February 16, 2008

How does he do that thing he does?

This afternoon I started Barack Obama's autobiography, Dreams from My Father. By page 67 and the age of 10, he had already been around the world and back, picking up many lessons and a bit of CQ to add to his IQ that speak to his success today.

On his mother's side, he had a pair of middle-class high school educated grandparents from Kansas who migrated to Hawaii via Texas and California. On his father's side, a tribe elder, respected farmer and medicine man from Kenya. His father and mother met in Hawaii, where his father had had come to study on a scholarship, married and had Barack jr. before he received another opportunity at Harvard, divorced and returned to Kenya, took up another wife and had six more children.

His mother re-married an Indonesian student in Hawaii and followed him back to his country with Barack when he was six years old, where they lived as a family until he returned to Hawaii and his grandparents for middle school.

Those CQ enhancing years years immersed in Indonesian (not expat) life left their mark as his mother wrestled with the fine line between adaptation and defining your home-country's cultural values -- she strongly wanted Barack to grow up with an American mindset and sensed the forces of Indonesian cultural values on his young mind.

As he recounts, she would list the values he was to learn:
Honesty (that hiding the refrigerator when the tax officials come is not ok even if the tax officials and everyone else expects you to do just that),
Fairness (good grades in exchange for a TV set to the teacher during Ramadan should not be a source of pride),
Straight Talk (don't lie about liking a gift if then you don't use it) and Independent Judgement (don't join the crowd and tease another kid for a funny haircut).

As she fought to transfer Kansas ways to her son, the reality of poverty, corruption and fear of security that lay all around young Barack, bred a realistic, fatalistic scepticism to counteract her efforts. She had that undying American belief that "rational, thoughtful people could shape their own destiny" that was not reflected in daily Indonesian life. She enlisted the image of his African father, the Black American heros of the day and the civil rights movement to strenthen her case that his roots and values lay elsewhere.

In this article on, "How Obama Does That Thing He Does", University of Oregon professor of rhetoric David A. Frank unravels the mystery of Obama's spellbinding oration that leaves listeners unsure of what he said, but convinced by what he means. "Obama relies, Frank writes, on a "rhetorical strategy of consilience, where understanding results through translation, mediation, and an embrace of different languages, values, and traditions."

"Obama disarms race for white people by largely avoiding the topic. When he does talk about race, he makes sure to juxtapose the traumas experienced by nonblacks with those experienced by African-Americans, but without ever equating the two. His rhetoric is designed to bridge the space between whites and blacks so they can occupy a place where common principles reside and the "transcendent value of justice," as Frank writes, can be shared.

A little CQ can go a long way!

a domani,


Jadie said...

Hey, I voted for Obama, too! And for exactly the reasons you have just described. It is TIME for a U.S. president who has lived in another culture, comes from two different worlds. No more of this ridiculous idiocy we've had the last 7 years. My fellow Americans have voted as a sad and sorry lot. Let's hope it won't happen again.

nyc/caribbean ragazza said...

Very interesting post. I also read his book. During the early part of his campaign some older African-American leaders questioned his "blackness". I think this world view is so narrow minded. Barack's background has made him the person he is today. Now that the majority of African-Americans are supporting Barack, the same "leaders" are very quiet.