I Can’t Stop Wondering About Obama’s Mother

Sun, December 16, 2007


I keep wondering what Barack Obama’s mother would think about her son’s presidential campaign. Unfortunately, she’s not around for anyone to ask that question — she died of ovarian cancer in 1995.

But there is one photo I keep seeing again and again of a young Barack and his mother, Ann Dunham. It’s featured in a Time Magazine cover article from earlier this month on Obama — a pretty young woman holding lovingly and protectively on to her young son so he doesn’t fall off the fence he’s perched on top of. It’s really a lovely photo and captures one of those fleeting moments of life and parenthood that are common and special at the same time.

Surely, she would be proud as any mother would be. But I can’t help wondering how she, his Caucasian mother, would react to his campaign’s focus on the African-American part of his heritage?

For better or worse, the color of our skins tends to be a somewhat defining factor in how we are perceived and how we understand ourselves in this country. But aren’t our lives informed just as much by how we were raised and by whom?

Obviously the fact that Obama is the first African-American presidential candidate with a real chance to win the White House is momentous and historically important. If Obama were to become President, the fact that the leader of the free world would, for the first time, be an African-American could only be a positive thing in terms of our discussions and feelings about race in America.

But I can’t help that I want to hear more about how his mother and her family influenced his life, as well. What part of her heritage does he value and how did it influence him as he grew up?

The fact that she raised him almost single-handedly and saw him graduate from Harvard Law School and get elected to the United States Senate says just as much about her as about him. So to understand him better, I’d really like to know more about her — the Midwestern woman who was able to raise a son of such accomplishment in an era of so much racial tension.

Mr. PunditMom thought it was odd that I would be so interested in hearing more about a candidate’s mother. Maybe it’s that photo itself. Maybe it’s my curiosity about the fortitude and strength it undoubtedly took for a white mother to raise a black son in the 1960s. But I think her story would be a fascinating one and would tell me something more about the candidate who may become President Obama.

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11 Responses to “I Can’t Stop Wondering About Obama’s Mother”

  1. Maddy Says:

    That’s an interesting perspective.
    Thank you.

  2. Mary Says:

    Yes, of course.

    Barack Obama’s self-positioning is all the more interesting because African-American memoir (chronicling the disenfranchised’s path to success) is chalk full of mamas who gave their children boots (religion, ethics, discipline) so the kids could pull themselves up by their bootstraps. It wouldn’t be too much to say that revering the mother is a trope within African-American autobiography.

    But if you look at this body of literature, there’s also the equally strong arc of the absent father. Much of Obama’s “Dreams of My Father” fits in with this part of the pattern, too. I’d argue that his first book is a balance between honoring his mother (he ends with this, his debt to her, as his lesson) and seeking his father.

    Anyway. . . I think if Obama focused more on his mother – the mama that persevered and overcame–he would find that this narrative resonates as much with the African-American community (who KNOW this narrative) as with the middle-class white educated group his own mother called home.

    Could be a win-win situation.

  3. jen Says:

    the articles in TIME the last few weeks were pretty good in terms of broaching this from different angles – am glad you also picked up on it and tossed it around some more.

  4. Becky Says:

    After writing the book about his father, I think Obama realized that instead of focusing on the hole (absent father) he needed to look harder at what filled that hole (his mother). I don’t think he would have realized that, though, without traveling the path to learn more about his father. He had to do that to learn more about himself and, in turn, his mother.

    Both his books are good reads … if you haven’t read them yet.

  5. Michele Says:

    I’m with you. I’d like to hear more about his mother as well.

  6. Kay Says:

    As a mom of an adult son I have dwelled over this very question often.
    My son’s father was white, as I am, but we have different nationalities and I would be devastated if my son ignored his ancestory from me. Really devastated.

  7. Gannex Says:

    When the United States elects its first black or female or Jewish president, it will be of no historical significance whatsoever. It will not, as is often supposed, show that America has reached a new level of racial, religious or gender tolerance. If that were the case, then one could look for inspiration to, say, Pakistan, as a haven of gender equality, because Pakistan once had Benazir Bhutto as prime minister. Yet that devoutly Islamic country is hardly a feminist’s nirvana.

  8. Da Martyr Says:

    One thing I’m sure Barack got from his mother was to hate and exclude white men. If she was so willing to betray her race, what makes people think he gives a damn about whites?

  9. Me Says:

    Da Martyr…

    I was almost offended by your comment until I followed your links to your page and saw just who it was coming from. Good thing that’s there, I’d hate to think it was someone intelligent. — I am a single mom and I agree, I would feel slighted if my child seemingly ignored the part of herself that is partly me. He probably owes much of who he is today, to his mom. I know he’s acknowledged this fact but it would be very nice and insightful to hear more of her story.

  10. Da Martyr Says:

    So instead of telling me how you disagree with my statement you simply imply that I’m not intelligent? Good logic.

  11. dramz Says:

    Regardless to who his mother is, he is the president and he made this happen not his mother and he doesnt have to talk about being white cuase hes not. Black genes dominate over any other thats why if you are mixed w black your birth certificate would also say black. Alot of people are upset he won cause he is black and that sounds like a personal problem. And he doesnt have to like white people. Nobody seemed to say anything about all the prejudice white people we had in office. Not saying all of them were prejudice cause thats not true, but many were and some even had slaves.

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