“My image of Onyango, faint as it was, had always been of an autocratic man—a cruel man, perhaps. But I had also imagined him an independent man, a man of his people, opposed to white rule… What Granny had told us scrambled that image completely, causing ugly words to flash across my mind. Uncle Tom. Collaborator. House nigger.”
In one of the most remarkable passages in Barack Obama’s “Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance,” he uses the terms “collaborator,” “Uncle Tom,” and “House nigger” to describe someone he detests. That someone, it turns out, is his own grandfather! We have a striking phenomenon here: the first African American president using the N-word, and to refer to his own grandfather! Ordinarily this would be occasion for massive comment and analysis, but if there has been any, I am not aware of it.
So what could possibly cause the president to describe his own grandfather in this appalling way? The answer, it turns out, provides an important insight into Obama’s character. The president is not the healer and unifier that he said he was four years ago. Rather, he views people who disagree with him—including members of his own family—in terms of ideological kinship or betrayal. And by Obama’s standard, even his own grandfather is an ideological sellout deserving of insults and abuse.