At our Christmas get-together I asked my brother and my sister-in-law: “So, what do you know about Obama’s mother?” – “His father was Black and came from Kenya, and she was white and died of cancer,” was their answer, more or less. “Why do you ask?”
“Obama’s mother, Stanley Ann Dunham Soetoro, was an anthropologist and wrote an 800-page long dissertation. Moreover, she was one of the earliest campaigners for micro-credits for women.” They hadn’t heard any of this before I told them, only again and again the sad story of her fight against American medical insurance providers before her early death from cancer – and how that had motivated Obama to work for reform of the US health care system.
I too had only learned more about her by chance, from an anthropologist friend who had campaigned actively for Obama, while Joey and I were of course Hillary-supporters. To console us for the fact that she wasn’t nominated, and at the same time do some advertising for his own field, he sent us an article by his colleage Ruth Behar on the anthropological origins of the luminous Obama, implanted by his mother the anthropologist.
Obama about his mother: “She was the dominant figure in my formative years... The values she taught me continue to be my touchstone when it comes to how I go about the world of politics."
During this past year I’ve occupied myself intensively with the origins of anthropology, in particular with the lovers Ruth Benedict (1887-1948) and Margaret Mead (1901-1978). Their fruitful collaboration in the 1930’s and 40’s gave us nothing less than the theoretical bases for overcoming racism, homophobia (Benedict) and sexism (Mead).
Fully in the spirit of their fine convictions, Obama’s mother did something in the 1960’s that was outrageous for the time and for American middle-class culture: she married a Black African, and after he abandoned the family she married an Indonesian, the father of Obama’s half-sister Maya Soetoro-Ng.
The academic teacher and mentor of Benedict and Mead was Franz Boas, father of modern anthropology. The German Jew Boas (1858-1942) had already left Germany in the 1880’s out of disgust at the anti-semitism of the Kaiserreich, and when Hitler came to power the 75-year-old did everything he could to warn the world of Hitler’s deadly intentions and to support his persecuted Jewish compatriots.
To sum up: Boas, Benedict and Mead founded modern cultural anthropology. Obama’s mother raised him in the spirit of this cutural anthropology: she taught him respect for other cultures, readiness to defend the weak, empathy, the ability to listen, curiosity, openness for the Other and the striving – so typical for Obama – to transcend rather than to harden differences. Thus Obama’s world-embracing and unifying charisma can ultimately be traced back to a German Jew in exile and his brilliant students Benedict and Mead, two American lesbians.
Jewish, Black, female, lesbian – all the world’s marks of inferiority stand behind and inspire the bearer of hope Obama. Peacefully united and proud, they lie at the source of his moral and intellectual foundations.
As all the world could see, America has just taken a giant step toward overcoming racism. Homophobia and sexism must still be overcome in order that the legacy of Boas, Benedict and Mead, as well as of Obama’s mother, can be fully realized. And there is still a lot to do: Obama’s cabinet includes 4 women and 20 men (16 percent); Angela Merkel’s cabinet at least has 7 women and 10 men (41 percent). There are no open lesbians or gays in either Obama’s or Merkel’s cabinet.
(trans. from German: Joey Horsley)
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