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In this research essay, I will be writing about Barack Obama, and his book, Dreams From my Father. The environment in which someone grows up can greatly influence one’s culture and identity. This multicultural topic will be the main focus of this paper. I will write about how the settings that Barack Obama was exposed to affected his cultural development, as well as his future career success. I will also look into how Obama’s biracial experience fits into the African-American experience in the United States. Lastly, I will write about the different cultures that have shaped Barack Obama into the person he is, and why the acknowledgement of these cultures is important. First, I will give some background information on Barack Obama’s upbringing.    Barack Obama was born on August 4th 1961, in Honolulu, Hawaii. He was born to Ann Dunham, and Barack Obama, Sr. Obama’s father left their family when he was just two years old and moved to Kenya. His parents divorced soon after he moved. After their divorce, Obama’s mother married a man named Lolo Soetoro, who was a foreign exchange student at the University of Hawaii. When Obama turned six, his mother, step father, and he, moved to Indonesia, where he attended several Catholic and Muslim schools. When Obama turned ten, his mother decided that he should get a better education, so she sent him to live with his grandparents in Hawaii. There he attended Hawaii’s Punahou School from fifth grade all the way through high school. After graduating from high school, Obama moved from Hawaii to California and began attending Occidental College in Los Angeles. He stayed there throughout his freshman and sophomore years, then decided to transfer to Colombia University in New York City for the remaining two years (Allen, 2007). After graduating from college, he spent one year in New York working at a global business consulting firm. He then moved to Chicago where he began working as a community organizer. He worked most prominently in Chicago’s poor, south side. He decided that he could not do the work he wanted to do in Chicago without a law degree, so in 1988, Obama enrolled in Harvard Law and graduated Magna Cum Laude. After completing law school, Obama began to write his memoir, Dreams from my Father (Kakutani, 2009).  While Obama was working as a community organizer in Chicago, he talks about how this was his first deep immersion into the African American community he had longed to both understand and belong to. He often talks about the reasons he moved to Chicago in the first place. He chose to move to Chicago because he believed that he needed to go find himself as an African-American man (McCrum, 1995).  He writes in his book, Dreams From My Father, about how if he continued to live in Hawaii, he would not get the chance to discover who he is, and dive deeper into his culture, in an attempt to know more about it (p. 147). He immediately became involved in the poorer, predominantly black, areas of Chicago. Helping the people there, wanting to do everything he could for them. Even going so far as to go to law school so he would be better equipped to fight for their rights. He got very involved in Chicago, and started to learn more about who he was. Chicago was where he started to form his identity as a black man living in the United States. Which is something he had longed for, for a long time (Stein, 2014). In a documentary on ABC news, Obama said about the young black men in America “I always see myself in them. I do know what it means to come of age uncertain about your place and not clear about what it means to become a man and not having as much guidance, despite the extraordinary love of my mom and my grandparents, and getting in trouble and making bad decisions. It’s useful for them to hear from somebody who’s come out on the other side of it that the challenges they are going through are not exceptional”. Barack Obama’s upbringing was somewhat different than the upbringing that many African American individuals experience while living in the United States. As culturally diverse as Hawaii was, there was not a large African American population. This caused some confusion for Obama while he was thinking about his culture, and who he was as an individual (Allen, 2007). In his book, Dreams From My Father, Obama writes “Away from my mother, away from my grandparents, I was engaged in a fitful interior struggle. I was trying to raise myself to be a black man in America, and beyond the given of my appearance, no one around me seemed to know exactly what that meant” (p. 76). This quote portrays the difficulties he was facing in not knowing what it meant to be a black man, because of the limited African-American population he grew up around. He was seen as black because of the color of his skin, but he was raised in a very different setting than most African American Individuals. Consequently, he was struggling with what that meant for him as a person overall (Picone, 2011). He is seen as contemplating his culture in his book, Dreams from my father. In his school, he was one of the only African-American students, and he wrote about how his classmates would look at him differently because of it. Although there were many different races in his school, there were not many African-American people who went there. In his book, he writes about how kids would often laugh at his name. Another thing he discussed about his school days was how his black friends would accuse white people of mistreating others. This caused an internal struggle for him since he was raised by a white mother and white grandparents, but he himself was a black man (Mastey, 2009). Another author who has faced similar difficulties as Obama in understanding their culture, is Victor Villanueva. He writes about the issue of not feeling like you fully belong to a certain race, because you have grown up in much different ways than them, and you are culturally different than them.   It is clear to see how growing up in this kind of setting could affect someone’s view of culture and make them question who they are.  Barack Obama is mixed with many different cultures, he is the definition of a multicultural individual. He lived in Indonesia for a few years, where he learned many new practices and cultures of the people who lived there. He attended a Catholic and Muslim school while living in Indonesia, which influenced him in many ways (Gordon, 2008). He had a Kenyan father, and a white mother, whose races came into play in his life while he was contemplating who he was as a multicultural individual (Allen, 2007). His step-father Lolo, also imposed some cultural influence on him. In his book, Dreams From My Father, he wrote “With Lolo, I learned how to eat small green chili 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” (p. 37). This shows the different cultural norms that Lolo taught Obama.  The issue of people looking only at the color of your skin, and judging you because of it, is something that many people of mixed race deal with. The 2008 U.S. presidential election brought Barack Obama’s mixed-race heritage into the public eye. Obama was the son of a Black father from Kenya and a White mother from Kansas. Pictures of Obama with his White grandmother showed his mixed-race heritage, yet people saw him as only a black man, many people failed to acknowledge that he was mixed with multiple different cultures that make him who he is (Setyowati, 2014). This issue relates Obama to many mixed-race individuals. Frequently, people will look at the color of an individual’s skin, and neglect to think about the culture that might make up who that person is. They fail to realize that people are more than just the color of their skin. During the Democratic National convention of 2004, Obama said about his culture “I was raised as an Indonesian child and a Hawaiian child and as a black child and as a white child. And so what I benefited from is multiplicity of cultures that all fed me”.  During an interview with ABC news, Obama said “I still remember when I was 10 years old walking into the elevator, and there was a woman who I thought knew me, and as soon as I walked on — and she lived on my grandparent’s floor — when I walked on, she got off.  And I was puzzled. I said, ‘Do you want to come up?’ And she said no. And then I went up, and then I saw the elevator go back down, and I just kind of peeked out the peephole, and I could see she came right back up but was just worried about riding the elevator with me.” This experience of racism is something that relates Obamas experience with the experiences of millions of other African American individuals in the United States. This is just another example of how people view your skin color, and judge you because of it. This concept also relates to how some African American people have seen Obama as ‘not black enough’.  During Obama’s early political career, he engaged in a primary challenge against Bobby Rush. Bobby Rush was a former Black Panther leader, and was much more well-known than Obama was at that time. Obama’s upbringing, as well as his association with “white” universities, such as Harvard, Chicago and Columbia, made the public question his authenticity as a black man (Mastey, 2009). They believed that he would not be able to relate to them and fight for their rights as well as Bobby would be able to. Thus, Bobby was seen as a more qualified individual to advocate for black rights than Obama was. As a result, Obama did not win this primary (Picone, 2011).  Obama had chances that many African-American individuals do not get. He went to a prestigious high school, and went on to go to some of the top universities in the Country. It can be argued that the ways in which he grew up, in the setting he grew up in, affected his career success. If he grew up in a different setting, he may not have achieved the political success that he has, and he may not have been able to attend the prestigious schools that he was able to attend. This is important to look at because it portrays how a certain setting might make you more likely to succeed. He was raised in a white middle class setting, therefore, he was given opportunities that a lot of white people also get. Another element of his setting, was that he grew up around several different races and cultures, and was not often racially discriminated against, which is something many African-American individual’s in the United States cannot say. However, he also faced some hardships in his life. He, like so many other people, did not really know who he was, or what it meant to be a black individual living in the United States. Many African-American people in the united states face so many struggles that Obama cannot relate to. Obama, being so involved in helping poor, struggling communities, finds that he is not really able to relate to the people of these communities, and their struggles, because he did not grow up in the same setting that they did. As a result, he has written about the guilt this makes him feel (Stein, 2011). However, since he was put in such a powerful position, he is now able to help the less fortunate, and fight against the issue of racism in the United States. He is someone who cares about the issues of less fortunate people, despite the fact that he was raised in a completely different upbringing than most of them, and that is very important. Next is a quote from Obama’s keynote address at the 2004 Democratic National Convention that solidifies this point. “If there’s a child on the south side of Chicago who can’t read, that matters to me, even if it’s not my child. If there’s a senior citizen somewhere who can’t pay for their prescription, who has to choose between medicine and the rent, that makes my life poorer – even if it’s not my grandparent. If there’s an Arab-American or Mexican-American family being rounded up by John Ashcroft without benefit of an attorney or due process, I know that that threatens my civil liberties. And I don’t have to be a woman to be concerned that the Supreme Court is trying to take away a woman’s right, because I know that my rights are next. It is that fundamental belief – I am my brother’s keeper, I am my sister’s keeper – that makes this country work”. In conclusion, Barack Obama has many different cultures that shape him into who he is. He is mixed with white, black, Hawaiian, and Indonesian culture. He is the definition of a multicultural individual. Barack Obama was raised in a predominantly white, middle class setting. This setting greatly influenced his future career and success. Being raised in the way he was, opened up many opportunities to him, and allowed him to attend some of the top universities in the country. This also allowed him to be able to help some of the less fortunate people in this country, and fight for their rights. Although he was raised in a different setting than many African-American people, his biracial experience fits into the African-American experience in the United States. Many people view only the color of your skin, and judge you because of it, no matter what kind of upbringing you come from. I think this is something that connects Obama’s biracial experience to every other African-American person’s in this country. No matter how much culture someone may have, people will usually just pay attention to your skin tone, and neglect the rest.   

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