March 29, 2009

Tribalism in Dreams from My Father

In Dreams from My Father, Obama makes some questionable comments about tribalism. It's further evidence of how much (or little) he respects Indian tribes.

On pg. 348 he writes:Even Jane or Zeituni could say things that surprised me. "The Luo are intelligent but lazy," they would say. Or "The Kikuyu are money-grubbing but industrious." Or "The Kalenjins--well, you can see what's happened to the country since they took over."

Hearing my aunts traffic in such stereotypes, I would try to explain to them the error of their ways. "It's thinking like that that holds us back," I would say. "We're all part of one tribe. The black tribe. The human tribe. Look what tribalism has done to places like Nigeria or Liberia."
Is this just a comment about African tribes that has no relevance for American tribes? No. On pg. 350 he explicitly compares one African tribe to Indian tribes:[E]ven as treaties had been broken and the Masai had been restricted to reservations, the tribe had become mythologized in its defeat, like the Cherokee or Apache, the noble savage of picture postcards and coffee table books.Let's recap: Judging by Obama's comments about the Masai, Kenya's tribes are in a position similar to America's Indian tribes. Obama thinks tribalism is hurting black Kenyans and they should abandon their tribal "thinking." Why wouldn't he say something similar about similar tribes in America? Same tribal thinking, same problem, right?

This tends to prove my claim and disprove Steve Russell's claim. Obama wasn't just talking about a few tribal bad apples in his Inaugural Address. He's opposed to tribalism and tribes in general. Indians may think organizing themselves into tribes is a good idea, but Obama doesn't.

Of course, Obama's views may have changed over the years. And perhaps he didn't mean to imply the conclusion I've inferred. But perhaps his views haven't changed, and he did.

For more on the subject, see Natives Criticize Obama's Speech and Settling the West in the Inaugural Address.

Below:  Never mind the differences. "We're all part of one tribe. ... The human tribe."


Delux said...

I have not read DOMF yet, but I really, really think you are reaching here. Post colonial European interests who wanted to help themselves to gold, diamonds, and other resources on the continent, have manipulated tribal issues in different ways from what has happened in the US. Colonial powers deliberately split land areas between different ethnic groups with the clear intent of destabilization. Also, are you familiar with the Biafran war? When he talks about Nigeria he is clearly referring to it.

Delux said...

Sorry. That sentence should be "Colonial powers deliberately split countries with imbalanced proportions of different ethnic groups with the clear intent...."

Stephen said...

I do hereby give Barack the handle: NWObama!

Rob said...

I'm vaguely familiar with the Biafran war. I lived through it but I was only a kid at the time.

So you think Obama was denouncing tribalism in Africa but has no qualms about it in America? I haven't heard him make that distinction and it would be odd to do so.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Delux in saying that you are reaching a bit. First for the same arguments that Delux makes, but also because tribalism in Africa and America are not anywhere close to be the same. Tribalism in Africa has definitely held Africans back, I believe that Darfur is a great example of that. Tribal wars keep some african countries divided and corrupt in the goal of keeping a tribe with the upper hand over another.
Native american tribes have not had that problem, there's a greater sense of identity in native tribes. You can't compare the two, and don't believe that Obama would make the mistake of doing so. They are different cultures, have different circumstances as far European colonialism, different history.