In his first memoir, “Dreams from My Father,” Obama wrote:
“I ceased to advertise my mother's race at the age of 12 or 13, when I began to suspect that by doing so I was ingratiating myself to whites,”
Although Obama spent various portions of his youth living with his white maternal grandfather and Indonesian stepfather, he vowed that he would “never emulate white men and brown men whose fates didn't speak to my own. It was into my father’s image, the black man, son of Africa, that I’d packed all the attributes I sought in myself, the attributes of Martin and Malcolm, DuBois and Mandela.”
Obama wrote that in high school, he and a black friend would sometimes speak disparagingly “about white folks this or white folks that, and I would suddenly remember my mother's smile, and the words that I spoke would seem awkward and false.”
As a result, he concluded that “certain whites could be excluded from the general category of our distrust.”
During college, Obama disapproved of what he called other “half-breeds” who gravitated toward whites instead of blacks. And yet after college, he once fell in love with a white woman, only to push her away when he concluded he would have to assimilate into her world, not the other way around. He later married a black woman.
Such candid racial revelations abound in “Dreams,” which was first published in 1995, when Obama was 34 and not yet in politics. By the time he ran for his Senate seat in 2004, he observed of that first memoir: “Certain passages have proven to be inconvenient politically.”
Thus, in his second memoir, “The Audacity of Hope,” which was published last year, Obama adopted a more conciliatory, even upbeat tone when discussing race. Noting his multiracial family, he wrote in the new book: “I’ve never had the option of restricting my loyalties on the basis of race, or measuring my worth on the basis of tribe.”
This appears to contradict certain passages in his first memoir, including a description of black student life at Occidental College in Los Angeles.
“There were enough of us on campus to constitute a tribe, and when it came to hanging out many of us chose to function like a tribe, staying close together, traveling in packs,” he wrote. “It remained necessary to prove which side you were on, to show your loyalty to the black masses, to strike out and name names.”
He added: “To avoid being mistaken for a sellout, I chose my friends carefully. The more politically active black students. The foreign students. The Chicanos. The Marxist professors and structural feminists.”
Obama said he and other blacks were careful not to second-guess their own racial identity in front of whites.
After graduating from college, Obama eventually went to Chicago to interview for a job as a community organizer. His racial attitudes came into play as he sized up the man who would become his boss.
“There was something about him that made me wary,” Obama wrote. “A little too sure of himself, maybe. And white.”