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Obama’s anthropologist mother

13 February, 2008

Here’s a little article on Barack Obama’s mother, Ann Dunham, that discusses her anthropology studies.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. nursel permalink
    13 February, 2008 10:06 pm

    Barack Obama’s mother sounds very idealistic and inspiring. Youtube had an interview with Barack Obama on 14 November ( Someone from youtube asks him questions about technology, and then US policies. One of the questions is about Africa; about what the Africans can expect from Obama since he has an African father. He gives a very strange answer. He says he is first of all representing US; and says for example if there is a disease in Africa, it can get to US or if there is genocide and violence in Africa it can spring to the US. He means Africa is only instrumental; and as long as it’s not a threat for the safety and security of Americans, it doesn’t matter if it exists or not. It’s understandable that he has some anxiety about his multicultural identity and anxious that maybe Africans may expect too much from him, but anyway his attitude is very disappointing; and I’m sure his anthropologist mother would have been very disappointed about this too

  2. Judy Weintraub permalink
    14 February, 2008 5:54 pm

    This is a response to ‘nursel”s comment. Thank you for the video link.

    You said his mother would be disappointed because he said if an African problem doesn’t threaten the safety of the US, then it doesn’t matter to him. He actually said the opposite. This is why, as you said, you found his answer to the question about African expecations of him to be “very strange.” It would’ve been bizarre if that was what he said, but it wasn’t. In a speech in Wisconsin last night, he said “We ARE our brothers’ keeper.” That’s in direct contradiction to what you think you heard in the video. Listen to it again.

    He was asked by a guy living in Africa if he thought that Africans would have unreasonable expectations of him since he has ties to Africa through his father. He responds saying that when he visited Kenya, there was a sense among some of the Kenyans that because of his ties to Africa, with his position as a US senator, he would be bringing benefits to Kenya, and he says he had to explain to them that as a US senator, he represents Americans and it’s not his role to bestow favors on Kenyans, but he tells them that what he can do for them is to bring the message to Americans that when bad things happen to people in Kenya, this affects Americans too, that diseases in Africa can be spread to Americans for example, or that violence in Africa may spill over into America when people from Africa come to the US, and he says that he wants to help Americans come to appreciate that they are members of a global community and that we are affected by what happens to others throughout the world, and to help others is also to help ourselves at the same time. He will work to help Americans feel that what happens to people in Kenya and all over the world does matter.

    If you listen to the video again, you may hear, especially if you take this together with things Obama has been saying in other venues, that he wants to lead America to be a more caring country, no longer a violent aggressive country, more respectful and collaborative with others, willing to listen and talk rather than resorting immediately to war. You misunderstood if you think Obama said that unless African problems affect Americans, he doesn’t care about them and that they don’t matter. That’s why you thought it was a very strange answer. He’s saying the opposite. He sees his role as a leader of Americans helping to cultivate an American mindset that appreciates the connectedness of all people in the world, and that when others have problems, helping them is also helping ourselves, because of this connection. Listen to the interview again.

    I read the article on Obama’s mother with interest. His background has been pretty vague to me. I think it’s significant that his parents were graduate students when they married, that his father then went to Harvard and was an economist (who was the son of a goat herder), and that his mother married an Indonesian who was an oil company executive (was it an American oil company) and that she became an expert in banking and finance, and held high level consulting positions in major powerful companies. Obama was not exactly from humble beginnings, judging from this story. I guess from hearing in his speeches that his father left when he was 2 and his mother was a single mom and he was raised by grandparents, i had the impression that he had a less affluent upbringing than he apparently had.

    Again, i enjoyed the You Tube interview. I think Obama has excellent leadership qualities and i think the US would be fortunate to have him as a president.

  3. nursel permalink
    15 February, 2008 7:57 pm

    Thanks Judy for providing a wider perspective; he is certainly an idealistic person. When I looked at the youtube interview separately from what he said in other venues, I got such an impression, and thought it was in contradiction with his idealistic image. But some people like me, who are not from US, are always more cautious when it comes to the US leaders considering the circumstances. But I do accept, you have a better and more generous interpretaion; and it’s good to know he said ‘we are our brothers’ keeper’!And actually people outside the US would welcome a US leader with such mentality.

  4. nursel permalink
    19 February, 2008 8:00 pm

    A couple of more things on Barack Obama; I hope he will manage to transform the US society ethically a bit, if he can improve the welfare system including free universal health, it might have positive affect on poor countries etc; but for people outside the US, I think the best think would be to have an international law system binding for all countries backed by powerful international institutions which will prevent any US president whether a cruel one or a kind-hearted one abusing the power the US has. Otherwise it would be like living in peace at the mercy of a kind-hearted king.

  5. 26 February, 2008 2:01 pm

    I took a look at the Obama interview and was mostly impressed by the straight forward nature of his replies. He certainly appears to be the breath of fresh air we all need. I noticed Obama struggled a bit with the question of approving gay marriage, though his closing remark on that subject was one I have not heard put so clearly and elegantly.

    “I think that I want to make sure the state is conferring equal rights on gay folks and marriage may be something that is conferred by a religious institution” (Obama: Hope or Nope – 8th minute).

    So the question of marriage, in a secular society, is one to be dealt with by the church. And the assurance of equal rights, including those that normally follow from marriage, is the responsibility of the state (or the president and his men). Some of the more flexible states, such as Vermont and Connecticut, have bypassed the church and provided civil unions.

    The problem appears to have been dealt with and a solution found and applied by the free thinkers. Why then are politicians still being asked to approve of gay marriage? At most, they should be asked why they have not passed Civil Unions into legislation.

  6. 3 November, 2008 12:16 am

    This is in reply to Judy, re: your comment “Obama was not exactly from humble beginnings, judging from this story.”
    Believe me, these were by no means wealthy or well-off people. Yes, Ann and her 2nd husband met when he was in grad school. He went to work for an oil company much later. When Ann and Mr. Soetoro married (sorry, I can’t remember his first name), they were idealistic — Ann couldn’t afford to sent her son to the wealthy private school, so she got Barack up at the crack of down to study English. Later, Ann’s husband went to work for an oil company — and it made him bitter.
    When Ann Dunham was first at the University of Hawaii, she was also at the East-West Center and so her early schooling would have been funded. That’s how a lot of us non-rich people manage to go to grad school.
    It was Obama’s GRANDMOTHER who worked in banking and finance. She started as a bank clerk.
    I knew the Dunham family in Honolulu because I went to school in anthro at Hawaii AND was funded by the East-West Center. Ann Dunham made some good money at the Ford Foundation, no doubt — but consulting is ephemeral. When you do that kind of overseas work, you work like crazy for a couple of years, save up all you can, and live off of that until the next good position comes along. In Ann Dunham’s case, that meant saving money for the future, for her grad school (she was not with the East-West Center when she was writing her dissertation, so that’s completely unfunded), for her children’s schooling, to give money to her parents. Seriously, these were not well-off people – but they were people who were very serious about how to manage money for a long-term goal. It was an intellectual family in that they were people who were curious, not afraid to explore, people who read, people who had opinions and liked to talk about ideas and events.
    Where you perhaps surprised that he wasn’t “ghetto”?

  7. AstridL permalink
    3 November, 2008 2:20 pm

    I agree with Nursel, I think those of us that are not from America are much more guarded when it comes to American politics/holly-tics, and bearing in mind that governmental policy tends to filter down to public ideology, I think looking at this whole political campaign through an anthropological lens is very useful. The patriotism this campaign is inspiring in U.S. “natives” alone is intriguing – there seems to be a tendency to put figures such as Obama on a pedestal, like J.F.K. and Malcom X, and not unlike Elvis, as Nursel said there is allot of idealism surrounding what seems to be the story of Obama as is embedded in the Obama campaign. When I watch fragments of this political campaign I can’t help but compare the public reaction to a pantomime, where the audience are cued to boo and hiss or clap and cheer… I would almost believe that the American public are so shaped by the ideology related to U.S. holly-tics that they buy in to the hero status of the all-American man, with a fanaticism and patriotism that matches burger munching, hip swivelling, jump suit wearing Elvis fans. I only hope U.S. “natives” do take a cue from what seems to be Obama’s perspective, that the world is bigger then the U.S. and the U.S. is not the centre of the world.

    article of interest………

    the last few paragraphs:

    “In 1999 a prominent Democrat, Howell Raines, chairman and chief executive
    of Fannie Mae, began a program which eased credit requirements for
    lower-income borrowers, especially “minority” applicants. Raines is
    African-American. In 2006, the Government filed suit against Raines to
    recover some of the $US90 million in income he had made at Fannie Mae based
    on overstated company earnings. The suit was settled this year and Raines
    fined about $US1 million.

    Although he is now regarded as a culprit in the credit scandal, Raines is
    an adviser to Senator Obama. His predecessor as chief executive at Fannie
    Mae, James Johnson, is also an adviser to Obama’s advisory team. After
    arriving in Congress, Senator Obama received $US126,349 in campaign
    contributions from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the second-highest amount
    given to anyone in Congress.

    Don’t get too starry-eyed about the magnetic Obama. Modern politics
    requires a calculated political cunning, which he has in abundance. But
    that’s a whole other story.”

  8. AstridL permalink
    3 November, 2008 4:01 pm

    and a further note on tapping into American ideology and Obama’s tactical self-branding in this regard. Obama has a dream…

    “Legendary US rocker Bruce Springsteen wowed a crowd of 80,000 with a rousing set at a rally for Democrat Barack Obama in Cleveland on Sunday on the White House campaign’s final stretch.

    Obama took the stage with his wife Michelle and two young daughters when Springsteen was done, and said there were “a handful of people who enter into your lives through their music and tell the American people’s story”.

    “Bruce Springsteen is one of those people,” he said, before a heavy rainstorm erupted on the open-air crowd of 80,000.

    Springsteen led the sea of people in a full-throated singalong of Woody Guthrie’s folk classic This Land is Your Land.

    Many in the crowd were in tears as the musician wrapped it up with his song The Rising, which refers to the September 11 attacks and is played just before Obama takes the stage at all his rallies.

    “So I don’t know about you, but I want my country back, I want my dream back, I want my America back,” Springsteen exclaimed to deafening cheers.

    He said that it was time to join with Obama, “roll up our sleeves and come on up for the rising”.

    “Our social contract has been shredded. We’re going to need all the angels we can get,” he said, praising “Senator Obama’s efforts to build a house big enough for all our dreams”.

    Renowned for his gritty parables of American working-class life, Springsteen objected bitterly to Republican president Ronald Reagan’s use of his anthem Born in the USA at 1980s campaign rallies.

    The song is actually an angry denunciation of society’s treatment of returning Vietnam War veterans.

    Springsteen, and Obama, will be hoping that their Ohio gig portends a better outcome than befell the Democrats’ 2004 nominee, John Kerry.”

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