Obama and Racism

In Dreams from My Father and I, Rigoberta Menchu: An Indian Woman in Guatemala

In Dreams from My Father, Barrack Obama wrote about his encounter with racist attitudes, actions, and individuals in great detail. The same treatment was received by Rigoberta Menchu, who recorded it in her book I, Rigoberta Menchu: An Indian Woman in Guatemala. Obama and Menchu address the topic of how race affects a person's sense of self, community, and otherness from different perspectives.

Obama's Identity Crisis

Obama's writing makes it clear that the author begins from a place of confusion and leads the reader through different scenes that explain what identity, community, and otherness really mean. He thinks the identity problem is brought on by his biracial heritage. Obama claims that Malcolm X regretted inheriting white blood through birth since he considered this as inheriting the cruelty and violence associated with racism. Malcolm X's parents were from different races, and that is why he could not identify himself as white or black. Similarly, Obama's father (Barrack Obama Senior) came from Kenya while his mother (Stanley Ann Dunham) was a white from Kansas. Children are identified according to the ancestral lineage of their fathers according to the African traditions. Therefore, Obama was by right an African and not a white man although his mother was white. He was an American citizen and acquired the right by birth. However, trouble began when Obama came of age and realized that one cannot have two racial identities. This problem became serious when he started vying for various leadership positions. He was ridiculed for not being a "full" American for his lack of proper identity. Most of his peers believed he was a black American that did not deserve to come close to leadership positions. Luckily, Obama trounced the identity crisis by acknowledging that nobody can change an individual's identity and that he was proud to be born of parents from both races.

The Role of Community

Secondly, Obama believed that the community plays a significant role in shaping the gender and cultural practices of its members. He grew up in a troublesome environment where racism controlled almost all aspects of life. Obama had witnessed people being humiliated in public because they belonged to the other races. For instance, he was a victim of community racism when a neighbor lady refused to use the same elevator with him even though they lived in the same apartment (Obama 75). Obama was raised in a racist community that did not condone any interracial activities. Another instance that motivated this author to focus on racism was when white children attacked his mother for playing with a black girlfriend. Obama did not believe that his childhood friends could turn against his mother and attack her since she did not condone racism (Obama 18).

Racism and Injustice

Lastly, Obama describes how other races suffered grave injustices compared to what the blacks experienced. The author is a black American and understands the challenges his ethnic members face in the American society. His pains worsened when he witnessed an incidence involving blacks during a basketball match. His coach (a black American man) did not hesitate to mutter the negative aspects associated with the lower class of blacks (Obama 75). The coach believed these people are not only blacks but "niggars". This incident shows the interracial arrogance and meanness that prevailed in Obama's society. The other races in the novel include those not considered as blacks or whites. These people were supposed to be poor, uneducated, violent and lazy.

Menchu's Experience of Racism and Injustice

Rigoberta Menchu experienced racism first-hand and suffered the most brutal acts of this social injustice. Menchu and her family lived in Guatemala as peasants, and this shows the deplorable social and economic conditions that punctuated their lives (Menchu 19). All her known family members (father, mother, and brother) were gunned down by the military officers patrolling the Guatemala region, and nobody was prosecuted or even taken to court after the incident. They were Indians living in Latin America, and this means that their problems were not supposed to bother the authorities. Her family was identified as Indian and not Indian-American, and this means that it came third after the whites and blacks. She had to eat humble pie and learn Spanish to increase her chances of living a better life. She realized being Indian would cause her more pain and that is why she decided to learn Spanish and turn to catechistic work.

Double Injustice and Empowerment

Secondly, Menchu experienced double injustice since she was a black woman. The author explains the pains of the Guatemala Indians during the late 18th century and how the rich treated them less than humans. There is no identity crisis in her novel but the fact that she is Indian exposed her to acts of inhumanity from races perceived to be superior to others. Menchu believed that education and empowerment were the only way out of this inhuman treatment and despair. She worked hard to attain an education that enabled her to work as a catechist. In addition, she joined various civil and political societies that were helpful in fighting racism and oppression (Menchu 33). The evils she witnessed in her society provoked her to write this novel and expose how humans can use race factors to mistreat others. Menchu is a perfect illustration that racism can be fought easily through education and empowerment of communities. She does not wish to see any other person go through what she experienced in Guatemala. Menchu succeeded in her mission of exposing how Guatemala residents were suffering from discrimination and hatred.

Blaming the Victims

Malnutrition and lack of money are some of the leading causes of high mortality rates among the Guatemala Indians. Therefore, this author suggests that people should stop blaming Guatemalans for the lack of family planning. The author argues that Indians get peanuts yet they are forced to work for many hours. The society has failed to appreciate the cheap labor that Indians offer in Guatemala and the surrounding regions but is quick to condemn them for the high population increase. Menchu admits that they (Indians living in Latin America) are poor because the society has discriminated and oppressed them (Menchu 61). They are labeled lazy and hungry, yet they offer cheap labor and work for many hours. Her sense of community and belonging changed as events unfolded in the novel. Her first community was the only people (father, mother, and brother) around her. However, her definition and understanding of community changed from just being the Indians around her to anybody involved in pursuing the course of justice through condemning racism and all forms of oppression.


Barack Obama and Rigoberta Menchu learnt a lot about racism and social injustices from their societies. They both suffered the pains of racism but this did not stop them from achieving their goals in life. Their works are illustrations that racism and other forms of social injustice should not see the light of another day.

Works Cited

Menchu, Rigoberta. I, Rigoberta Menchú: An Indian Woman in Guatemala. New York: Verso

Books, 2010. Print.

Obama, Barrack. Dreams from My Father. New York: Three Rivers Press, 2004. Print.

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