I mean,
will you go back and be a prince?”
 “Well…if I want to, I could. It’s sort of complicated, see, ’cause the tribe is full of warriors. Like
Obama…that means ‘Burning Spear.’ The men in our tribe all want to be chief, so my father has to settle
these feuds before I can come.”
 As the words tumbled out of my mouth, and I felt the boys readjust to me, more curious and familiar as
we bumped into each other in the line back to class, a part of me really began to believe the story. But
another part of me knew that what I was telling them was a lie, something I’d constructed from the scraps of
information I’d picked up from my mother. After a week of my father in the flesh, I had decided that I
preferred his more distant image, an image I could alter on a whim-or ignore when convenient. If my father
hadn’t exactly disappointed me, he remained something unknown, something volatile and vaguely
 My mother had sensed my apprehension in the days building up to his arrival-I suppose it mirrored her
own-and so, in between her efforts to prepare the apartment we’d sublet for him, she would try to assure me
that the reunion would go smoothly. She had maintained a correspondence with him throughout the time we
had been in Indonesia, she explained, and he knew all about me. Like her, my father had remarried, and I
now had five brothers and one sister living in Kenya. He had been in a bad car accident, and this trip was
part of his recuperation after a long stay in the hospital.
 “You two will become great friends,” she decided.
 Along with news of my father, she began to stuff me with information about Kenya and its history-it was
from a book about Jomo Kenyatta, the first president of Kenya, that I’d pilfered the name Burning Spear. But
nothing my mother told me could relieve my doubts, and I retained little of the information she offered. Only
once did she really spark my interest, when she told me that my father’s tribe, the Luo, were a Nilotic people
who had migrated to Kenya from their original home along the banks of the world’s greatest river. This
seemed promising; Gramps still kept a painting he had once done, a replica of lean, bronze Egyptians on a
golden chariot drawn by alabaster steeds. I had visions of ancient Egypt, the great kingdoms I had read
about, pyramids and pharaohs, Nefertiti and Cleopatra.
 One Saturday I went to the public library near our apartment and, with the help of a raspy-voiced old
librarian who appreciated my seriousness, I found a book on East Africa. Only there was no mention of
pyramids. In fact, the Luos merited only a short paragraph. Nilote, it turned out, described a number of
nomadic tribes that had originated in the Sudan along the White Nile, far south of the Egyptian empires. The
Luo raised cattle and lived in mud huts and ate corn meal and yams and something called millet. Their
traditional costume was a leather thong across the crotch. I left the book open-faced on a table and walked
out without thanking the librarian.
 The big day finally arrived, and Miss Hefty let me out early from class, wishing me luck. I left the school
building feeling like a condemned man. My legs were heavy, and with each approaching step toward my
grandparents’ apartment, the thump in my chest grew louder. When I entered the elevator, I stood without
pressing the button. The door closed, then reopened, and an older Filipino man who lived on the fourth floor
got on.
 “Your grandfather says your father is coming to visit you today,” the man said cheerfully. “You must be
very happy.”
 When-after standing in front of the door and looking out across the Honolulu skyline at a distant ship,
and then squinting at the sky to watch sparrows spiral through the air-I could think of no possible means of
escape, I rang the doorbell. Toot opened the door.
 “There he is! Come on, Bar…come meet your father.”
 And there, in the unlit hallway, I saw him, a tall, dark figure who walked with a slight limp. He crouched
down and put his arms around me, and I let my arms hang at my sides. Behind him stood my mother, her
chin trembling as usual.
 “Well, Barry,” my father said. “It is a good thing to see you after so long. Very good.”
 He led me by the hand into the living room, and we all sat down.
 “So, Barry, your grandmama has told me that you are doing very well in school.”
 I shrugged.
 “He’s feeling a little shy, I think,” Toot offered. She smiled and rubbed my head.
 “Well,” my father said, “you have no reason to be shy about doing well. Have I told you that your
brothers and sister have also excelled in their schooling? It’s in the blood, I think,” he said with a laugh.
 I watched him carefully as the adults began to talk. He was much thinner than I had expected, the
bones of his knees cutting the legs of his trousers in sharp angles; I couldn’t imagine him lifting anyone off
the ground. Beside him, a cane with a blunt ivory head leaned against the wall. He wore a blue blazer, and
a white shirt, and a scarlet ascot. His horn-rimmed glasses reflected the light of the lamp so that I couldn’t
see his eyes very well, but when he took the glasses off to rub the bridge of his nose, I saw that they were
slightly yellow, the eyes of someone who’s had malaria more than once. There was a fragility about his
frame, I thought, a caution when he lit a cigarette or reached for his beer. After an hour or so, my mother
suggested that he looked tired and should take a nap, and he agreed. He gathered up his travel bag, then
stopped in mid-stride and began to fish around in it, until he finally pulled out three wooden figurines-a lion,
an elephant, and an ebony man in tribal dress beating a drum-and handed them to me.
 “Say thank you, Bar,” my mother said.
 “Thank you,” I muttered.
 My father and I both looked down at the carvings, lifeless in my hands. He touched my shoulder.
 “They are only small things,” he said softly. Then he nodded to Gramps, and together they gathered up
his luggage and went downstairs to the other apartment.

 A month. That’s how long we would have together, the five of us in my grandparents’ living room most
evenings, during the day on drives around the island or on short walks past the private landmarks of a
family: the lot where my father’s apartment had once stood; the remodeled hospital where I had been born;
my grandparents’ first house in Hawaii, before the one on University Avenue, a house I had never known.
There was so much to tell in that single month, so much explaining to do; and yet when I reach back into my
memory for the words of my father, the small interactions or conversations we might have had, they seem
irretrievably lost. Perhaps they’re imprinted too deeply, his voice the seed of all sorts of tangled arguments
that I carry on with myself, as impenetrable now as the pattern of my genes, so that all I can perceive is the
worn-out shell. My wife offers a simpler explanation-that boys and their fathers don’t always have much to
say to each other unless and until they trust-and this may come closer to the mark, for I often felt mute
before him, and he never pushed me to speak. I’m left with mostly images that appear and die off in my
mind like distant sounds: his head thrown back in laughter at one of Gramps’s jokes as my mother and I
hang Christmas ornaments; his grip on my shoulder as he introduces me to one of his old friends from
college; the narrowing of his eyes, the stroking of his sparse goatee, as he reads his important books.
 Images, and his effect on other people. For whenever he spoke-his one leg draped over the other, his
large hands outstretched to direct or deflect attention, his voice deep and sure, cajoling and laughing-I
would see a sudden change take place in the family. Gramps became more vigorous and thoughtful, my
mother more bashful; even Toot, smoked out of the foxhole of her bedroom, would start sparring with him
about politics or finance, stabbing the air with her blue-veined hands to make a point. It was as if his
presence had summoned the spirit of earlier times and allowed each of them to reprise his or her old role;
as if Dr. King had never been shot, and the Kennedys continued to beckon the nation, and war and riot and
famine were nothing more than temporary setbacks, and there was nothing to fear but fear itself.
 It fascinated me, this strange power of his, and for the first time I began to think of my father as
something real and immediate, perhaps even permanent. After a few weeks, though, I could feel the tension
around me beginning to build. Gramps complained that my father was sitting in his chair. Toot muttered,
while doing the dishes, that she wasn’t anybody’s servant. My mother’s mouth pinched, her eyes avoiding
her parents, as we ate dinner. One evening, I turned on the television to watch a cartoon special-How the
Grinch Stole Christmas-and the whispers broke into shouts.
 “Barry, you have watched enough television tonight,” my father said. “Go in your room and study now,
and let the adults talk.”
 Toot stood up and turned off the TV. “Why don’t you turn the show on in the bedroom, Bar.”
 “No, Madelyn,” my father said, “that’s not what I mean. He has been watching that machine constantly,
and now it is time for him to study.”
 My mother tried to explain that it was almost Christmas vacation, that the cartoon was a Christmas
favorite, that I had been looking forward to it all week. “It won’t last long.”
 “Anna, this is nonsense. If the boy has done his work for tomorrow, he can begin on his next day’s
assignments. Or the assignments he will have when he returns from the holidays.” He turned to me. “I tell
you, Barry, you do not work as hard as you should. Go now, before I get angry at you.”
 I went to my room and slammed the door, listening as the voices outside grew louder, Gramps insisting
that this was his house, Toot saying that my father had no right to come in and bully everyone, including
me, after being gone all this time. I heard my father say that they were spoiling me, that I needed a firm
hand, and I listened to my mother tell her parents that nothing ever changed with them. We all stood
accused, and even after my father left and Toot came in to say that I could watch the last five minutes of my
show, I felt as if something had cracked open between all of us, goblins rushing out of some old, sealed-off
lair. Watching the green Grinch on the television screen, intent on ruining Christmas, eventually transformed
by the faith of the doe-eyed creatures who inhabited Whoville, I saw it for what it was: a lie. I began to count
the days until my father would leave and things would return to normal.
 The next day, Toot sent me down to the apartment where my father was staying to see if he had any
laundry to wash. I knocked, and my father opened the door, shirtless. Inside, I saw my mother ironing some
of his clothes. Her hair was tied back in a ponytail, and her eyes were soft and dark, as if she’d been crying.
My father asked me to sit down beside him on the bed, but I told him that Toot needed me to help her, and
left after relaying the message. Back upstairs, I had begun cleaning my room when my mother came in.
 “You shouldn’t be mad at your father, Bar. He loves you very much. He’s just a little stubborn
 “Okay,” I said without looking up. I could feel her eyes follow me around the room until she finally let
out a slow breath and went to the door.
 “I know all this stuff is confusing for you,” she said. “For me, too. Just try to remember what I said,
okay?” She put her hand on the doorknob. “Do you want me to close the door?”
 I nodded, but she had been gone for only a minute when she stuck her head back into the room.
 “By the way, I forgot to tell you that Miss Hefty has invited your father to come to school on Thursday.
She wants him to speak to the class.”
 I couldn’t imagine worse news. I spent that night and all of the next day trying to suppress thoughts of
the inevitable: the faces of my classmates when they heard about mud huts, all my lies exposed, the painful
jokes afterward. Each time I remembered, my body squirmed as if it had received a jolt to the nerves.
 I was still trying to figure out how I’d explain myself when my father walked into our class the next day.
Miss Hefty welcomed him eagerly, and as I took my seat I heard several children ask each other what was
going on. I became more desperate when our math teacher, a big, no-nonsense Hawaiian named Mr.
Eldredge, came into the room, followed by thirty confused children from his homeroom next door.
 “We have a special treat for you today,” Miss Hefty began. “Barry Obama’s father is here, and he’s
come all the way from Kenya, in Africa, to tell us about his country.”
 The other kids looked at me as my father stood up, and I held my head stiffly, trying to focus on a
vacant point on the blackboard behind him. He had been speaking for some time before I could finally bring
myself back to the moment. He was leaning against Miss Hefty’s thick oak desk and describing the deep
gash in the earth where mankind had first appeared. He spoke of the wild animals that still roamed the
plains, the tribes that still required a young boy to kill a lion to prove his manhood. He spoke of the customs
of the Luo, how elders received the utmost respect and made laws for all to follow under great-trunked
trees. And he told us of Kenya’s struggle to be free, how the British had wanted to stay and unjustly rule the
people, just as they had in America; how many had been enslaved only because of the color of their skin,
just as they had in America; but that Kenyans, like all of us in the room, longed to be free and develop
themselves through hard work and sacrifice.
 When he finished, Miss Hefty was absolutely beaming with pride. All my classmates applauded
heartily, and a few struck up the courage to ask questions, each of which my father appeared to consider
carefully before answering. The bell rang for lunch, and Mr. Eldredge came up to me.
 “You’ve got a pretty impressive father.”
 The ruddy-faced boy who had asked about cannibalism said, “Your dad is pretty cool.”
 And off to one side, I saw Coretta watch my father say good-bye to some of the children. She seemed
too intent to smile; her face showed only a look of simple satisfaction.

 Two weeks later he was gone. In that time, we stand together in front of the Christmas tree and pose
for pictures, the only ones I have of us together, me holding an orange basketball, his gift to me, him
showing off the tie I’ve bought him (“Ah, people will know that I am very important wearing such a tie”). At a
Dave Brubeck concert, I struggle to sit quietly in the dark auditorium beside him, unable to follow the spare
equations of sound that the performers make, careful to clap whenever he claps. For brief spells in the day I
will lie beside him, the two of us alone in the apartment sublet from a retired old woman whose name I
forget, the place full of quilts and doilies and knitted seat covers, and I read my book while he reads his. He
remains opaque to me, a present mass; when I mimic his gestures or turns of phrase, I know neither their
origins nor their consequences, can’t see how they play out over time. But I grow accustomed to his
 The day of his departure, as my mother and I helped him pack his bags, he unearthed two records,
forty-fives, in dull brown dust jackets.
 “Barry! Look here-I forgot that I had brought these for you. The sounds of your continent.”
 It took him a while to puzzle out my grandparents’ old stereo, but finally the disk began to turn, and he
gingerly placed the needle on the groove. A tinny guitar lick opened, then the sharp horns, the thump of
drums, then the guitar again, and then the voices, clean and joyful as they rode up the back beat, urging us
 “Come, Barry,” my father said. “You will learn from the master.” And suddenly his slender body was
swaying back and forth, the lush sound was rising, his arms were swinging as they cast an invisible net, his
feet wove over the floor in off-beats, his bad leg stiff but his rump high, his head back, his hips moving in a
tight circle. The rhythm quickened, the horns sounded, and his eyes closed to follow his pleasure, and then
one eye opened to peek down at me and his solemn face spread into a silly grin, and my mother smiled,
and my grandparents walked in to see what all the commotion was about. I took my first tentative steps with
my eyes closed, down, up, my arms swinging, the voices lifting. And I hear him still: As I follow my father
into the sound, he lets out a quick shout, bright and high, a shout that leaves much behind and reaches out
for more, a shout that cries for laughter.


 < END > 

"The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream" by Barack Obama ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Audacity_of_Hope

BY EMILY BURACK    [  SOURCE: https://www.townandcountrymag.com/leisure/arts-and-culture/g40719040/barack-obama-summer-reading-2022/ ]
  ( JUL 26, 2022 )  "... As has become an annual tradition, former president Barack Obama just released his summer reading list. "I’ve read a couple of great books this year and wanted to share some of my favorites so far," he wrote [on] his social media feeds. Like previous years, Obama's picks are a diverse range of fiction and nonfiction—with a few surprising choices. From a dystopian novel about motherhood to an analysis of democracies, Obama's 14 summer reading picks offer something for everyone. 

Who is "EMILY BURACK" ?  https://www.townandcountrymag.com/author/237784/Emily-Burack/  

 "town and country magazine" wikipedia > https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Town_%26_Country_(magazine)

SOURCE: https://www.dclibrary.org/node/54563

"...  One thing I'm going to miss about President Obama: the man reads.  The busiest man in the world still makes time to read.  He is a role model for us all.  He reads good stuff too.
So in honor of the Reader-in-Chief, I have compiled a master list of all the books that the president was reported to have read from 2008 until the present. Please let me know if I have missed any.   

Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life by William Finnegan
The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
H Is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald
The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
Seveneves by Neal Stephenson
All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert
The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Washington: A Life by Ron Chernow
The Whites by Richard Price
Purity by Jonathan Franzen
The Three-Body Problem by Liu Cixin
The Wright Brothers by David McCullough
Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra
The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan
The Laughing Monsters by Denis Johnson
Nora Webster by Colm Toibin
Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End Atul Gawande
Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth and Faith in the New China by Evan Osnos 

Reading list not disclosed

Reading list not disclosed

The Bayou Trilogy: Under the Bright Lights, Muscle for the Wing, and The Ones You Do Daniel Woodrell
Rodin’s Debutante  Ward Just
Cutting for Stone Abraham Verghese
To the End of the Land David Grossman
The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson

Freedom  by Jonathan Franzen
Tinkers  by Paul Harding
A Few Corrections by Brad Leithauser
President Reagan: The Role of a Lifetime by Lou Cannon
John Adams David McCullough
Hot, Flat and Crowded Thomas Friedman
Lessons in Disaster: McGeorge Bundy and the Path to War in Vietnam  by Gordon M. Goldstein
Lush Life by Richard Prince
Plainsong by Kent Haruf
The Way Home by George Pelecanos
What Is the What by Dave Eggers   
Netherland by Joseph O’Neill

Common Wealth: Economics for a Crowded Planet by Jeffrey D. Sachs 
Lincoln: The Biography of a Writer by Fred Kaplan 
Defining Moment: FDR’s Hundred Days and the Triumph of Hope by Jonathan Alter 
FDR by Jean Edward Smith 
Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001 by Steve Coll 
Collected Poems, 1948 to 1984 by Derek Walcott 
Unequal Democracy: The Political Economy of the New Gilded Age by Larry Bartels 
The Post-American World by Fareed Zakaria

Special thanks to Myra R-L for her help! ..."

hhhh>  <  "obama" "summer reading list" 2022

2017 hhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh  2017SOURCE:  - https://qz.com/quartzy/1688457/all-of-barack-obamas-summer-reading-lists-combined/  

(Note: This was a year-end round-up, so not explicitly for summer. But as a bonus, Obama also released a playlist this year.) 



Written by mostly women and authors of color, the 17 books that did make Obama’s list cover a wide range of genres and topics. There’s Homeland Elegies, the latest novel from Pulitzer Prize–winning author Ayad Akhtar, and Memorial Drive, a memoir from former U.S. poet laureate Natasha Trethewey. There’s also Luster and How Much of These Hills Is Gold from up-and-coming authors Raven Leilani and C Pam Zhang.

You may recognize a few of these titles from AFAR’s own recommendations for 2020. The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel and The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett were both on our summer reading list, while Sharks in the Time of Saviors by Kawai Strong Washburn represented Hawaii in AFAR’s Bookish Tour Across America.

See Obama’s full list below:

2021  SOURCE:  https://www.mentalfloss.com/article/653584/barack-obama-favorite-books-2021  

Barack Obama’s Favorite Books of 2021

  1. Matrix by Lauren Groff
  2. How the Word Is Passed: A Reckoning with the History of Slavery Across America by Clint Smith
  3. The Final Revival of Opal & Nev by Dawnie Walton
  4. The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles
  5. Invisible Child: Poverty, Survival & Hope in an American City by Andrea Elliott
  6. Harlem Shuffle by Colson Whitehead
  7. Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr
  8. These Precious Days by Ann Patchett
  9. Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner
  10. Aftershocks by Nadia Owusu
  11. Crossroads by Jonathan Franzen
  12. The Love Songs of W.E.B Du Bois by Honorée Fanonne Jeffers
  13. Beautiful Country by Qian Julie Wang

Barack Obama’s 2021 Summer Reading List

  1. At Night All Blood Is Black by David Diop
  2. Land of Big Numbers by Te-Ping Chen
  3. Empire of Pain: The Secret History of the Sackler Dynasty by Patrick Radden Keefe
  4. Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir
  5. When We Cease to Understand the World by Benjamín Labatut
  6. Under a White Sky: The Nature of the Future by Elizabeth Kolbert
  7. Things We Lost to the Water by Eric Nguyen
  8. Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam
  9. Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro
  10. The Sweetness of Water by Nathan Harris
  11. Intimacies by Katie Kitamura



Sea of Tranquility: A novel , Emily St. John Mandel (  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sea_of_Tranquility_(novel)  )

... This apocalyptic sci-fi novel spans time and space, beginning in Vancouver Island in 1912 and ending up in a moon colony 500 years later. It's a tale of time travel, the power of art, and plagues—and it captures our current moment like only St. John Mandel can.

Why We're Polarized Ezra Klein  (  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Why_We're_Polarized  )

This 2020 bestseller dives into why America's political system was built to be polarized. “The American political system—which includes everyone from voters to journalists to the president—is full of rational actors making rational decisions given the incentives they face,” Ezra Klein writes. “We are a collection of functional parts whose efforts combine into a dysfunctional whole.” It's an eye-opening suggestion from a former president.

The Candy House: A Novel Jennifer Egan  (  https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/58437521-the-candy-house  ) 

...The Candy House centers on an "app" dreamed up by a tech mogul named Bix Bouton ... . In this app, "Own Your Unconscious," people can upload their life's memories to a new technology. The stories in The Candy House all revolve around this question of memory and technology. ...

A Little Devil in America: In Praise of Black Performance  Hanif Abdurraqib  ( https://www.nationalbook.org/books/a-little-devil-in-america-notes-in-praise-of-black-performance/  )

... At the 1963 March on Washington, singer Josephine Baker said, "I was a devil in other countries, and I was a little devil in America, too." This quote becomes the launching point for Abdurraqib's reflection on Black performance in American culture. Abdurraqib has written on Obama, before, too; here, read his
 ( essay on hip-hop in the White House and Obama's relationship with rap music)  "Hanif Abdurraqib"

To Paradise: A Novel Hanya Yanagihara  (  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/To_Paradise  ) 

Hanya Yanagihara's controversial second novel landed on Obama's summer reading list. To Paradise spans three different centuries (1893, 1993, and 2093), telling three different tales set at the same townhouse in Washington Square Park in Greenwich Village, Manhattan. The first is an alternative version of 1893 America, where a scion of a wealthy family falls in love with someone who has no means; the second is set during the AIDS epidemic; and the third is about the granddaughter of a famed scientist trying to find her husband, who disappeared in a plague-ridden New York. All the stories touch on themes of queer love, pandemics, and what family means.

Silverview: A Novel  John le Carré   (  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Silverview  ) 

John le Carré's last completed novel focuses on a banker-turned-bookseller in a small British seaside town caught between two spymasters. In the afterword, le Carré's son Nick Cornwell writes that his father hesitated to publish Silverview because "it shows a service fragmented: filled with its own political factions, not always kind to those it should cherish … and ultimately not sure, any more, that it can justify itself."

Black Cake: A Novel Charmaine Wilkerson   (  https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/black-cake-charmaine-wilkerson/1139395183  )  

Charmaine Wilkerson's debut novel Black Cake tells the tale of two siblings who try to uncover their mother's past, beginning with a black cake recipe she left them. It's a multigenerational saga set in both the Caribbean and California, and about finding one's way in the world. Plus, if you love reading the book before the TV show (or movie), read this: Black Cake is currently in development as a Hulu original series, produced by none other than Oprah.

The Family Chao: A Novel Samantha Chang  (  https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/58085230-the-family-chao  )  Samantha Chang [ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lan_Samantha_Chang ]

In a small town in Wisconsin, the Chao family has run the Fine Chao, an Americanized Chinese restaurant. When patriarch Leo Chao is found dead, presumed to be murdered, his sons Dagou, Ming, and James become the center of the resulting trial. It's a moving, and incisive, portrait of a Chinese American family—full of humor and heartbreak.

Velvet Was the Night Silvia Moreno-Garcia  [  https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/671891/velvet-was-the-night-by-silvia-moreno-garcia/  ]

Silvia Moreno-Garcia's second novel (after her bestselling Mexican Gothic) is a historical noir set in 1970s Mexico. When Maite's neighbor, an art student named Leonora, disappears, Maite finds herself searching for her—and getting deeper and deeper into a world full of student radicals. As the publisher's description reads: "Mexico in the 1970s is a noir, where life is cheap and the price of truth is high."

Mouth to Mouth: A Novel by Antoine Wilson     [  https://www.simonandschuster.com/books/Mouth-to-Mouth/Antoine-Wilson/9781982181802 ] 

Mouth to Mouth's unnamed narrator is in a JFK airport lounge when he bumps into an old classmate, Jeff Cook. Soon, Jeff is sharing his entire life story—and how his life changed course when he rescued a drowning man. The story offers gripping read on fate, and when opportunity becomes exploitation.

The Great Experiment: Why Diverse Democracies Fall Apart and How They Can Endure by Yascha Mounk [ https://www.cfr.org/book/great-experiment-obamas-2022-summer-reading-pick ]

"The history of diverse societies is grim," Yascha Mounk warns in her book, The Great Experiment. Yet, Mounk goes on to argue, he is still hopeful about the future of America. "The Great Experimenis that rare book that offers both a profound understanding of an urgent problem and genuine hope for our human capacity to solve it," publisher Penguin Random House writes. "As Mounk contends, giving up on the prospects of building fair and thriving diverse democracies is simply not an option—and that is why we must strive to realize a more ambitious vision for the future of our societies." For a president who campaigned on hope, this is a natural selection for Obama's summer reading list.

The School for Good Mothers: A Novel by Jessamine Chan  (  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_School_for_Good_Mothers  )  

Jessamine Chan's The School for Good Mothers is dystopian thriller on modern day motherhood and parenting. Single mom Frida Liu is struggling; her young daughter Harriet isn't sleeping and her estranged husband is dating a wellness influencer. One day, in a moment of poor judgement, she leaves her daughter home alone. Soon, Harriet is taken away from her and Freida is sucked into the legal system—which sends her to a school to teach her to be a "good mother."

Razorblade Tears             ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/S._A._Cosby )  
  [ https://us.macmillan.com/books/9781250252708/razorbladetears#:~:text=Book%20Details,-%2AINSTANT%20NEW%20YORK%20TIMES ] 

Here's the tagline of S. A. Cosby's Razorblade Tears: "A Black father. A white father. Two murdered sons. A quest for vengeance." That sums up this provocative and violent thriller, about a young gay interracial couple who is murdered. The two fathers—both ex-cons, for extremely different reasons—decide to team up to enact revenge.

Blood in the Garden: The Flagrant History of the 1990s New York Knicks  Chris Herring ( https://www.simonandschuster.com/books/Blood-in-the-Garden/Chris-Herring/9781982132118 ) ... Chris Herring spoke with over 200 people for this history ... 

... " 

hhhh > < Obama 2018 16th Annual Nelson Mandela LECTURE 


  NOTES - for Americans - to know:

1.  The President - of South Africa introduces our former President Barack Obama:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cyril_Ramaphosa 

2.  President Obama refers - several times - to President Mandela -  as  "Madiba" > HERE'S WHY:   "Madiba"  Nelson Mandela > https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nelson_Mandela

 SOURCE:  https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation-now/2013/12/06/nelson-mandela-madiba-meaning/3889469/  

 "...  Why Nelson Mandela is called Madiba

by: Jolie LeeUSA TODAY Network
  [image] - A young girl with a placard showing the face of Nelson Mandela and referring to his clan name "Madiba," marches with others to celebrate his life, in the street outside his old house in Soweto, Johannesburg, South Africa, Dec. 6, 2013.

 Shortly after Nelson Mandela's death ( Thursday), his clan name Madiba emerged in condolences around the world and became a trending topic on Twitter. The clan or family name represents a person's ancestry. The meaning is deeper than a surname and is used as a sign of respect and affection. The origin of Madiba comes from a chief who ruled in the 18th century, according to the Nelson Mandela Foundation. ... Madiba would be used in "an intimate context," said Richard Pithouse, a politics professor at Rhodes University in South Africa. When Mandela entered school, a teacher gave him the name Nelson. It was customary for Africans to also give children English names back then.
 ( But the wider public had also taken to referring to Mandela as Madiba. )

Fellow South African Nobel Peace Prize laureate Desmond Tutu said, "Like a most precious diamond honed deep beneath the surface of the earth, the Madiba who emerged from prison in January 1990 was virtually flawless." Tutu said Friday that Madiba's legacy would live on in South Africa.

"People would not tend to use that name if they didn't have positive feelings for him," Pithouse said.

The use of Madiba could also have a political meaning, said Peter Alegi, a professor at Michigan State University specializing in South African history.

"Using the Madiba name is to reclaim his African-ness and to downplay the Nelson part, which is a colonial legacy that unfortunately shackled much of the African continent for a long, long time," Alegi said.

Madiba is a term used for older people, particularly men, fitting for a man called the father of the South African nation.  ..."

 Google>  "Obama" "Transcript" "2018"  16th Mandela Lecture
  - SOURCE: https://www.npr.org/2018/07/17/629862434/transcript-obamas-speech-at-the-2018-nelson-mandela-annual-lecture

Transcript: Obama's Speech At The 2018 Nelson Mandela 16th Annual Lecture

July 17, 2018 ::  2:59 PM ET

... Marco Longari/AFP/Getty Images

 NOTE:  Readers should understand [that] "Madiba" is Nelson Mandela. It is a sign of respect - to hail him - by his tribal name: "Madiba"

PRESIDENT OBAMA: (Cheers and applause.) Thank you. Thank you so much. Thank you very much. Thank you. Thank you so much. (Laughter.)

AUDIENCE: Yes, we can! Yes, we can! Yes, we can!

 ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gra%C3%A7a_Machel )

OBAMA: Thank you. To Mama Graça Machel, members of the Mandela family, the Machel family, to President Ramaphosa who you can see is inspiring new hope in this great country – (cheers and applause) – professor, doctor, distinguished guests, to Mama Sisulu and the Sisulu family, to the people of South Africa – (cheers and applause) – it is a singular honor for me to be here with all of you as we gather to celebrate the birth and life of one of history's true giants.

Let me begin by a correction – (laughter) – and a few confessions. 

The correction is that I am a very good dancer. (Laughter.) I just want to be clear about that. Michelle is a little better.

The confessions. Number one, I was not exactly invited to be here. I was ordered in a very nice way to be here by Graça Machel. (Cheers.)

Confession number two: I forgot my geography and the fact that right now it's winter in South Africa. (Laughter.) I didn't bring a coat, and this morning I had to send somebody out to the mall because I am wearing long johns. (Laughter.) I was born in Hawaii.

Confession number three: When my staff told me that I was to deliver a lecture, I thought back to the stuffy old professors in bow ties and tweed, and I wondered if this was one more sign of the stage of life that I'm entering, along with gray hair and slightly failing eyesight. I thought about the fact that my daughters think anything I tell them is a lecture. (Laughter.) I thought about the American press and how they often got frustrated at my long-winded answers at press conferences, when my responses didn't conform to two-minute soundbites. But given the strange and uncertain times that we are in – and they are strange, and they are uncertain – with each day's news cycles bringing more head-spinning and disturbing headlines, I thought maybe it would be useful to step back for a moment and try to get some perspective. So I hope you'll indulge me, despite the slight chill, as I spend much of this lecture reflecting on where we've been, and how we arrived at this present moment, in the hope that it will offer us a roadmap for where we need to go next.

One hundred years ago, Madiba was born in the village of M – oh, see there, I always get that – (laughter) – I got to get my Ms right when I'm in South Africa. Mvezo – I got it. (Cheers and applause.) Truthfully, it's because it's so cold my lips stuck. (Laughter.) So in his autobiography he describes a happy childhood; he's looking after cattle, he's playing with the other boys, eventually attends a school where his teacher gave him the English name Nelson. And as many of you know, he's quoted saying, "Why she bestowed this particular name upon me, I have no idea."

There was no reason to believe that a young black boy at this time, in this place, could in any way alter history. After all, South Africa was then less than a decade removed from full British control. Already, laws were being codified to implement racial segregation and subjugation, the network of laws that would be known as apartheid. Most of Africa, including my father's homeland, was under colonial rule. The dominant European powers, having ended a horrific world war just a few months after Madiba's birth, viewed this continent and its people primarily as spoils in a contest for territory and abundant natural resources and cheap labor. And the inferiority of the black race, an indifference towards black culture and interests and aspirations, was a given.

And such a view of the world – that certain races, certain nations, certain groups were inherently superior, and that violence and coercion is the primary basis for governance, that the strong necessarily exploit the weak, that wealth is determined primarily by conquest – that view of the world was hardly confined to relations between Europe and Africa, or relations between whites and blacks. Whites were happy to exploit other whites when they could. And by the way, blacks were often willing to exploit other blacks. And around the globe, the majority of people lived at subsistence levels, without a say in the politics or economic forces that determined their lives. Often they were subject to the whims and cruelties of distant leaders. The average person saw no possibility of advancing from the circumstances of their birth. Women were almost uniformly subordinate to men. Privilege and status was rigidly bound by caste and color and ethnicity and religion. And even in my own country, even in democracies like the United States, founded on a declaration that all men are created equal, racial segregation and systemic discrimination was the law in almost half the country and the norm throughout the rest of the country.

That was the world just 100 years ago. There are people alive today who were alive in that world. It is hard, then, to overstate the remarkable transformations that have taken place since that time. A second World War, even more terrible than the first, along with a cascade of liberation movements from Africa to Asia, Latin America, the Middle East, would finally bring an end to colonial rule. More and more peoples, having witnessed the horrors of totalitarianism, the repeated mass slaughters of the 20th century, began to embrace a new vision for humanity, a new idea, one based not only on the principle of national self-determination, but also on the principles of democracy and rule of law and civil rights and the inherent dignity of every single individual.

In those nations with market-based economies, suddenly union movements developed; and health and safety and commercial regulations were instituted; and access to public education was expanded; and social welfare systems emerged, all with the aim of constraining the excesses of capitalism and enhancing its ability to provide opportunity not just to some but to all people. And the result was unmatched economic growth and a growth of the middle class. And in my own country, the moral force of the civil rights movement not only overthrew Jim Crow laws but it opened up the floodgates for women and historically marginalized groups to reimagine themselves, to find their own voices, to make their own claims to full citizenship.

It was in service of this long walk towards freedom and justice and equal opportunity that Nelson Mandela devoted his life. At the outset, his struggle was particular to this place, to his homeland – a fight to end apartheid, a fight to ensure lasting political and social and economic equality for its disenfranchised non-white citizens. But through his sacrifice and unwavering leadership and, perhaps most of all, through his moral example, Mandela and the movement he led would come to signify something larger. He came to embody the universal aspirations of dispossessed people all around the world, their hopes for a better life, the possibility of a moral transformation in the conduct of human affairs.

Madiba's light shone so brightly, even from that narrow Robben Island cell, that in the late '70s he could inspire a young college student on the other side of the world to reexamine his own priorities, could make me consider the small role I might play in bending the arc of the world towards justice. And when later, as a law student, I witnessed Madiba emerge from prison, just a few months, you'll recall, after the fall of the Berlin Wall, I felt the same wave of hope that washed through hearts all around the world.

Do you remember that feeling? It seemed as if the forces of progress were on the march, that they were inexorable. Each step he took, you felt this is the moment when the old structures of violence and repression and ancient hatreds that had so long stunted people's lives and confined the human spirit – that all that was crumbling before our eyes. And then as Madiba guided this nation through negotiation painstakingly, reconciliation, its first fair and free elections; as we all witnessed the grace and the generosity with which he embraced former enemies, the wisdom for him to step away from power once he felt his job was complete, we understood that – (applause) – we understood it was not just the subjugated, the oppressed who were being freed from the shackles of the past. The subjugator was being offered a gift, being given a chance to see in a new way, being given a chance to participate in the work of building a better world.

And during the last decades of the 20th century, the progressive, democratic vision that Nelson Mandela represented in many ways set the terms of international political debate. It doesn't mean that vision was always victorious, but it set the terms, the parameters; it guided how we thought about the meaning of progress, and it continued to propel the world forward. Yes, there were still tragedies – bloody civil wars from the Balkans to the Congo. Despite the fact that ethnic and sectarian strife still flared up with heartbreaking regularity, despite all that as a consequence of the continuation of nuclear détente, and a peaceful and prosperous Japan, and a unified Europe anchored in NATO, and the entry of China into the world's system of trade – all that greatly reduced the prospect of war between the world's great powers. And from Europe to Africa, Latin America, Southeast Asia, dictatorships began to give way to democracies. The march was on. A respect for human rights and the rule of law, enumerated in a declaration by the United Nations, became the guiding norm for the majority of nations, even in places where the reality fell far short of the ideal. Even when those human rights were violated, those who violated human rights were on the defensive.

And with these geopolitical changes came sweeping economic changes. The introduction of market-based principles, in which previously closed economies along with the forces of global integration powered by new technologies, suddenly unleashed entrepreneurial talents to those that once had been relegated to the periphery of the world economy, who hadn't counted. Suddenly they counted. They had some power; they had the possibilities of doing business. And then came scientific breakthroughs and new infrastructure and the reduction of armed conflicts. And suddenly a billion people were lifted out of poverty, and once-starving nations were able to feed themselves, and infant mortality rates plummeted. And meanwhile, the spread of the internet made it possible for people to connect across oceans, and cultures and continents instantly were brought together, and potentially, all the world's knowledge could be in the hands of a small child in even the most remote village.

That's what happened just over the course of a few decades. And all that progress is real. It has been broad, and it has been deep, and it all happened in what – by the standards of human history – was nothing more than a blink of an eye. And now an entire generation has grown up in a world that by most measures has gotten steadily freer and healthier and wealthier and less violent and more tolerant during the course of their lifetimes.

It should make us hopeful. But if we cannot deny the very real strides that our world has made since that moment when Madiba took those steps out of confinement, we also have to recognize all the ways that the international order has fallen short of its promise. In fact, it is in part because of the failures of governments and powerful elites to squarely address the shortcomings and contradictions of this international order that we now see much of the world threatening to return to an older, a more dangerous, a more brutal way of doing business.

So we have to start by admitting that whatever laws may have existed on the books, whatever wonderful pronouncements existed in constitutions, whatever nice words were spoken during these last several decades at international conferences or in the halls of the United Nations, the previous structures of privilege and power and injustice and exploitation never completely went away. They were never fully dislodged. (Applause.) Caste differences still impact the life chances of people on the Indian subcontinent. Ethnic and religious differences still determine who gets opportunity from the Central Europe to the Gulf. It is a plain fact that racial discrimination still exists in both the United States and South Africa. (Cheers and applause.) And it is also a fact that the accumulated disadvantages of years of institutionalized oppression have created yawning disparities in income, and in wealth, and in education, and in health, in personal safety, in access to credit. Women and girls around the world continue to be blocked from positions of power and authority. (Cheers and applause.) They continue to be prevented from getting a basic education. They are disproportionately victimized by violence and abuse. They're still paid less than men for doing the same work. That's still happening. (Cheers and applause.) Economic opportunity, for all the magnificence of the global economy, all the shining skyscrapers that have transformed the landscape around the world, entire neighborhoods, entire cities, entire regions, entire nations have been bypassed.

In other words, for far too many people, the more things have changed, the more things stayed the same. (Applause.)

And while globalization and technology have opened up new opportunities, have driven remarkable economic growth in previously struggling parts of the world, globalization has also upended the agricultural and manufacturing sectors in many countries. It's also greatly reduced the demand for certain workers, has helped weaken unions and labor's bargaining power. It's made it easier for capital to avoid tax laws and the regulations of nation-states – can just move billions, trillions of dollars with a tap of a computer key.

And the result of all these trends has been an explosion in economic inequality. It's meant that a few dozen individuals control the same amount of wealth as the poorest half of humanity. (Applause.) That's not an exaggeration, that's a statistic. Think about that. In many middle-income and developing countries, new wealth has just tracked the old bad deal that people got because it reinforced or even compounded existing patterns of inequality, the only difference is it created even greater opportunities for corruption on an epic scale. And for once solidly middle-class families in advanced economies like the United States, these trends have meant greater economic insecurity, especially for those who don't have specialized skills, people who were in manufacturing, people working in factories, people working on farms.

In every country just about, the disproportionate economic clout of those at the top has provided these individuals with wildly disproportionate influence on their countries' political life and on its media; on what policies are pursued and whose interests end up being ignored. Now, it should be noted that this new international elite, the professional class that supports them, differs in important respects from the ruling aristocracies of old. It includes many who are self-made. It includes champions of meritocracy. And although still mostly white and male, as a group they reflect a diversity of nationalities and ethnicities that would have not existed a hundred years ago. A decent percentage consider themselves liberal in their politics, modern and cosmopolitan in their outlook. Unburdened by parochialism, or nationalism, or overt racial prejudice or strong religious sentiment, they are equally comfortable in New York or London or Shanghai or Nairobi or Buenos Aires, or Johannesburg. Many are sincere and effective in their philanthropy. Some of them count Nelson Mandela among their heroes. Some even supported Barack Obama for the presidency of the United States, and by virtue of my status as a former head of state, some of them consider me as an honorary member of the club. (Laughter.) And I get invited to these fancy things, you know? (Laughter.) They'll fly me out.

But what's nevertheless true is that in their business dealings, many titans of industry and finance are increasingly detached from any single locale or nation-state, and they live lives more and more insulated from the struggles of ordinary people in their countries of origin. (Applause.) And their decisions – their decisions to shut down a manufacturing plant, or to try to minimize their tax bill by shifting profits to a tax haven with the help of high-priced accountants or lawyers, or their decision to take advantage of lower-cost immigrant labor, or their decision to pay a bribe – are often done without malice; it's just a rational response, they consider, to the demands of their balance sheets and their shareholders and competitive pressures.

But too often, these decisions are also made without reference to notions of human solidarity – or a ground-level understanding of the consequences that will be felt by particular people in particular communities by the decisions that are made. And from their board rooms or retreats, global decision-makers don't get a chance to see sometimes the pain in the faces of laid-off workers. Their kids don't suffer when cuts in public education and health care result as a consequence of a reduced tax base because of tax avoidance. They can't hear the resentment of an older tradesman when he complains that a newcomer doesn't speak his language on a job site where he once worked. They're less subject to the discomfort and the displacement that some of their countrymen may feel as globalization scrambles not only existing economic arrangements, but traditional social and religious mores.

Which is why, at the end of the 20th century, while some Western commentators were declaring the end of history and the inevitable triumph of liberal democracy and the virtues of the global supply chain, so many missed signs of a brewing backlash – a backlash that arrived in so many forms. It announced itself most violently with 9/11 and the emergence of transnational terrorist networks, fueled by an ideology that perverted one of the world's great religions and asserted a struggle not just between Islam and the West but between Islam and modernity, and an ill-advised U.S. invasion of Iraq didn't help, accelerating a sectarian conflict. (Applause.) Russia, already humiliated by its reduced influence since the collapse of the Soviet Union, feeling threatened by democratic movements along its borders, suddenly started reasserting authoritarian control and in some cases meddling with its neighbors. China, emboldened by its economic success, started bristling against criticism of its human rights record; it framed the promotion of universal values as nothing more than foreign meddling, imperialism under a new name. Within the United States, within the European Union, challenges to globalization first came from the left but then came more forcefully from the right, as you started seeing populist movements – which, by the way, are often cynically funded by right-wing billionaires intent on reducing government constraints on their business interests – these movements tapped the unease that was felt by many people who lived outside of the urban cores; fears that economic security was slipping away, that their social status and privileges were eroding, that their cultural identities were being threatened by outsiders, somebody that didn't look like them or sound like them or pray as they did.

And perhaps more than anything else, the devastating impact of the 2008 financial crisis, in which the reckless behavior of financial elites resulted in years of hardship for ordinary people all around the world, made all the previous assurances of experts ring hollow – all those assurances that somehow financial regulators knew what they were doing, that somebody was minding the store, that global economic integration was an unadulterated good. Because of the actions taken by governments during and after that crisis, including, I should add, by aggressive steps by my administration, the global economy has now returned to healthy growth. But the credibility of the international system, the faith in experts in places like Washington or Brussels, all that had taken a blow.

And a politics of fear and resentment and retrenchment began to appear, and that kind of politics is now on the move. It's on the move at a pace that would have seemed unimaginable just a few years ago. I am not being alarmist, I am simply stating the facts. Look around. (Applause.) Strongman politics are ascendant suddenly, whereby elections and some pretense of democracy are maintained – the form of it – but those in power seek to undermine every institution or norm that gives democracy meaning. (Applause.) In the West, you've got far-right parties that oftentimes are based not just on platforms of protectionism and closed borders, but also on barely hidden racial nationalism. Many developing countries now are looking at China's model of authoritarian control combined with mercantilist capitalism as preferable to the messiness of democracy. Who needs free speech as long as the economy is going good? The free press is under attack. Censorship and state control of media is on the rise. Social media – once seen as a mechanism to promote knowledge and understanding and solidarity – has proved to be just as effective promoting hatred and paranoia and propaganda and conspiracy theories. (Applause.)

So on Madiba's 100th birthday, we now stand at a crossroads – a moment in time at which two very different visions of humanity's future compete for the hearts and the minds of citizens around the world. Two different stories, two different narratives about who we are and who we should be. How should we respond?

Should we see that wave of hope that we felt with Madiba's release from prison, from the Berlin Wall coming down – should we see that hope that we had as naïve and misguided? Should we understand the last 25 years of global integration as nothing more than a detour from the previous inevitable cycle of history – where might makes right, and politics is a hostile competition between tribes and races and religions, and nations compete in a zero-sum game, constantly teetering on the edge of conflict until full-blown war breaks out? Is that what we think?

Let me tell you what I believe. I believe in Nelson Mandela's vision. I believe in a vision shared by Gandhi and King and Abraham Lincoln. I believe in a vision of equality and justice and freedom and multi-racial democracy, built on the premise that all people are created equal, and they're endowed by our creator with certain inalienable rights. (Cheers and applause.) And I believe that a world governed by such principles is possible and that it can achieve more peace and more cooperation in pursuit of a common good. That's what I believe.

And I believe we have no choice but to move forward; that those of us who believe in democracy and civil rights and a common humanity have a better story to tell. And I believe this not just based on sentiment, I believe it based on hard evidence.

The fact that the world's most prosperous and successful societies, the ones with the highest living standards and the highest levels of satisfaction among their people, happen to be those which have most closely approximated the liberal, progressive ideal that we talk about and have nurtured the talents and contributions of all their citizens.

The fact that authoritarian governments have been shown time and time again to breed corruption, because they're not accountable; to repress their people; to lose touch eventually with reality; to engage in bigger and bigger lies that ultimately result in economic and political and cultural and scientific stagnation. Look at history. Look at the facts.

The fact that countries which rely on rabid nationalism and xenophobia and doctrines of tribal, racial or religious superiority as their main organizing principle, the thing that holds people together – eventually those countries find themselves consumed by civil war or external war. Check the history books.

The fact that technology cannot be put back in a bottle, so we're stuck with the fact that we now live close together and populations are going to be moving, and environmental challenges are not going to go away on their own, so that the only way to effectively address problems like climate change or mass migration or pandemic disease will be to develop systems for more international cooperation, not less. (Applause.)

We have a better story to tell. But to say that our vision for the future is better is not to say that it will inevitably win. Because history also shows the power of fear. History shows the lasting hold of greed and the desire to dominate others in the minds of men. Especially men. (Laughter and applause.) History shows how easily people can be convinced to turn on those who look different, or worship God in a different way. So if we're truly to continue Madiba's long walk towards freedom, we're going to have to work harder and we're going to have to be smarter. We're going to have to learn from the mistakes of the recent past. And so in the brief time remaining, let me just suggest a few guideposts for the road ahead, guideposts that draw from Madiba's work, his words, the lessons of his life.

First, Madiba shows those of us who believe in freedom and democracy we are going to have to fight harder to reduce inequality and promote lasting economic opportunity for all people. (Applause.)

Now, I don't believe in economic determinism. Human beings don't live on bread alone. But they need bread. And history shows that societies which tolerate vast differences in wealth feed resentments and reduce solidarity and actually grow more slowly; and that once people achieve more than mere subsistence, then they're measuring their well-being by how they compare to their neighbors, and whether their children can expect to live a better life. And when economic power is concentrated in the hands of the few, history also shows that political power is sure to follow – and that dynamic eats away at democracy. Sometimes it may be straight-out corruption, but sometimes it may not involve the exchange of money; it's just folks who are that wealthy get what they want, and it undermines human freedom.

And Madiba understood this. This is not new. He warned us about this. He said: "Where globalization means, as it so often does, that the rich and the powerful now have new means to further enrich and empower themselves at the cost of the poorer and the weaker, [then] we have a responsibility to protest in the name of universal freedom." That's what he said. (Applause.) So if we are serious about universal freedom today, if we care about social justice today, then we have a responsibility to do something about it. And I would respectfully amend what Madiba said. I don't do it often, but I'd say it's not enough for us to protest; we're going to have to build, we're going to have to innovate, we're going to have to figure out how do we close this widening chasm of wealth and opportunity both within countries and between them. (Applause.)

And how we achieve this is going to vary country to country, and I know your new president is committed to rolling up his sleeves and trying to do so. But we can learn from the last 70 years that it will not involve unregulated, unbridled, unethical capitalism. It also won't involve old-style command-and-control socialism form the top. That was tried; it didn't work very well. For almost all countries, progress is going to depend on an inclusive market-based system – one that offers education for every child; that protects collective bargaining and secures the rights of every worker – (applause) – that breaks up monopolies to encourage competition in small and medium-sized businesses; and has laws that root out corruption and ensures fair dealing in business; that maintains some form of progressive taxation so that rich people are still rich but they're giving a little bit back to make sure that everybody else has something to pay for universal health care and retirement security, and invests in infrastructure and scientific research that builds platforms for innovation.

I should add, by the way, right now I'm actually surprised by how much money I got, and let me tell you something: I don't have half as much as most of these folks or a tenth or a hundredth. There's only so much you can eat. There's only so big a house you can have. (Cheers and applause.) There's only so many nice trips you can take. I mean, it's enough. (Laughter.) You don't have to take a vow of poverty just to say, "Well, let me help out and let a few of the other folks – let me look at that child out there who doesn't have enough to eat or needs some school fees, let me help him out. I'll pay a little more in taxes. It's okay. I can afford it." (Cheers and applause.) I mean, it shows a poverty of ambition to just want to take more and more and more, instead of saying, "Wow, I've got so much. Who can I help? How can I give more and more and more?" (Cheers and applause.) That's ambition. That's impact. That's influence. What an amazing gift to be able to help people, not just yourself. (Applause.) Where was I? I ad-libbed. (Laughter.) You get the point.

It involves promoting an inclusive capitalism both within nations and between nations. And as we pursue, for example, the Sustainable Development Goals, we have to get past the charity mindset. We've got to bring more resources to the forgotten pockets of the world through investment and entrepreneurship, because there is talent everywhere in the world if given an opportunity. (Cheers and applause.)

When it comes to the international system of commerce and trade, it's legitimate for poorer countries to continue to seek access to wealthier markets. And by the way, wealthier markets, that's not the big problem that you're having – that a small African country is sending you tea and flowers. That's not your biggest economic challenge. It's also proper for advanced economies like the United States to insist on reciprocity from nations like China that are no longer solely poor countries, to make sure that they're providing access to their markets and that they stop taking intellectual property and hacking our servers. (Laughter.)

But even as there are discussions to be had around trade and commerce, it's important to recognize this reality: while the outsourcing of jobs from north to south, from east to west, while a lot of that was a dominant trend in the late 20th century, the biggest challenge to workers in countries like mine today is technology. And the biggest challenge for your new president when we think about how we're going to employ more people here is going to be also technology, because artificial intelligence is here and it is accelerating, and you're going to have driverless cars, and you're going to have more and more automated services, and that's going to make the job of giving everybody work that is meaningful tougher, and we're going to have to be more imaginative, and the pact of change is going to require us to do more fundamental reimagining of our social and political arrangements, to protect the economic security and the dignity that comes with a job. It's not just money that a job provides; it provides dignity and structure and a sense of place and a sense of purpose. (Applause.) And so we're going to have to consider new ways of thinking about these problems, like a universal income, review of our workweek, how we retrain our young people, how we make everybody an entrepreneur at some level. But we're going to have to worry about economics if we want to get democracy back on track.

Second, Madiba teaches us that some principles really are universal – and the most important one is the principle that we are bound together by a common humanity and that each individual has inherent dignity and worth.

Now, it's surprising that we have to affirm this truth today. More than a quarter century after Madiba walked out of prison, I still have to stand here at a lecture and devote some time to saying that black people and white people and Asian people and Latin American people and women and men and gays and straights, that we are all human, that our differences are superficial, and that we should treat each other with care and respect. I would have thought we would have figured that out by now. I thought that basic notion was well established. (Applause.) But it turns out, as we're seeing in this recent drift into reactionary politics, that the struggle for basic justice is never truly finished. So we've got to constantly be on the lookout and fight for people who seek to elevate themselves by putting somebody else down. And by the way, we also have to actively resist – this is important, particularly in some countries in Africa like my own father's homeland; I've made this point before – we have to resist the notion that basic human rights like freedom to dissent, or the right of women to fully participate in the society, or the right of minorities to equal treatment, or the rights of people not to be beat up and jailed because of their sexual orientation – we have to be careful not to say that somehow, well, that doesn't apply to us, that those are Western ideas rather than universal imperatives. (Applause.)

Again, Madiba, he anticipated things. He knew what he was talking about. In 1964, before he received the sentence that condemned him to die in prison, he explained from the dock that, "The Magna Carta, the Petition of Rights, the Bill of Rights are documents which are held in veneration by democrats throughout the world." In other words, he didn't say well, those books weren't written by South Africans so I just – I can't claim them. No, he said that's part of my inheritance. That's part of the human inheritance. That applies here in this country, to me, and to you. And that's part of what gave him the moral authority that the apartheid regime could never claim, because he was more familiar with their best values than they were. (Laughter.) He had read their documents more carefully than they had. And he went on to say, "Political division based on color is entirely artificial and, when it disappears, so will the domination of one color group by another." That's Nelson Mandela speaking in 1964, when I was three years old. (Applause.)

What was true then remains true today. Basic truths do not change. It is a truth that can be embraced by the English, and by the Indian, and by the Mexican and by the Bantu and by the Luo and by the American. It is a truth that lies at the heart of every world religion – that we should do unto others as we would have them do unto us. (Applause.) That we see ourselves in other people. That we can recognize common hopes and common dreams. And it is a truth that is incompatible with any form of discrimination based on race or religion or gender or sexual orientation. And it is a truth that, by the way, when embraced, actually delivers practical benefits, since it ensures that a society can draw upon the talents and energy and skill of all its people. And if you doubt that, just ask the French football team that just won the World Cup. (Cheers and applause.) Because not all of those folks – not all of those folks look like Gauls to me. (Laughter.) But they're French. They're French. (Laughter.)

Embracing our common humanity does not mean that we have to abandon our unique ethnic and national and religious identities. Madiba never stopped being proud of his tribal heritage. He didn't stop being proud of being a black man and being a South African. But he believed, as I believe, that you can be proud of your heritage without denigrating those of a different heritage. (Applause.) In fact, you dishonor your heritage. It would make me think that you're a little insecure about your heritage if you've got to put somebody else's heritage down. (Laughter.) Yeah, that's right. (Laughter.) Don't you get a sense sometimes – again, I'm ad-libbing here – that these people who are so intent on putting people down and puffing themselves up that they're small-hearted, that there's something they're just afraid of. Madiba knew that we cannot claim justice for ourselves when it's only reserved for some. Madiba understood that we can't say we've got a just society simply because we replaced the color of the person on top of an unjust system, so the person looks like us even though they're doing the same stuff, and somehow now we've got justice. That doesn't work. (Cheers and applause.) It's not justice if now you're on top, so I'm going to do the same thing that those folks were doing to me and now I'm going to do it to you. That's not justice. "I detest racialism," he said, "whether it comes from a black man or a white man."

Now, we have to acknowledge that there is disorientation that comes from rapid change and modernization, and the fact that the world has shrunk, and we're going to have to find ways to lessen the fears of those who feel threatened. In the West's current debate around immigration, for example, it's not wrong to insist that national borders matter; whether you're a citizen or not is going to matter to a government, that laws need to be followed; that in the public realm newcomers should make an effort to adapt to the language and customs of their new home. Those are legitimate things and we have to be able to engage people who do feel as if things are not orderly. But that can't be an excuse for immigration policies based on race, or ethnicity, or religion. There's got to be some consistency. And we can enforce the law while respecting the essential humanity of those who are striving for a better life. (Cheers and applause.) For a mother with a child in her arms, we can recognize that could be somebody in our family, that could be my child.

Third, Madiba reminds us that democracy is about more than just elections.

When he was freed from prison, Madiba's popularity – well, you couldn't even measure it. He could have been president for life. Am I wrong? (Laughter.) Who was going to run against him? (Laughter.) I mean, Ramaphosa was popular, but come on. (Laughter.) Plus he was a young – he was too young. Had he chose, Madiba could have governed by executive fiat, unconstrained by check and balances. But instead he helped guide South Africa through the drafting of a new Constitution, drawing from all the institutional practices and democratic ideals that had proven to be most sturdy, mindful of the fact that no single individual possesses a monopoly on wisdom. No individual – not Mandela, not Obama – are entirely immune to the corrupting influences of absolute power, if you can do whatever you want and everyone's too afraid to tell you when you're making a mistake. No one is immune from the dangers of that.

Mandela understood this. He said, "Democracy is based on the majority principle. This is especially true in a country such as ours where the vast majority have been systematically denied their rights. At the same time, democracy also requires the rights of political and other minorities be safeguarded." He understood it's not just about who has the most votes. It's also about the civic culture that we build that makes democracy work.

So we have to stop pretending that countries that just hold an election where sometimes the winner somehow magically gets 90 percent of the vote because all the opposition is locked up – (laughter) – or can't get on TV, is a democracy. Democracy depends on strong institutions and it's about minority rights and checks and balances, and freedom of speech and freedom of expression and a free press, and the right to protest and petition the government, and an independent judiciary, and everybody having to follow the law.

And yes, democracy can be messy, and it can be slow, and it can be frustrating. I know, I promise. (Laughter.) But the efficiency that's offered by an autocrat, that's a false promise. Don't take that one, because it leads invariably to more consolidation of wealth at the top and power at the top, and it makes it easier to conceal corruption and abuse. For all its imperfections, real democracy best upholds the idea that government exists to serve the individual and not the other way around. (Applause.) And it is the only form of government that has the possibility of making that idea real.

So for those of us who are interested in strengthening democracy, let's also stop – it's time for us to stop paying all of our attention to the world's capitals and the centers of power and to start focusing more on the grassroots, because that's where democratic legitimacy comes from. Not from the top down, not from abstract theories, not just from experts, but from the bottom up. Knowing the lives of those who are struggling.

As a community organizer, I learned as much from a laid-off steel worker in Chicago or a single mom in a poor neighborhood that I visited as I learned from the finest economists in the Oval Office. Democracy means being in touch and in tune with life as it's lived in our communities, and that's what we should expect from our leaders, and it depends upon cultivating leaders at the grassroots who can help bring about change and implement it on the ground and can tell leaders in fancy buildings, this isn't working down here.

And to make democracy work, Madiba shows us that we also have to keep teaching our children, and ourselves – and this is really hard – to engage with people not only who look different but who hold different views. This is hard. (Applause.)

Most of us prefer to surround ourselves with opinions that validate what we already believe. You notice the people who you think are smart are the people who agree with you. (Laughter.) Funny how that works. But democracy demands that we're able also to get inside the reality of people who are different than us so we can understand their point of view. Maybe we can change their minds, but maybe they'll change ours. And you can't do this if you just out of hand disregard what your opponents have to say from the start. And you can't do it if you insist that those who aren't like you – because they're white, or because they're male – that somehow there's no way they can understand what I'm feeling, that somehow they lack standing to speak on certain matters.

Madiba, he lived this complexity. In prison, he studied Afrikaans so that he could better understand the people who were jailing him. And when he got out of prison, he extended a hand to those who had jailed him, because he knew that they had to be a part of the democratic South Africa that he wanted to build. "To make peace with an enemy," he wrote, "one must work with that enemy, and that enemy becomes one's partner."

So those who traffic in absolutes when it comes to policy, whether it's on the left or the right, they make democracy unworkable. You can't expect to get 100 percent of what you want all the time; sometimes, you have to compromise. That doesn't mean abandoning your principles, but instead it means holding on to those principles and then having the confidence that they're going to stand up to a serious democratic debate. That's how America's Founders intended our system to work – that through the testing of ideas and the application of reason and proof it would be possible to arrive at a basis for common ground.

And I should add for this to work, we have to actually believe in an objective reality. This is another one of these things that I didn't have to lecture about. You have to believe in facts. (Laughter.) Without facts, there is no basis for cooperation. If I say this is a podium and you say this is an elephant, it's going to be hard for us to cooperate. (Laughter.) I can find common ground for those who oppose the Paris Accords because, for example, they might say, well, it's not going to work, you can't get everybody to cooperate, or they might say it's more important for us to provide cheap energy for the poor, even if it means in the short term that there's more pollution. At least I can have a debate with them about that and I can show them why I think clean energy is the better path, especially for poor countries, that you can leapfrog old technologies. (Cheers.) I can't find common ground if somebody says climate change is just not happening, when almost all of the world's scientists tell us it is. I don't know where to start talking to you about this. (Laughter.) If you start saying it's an elaborate hoax, I don't know what to – (laughter) – where do we start?

Unfortunately, too much of politics today seems to reject the very concept of objective truth. People just make stuff up. They just make stuff up. We see it in state-sponsored propaganda; we see it in internet driven fabrications, we see it in the blurring of lines between news and entertainment, we see the utter loss of shame among political leaders where they're caught in a lie and they just double down and they lie some more. Politicians have always lied, but it used to be if you caught them lying they'd be like, "Oh man." Now they just keep on lying.

By the way, this is what I think Mama Graça was talking about in terms of maybe some sense of humility that Madiba felt, like sometimes just basic stuff, me not completely lying to people seems pretty basic, I don't think of myself as a great leader just because I don't completely make stuff up. You'd think that was a base line. Anyway, we see it in the promotion of anti-intellectualism and the rejection of science from leaders who find critical thinking and data somehow politically inconvenient. And, as with the denial of rights, the denial of facts runs counter to democracy, it could be its undoing, which is why we must zealously protect independent media; and we have to guard against the tendency for social media to become purely a platform for spectacle, outrage, or disinformation; and we have to insist that our schools teach critical thinking to our young people, not just blind obedience.

Which, I'm sure you are thankful for, leads to my final point: we have to follow Madiba's example of persistence and of hope.

It is tempting to give in to cynicism: to believe that recent shifts in global politics are too powerful to push back; that the pendulum has swung permanently. Just as people spoke about the triumph of democracy in the 90s, now you are hearing people talk about end of democracy and the triumph of tribalism and the strong man. We have to resist that cynicism.

Because, we've been through darker times, we've been in lower valleys and deeper valleys. Yes, by the end of his life, Madiba embodied the successful struggle for human rights, but the journey was not easy, it wasn't pre-ordained. The man went to prison for almost three decades. He split limestone in the heat, he slept in a small cell, and was repeatedly put in solitary confinement. And I remember talking to some of his former colleagues saying how they hadn't realized when they were released, just the sight of a child, the idea of holding a child, they had missed – it wasn't something available to them, for decades.

And yet his power actually grew during those years – and the power of his jailers diminished, because he knew that if you stick to what's true, if you know what's in your heart, and you're willing to sacrifice for it, even in the face of overwhelming odds, that it might not happen tomorrow, it might not happen in the next week, it might not even happen in your lifetime. Things may go backwards for a while, but ultimately, right makes might, not the other way around, ultimately, the better story can win out and as strong as Madiba's spirit may have been, he would not have sustained that hope had he been alone in the struggle, part of buoyed him up was that he knew that each year, the ranks of freedom fighters were replenishing, young men and women, here in South African, in the ANC and beyond; black and Indian and white, from across the countryside, across the continent, around the world, who in those most difficult days would keep working on behalf of his vision.

And that's what we need right now, we don't just need one leader, we don't just need one inspiration, what we badly need right now is that collective spirit. And, I know that those young people, those hope carriers are gathering around the world. Because history shows that whenever progress is threatened, and the things we care about most are in question, we should heed the words of Robert Kennedy – spoken here in South Africa, he said, "Our answer is the world's hope: it is to rely on youth. It's to rely on the spirit of the young."

So, young people, who are in the audience, who are listening, my message to you is simple, keep believing, keep marching, keep building, keep raising your voice. Every generation has the opportunity to remake the world. Mandela said, "Young people are capable, when aroused, of bringing down the towers of oppression and raising the banners of freedom." Now is a good time to be aroused. Now is a good time to be fired up.

And, for those of us who care about the legacy that we honor here today – about equality and dignity and democracy and solidarity and kindness, those of us who remain young at heart, if not in body – we have an obligation to help our youth succeed. Some of you know, here in South Africa, my Foundation is convening over the last few days, two hundred young people from across this continent who are doing the hard work of making change in their communities; who reflect Madiba's values, who are poised to lead the way.

People like Abaas Mpindi, a journalist from Uganda, who founded the Media Challenge Initiative, to help other young people get the training they need to tell the stories that the world needs to know.

People like Caren Wakoli, an entrepreneur from Kenya, who founded the Emerging Leaders Foundation to get young people involved in the work of fighting poverty and promoting human dignity.

People like Enock Nkulanga, who directs the African Children's mission, which helps children in Uganda and Kenya get the education that they need and then in his spare time, Enock advocates for the rights of children around the globe, and founded an organization called LeadMinds Africa, which does exactly what it says.

You meet these people, you talk to them, they will give you hope. They are taking the baton, they know they can't just rest on the accomplishments of the past, even the accomplishments of those as momentous as Nelson Mandela's. They stand on the shoulders of those who came before, including that young black boy born 100 years ago, but they know that it is now their turn to do the work.

Madiba reminds us that: "No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart." Love comes more naturally to the human heart, let's remember that truth. Let's see it as our North Star, let's be joyful in our struggle to make that truth manifest here on earth so that in 100 years from now, future generations will look back and say, "they kept the march going, that's why we live under new banners of freedom." Thank you very much, South Africa, thank you.   ..."