By Charles Kanjama
Fredrick Douglass was the foremost Negro leader in 19th century America. He was born a slave in 1817, but managed to escape to the North and obtain freedom in 1838. He dedicated himself to the destruction of slavery, becoming a great orator and spokesman for the Negro.
One of his great speeches, given in 1852 for America’s Independence Day was titled: The meaning of July Fourth for the Negro.
To the White Americans who asked Douglass to celebrate their independence, he responded, “I am not included within the pale of this glorious anniversary!
The blessings in which you this day rejoice are not enjoyed in common. The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity and independence bequeathed by your fathers is shared by you, not by me... This Fourth of July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn.”
Hints of this tension between the Negro and America emerge in Barack Obama’s relationship with his absent Kenyan father.
In Dreams from my Father, Barack reflects on his father’s influence, idealised and transmitted through his mother and grandpa.
“Now there’s something you can learn from your dad,” his grandfather would tell him, “Confidence. The secret to a man’s success.”
And yet, Barack admitted, “At the point where my own memories begin, my mother had already begun a courtship with [another] man, and I sensed without explanation why the photographs [of my father] had to be stored away.
But once in a while, sitting on the floor with my mother, the smell of dust and mothballs rising from the crumbling album, I would stare at my father’s likeness and listen as the events of his life tumbled into a single narrative.”
After growing up, Obama met his half-sister Auma and listened as the dreams from his father were replaced by a sobering reality: “[The Old Man] would stagger in drunk and come into my room and wake me because he wanted company or something to eat.
He would talk about how unhappy he was and how he had been betrayed... One year the Old Man couldn’t even pay my school fees. I was so ashamed, I cried all night.” Maybe it is fate, maybe it is fortune. Yet Barack Obama, whose Kenyan descent was more dream than reality, is now the foremost mirror that shows Kenya to the world.