Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Quote of the Day: Barack Obama on Reading Critically

A 1950 edition.
‘“Sister Regina,” Marcus said. “You know Barack, don’t you? I’m trying to tell Brother Barack here about this racist tract he’s reading.”

He held up a copy of Heart of Darkness, evidence for the court. I reached over to snatch it out of his hands.

“Man, stop waving that thing around.”

“See there,” Marcus said, “Makes you embarrassed, don’t it—just being seen with a book like this. I’m telling you, man, this stuff will poison your mind.” He looked at his watch. “Damn, I’m late for class.” He leaned over and pecked Regina on the cheek. “Talk to this brother, will you? I think he can still be saved.”

Regina smiled and shook her head as we watched Marcus stride out the door. “Marcus is in one of his preaching moods, I see.” I toss the book in my backpack.

“Actually, he’s right,” I said. “It is a racist book. The way Conrad sees it, Africa’s the cesspool of the world, black folks are savages, and any contact with them breeds infection.”

Regina blew on her coffee. “So why are you reading it.”
“Because it’s assigned.” I paused, not sure if I should go on. “And because—“

“And because the book teaches me things,” I said. “About white people, I mean. See, the book’s not really about Africa. Or black people. It’s about the man who wrote it. The European. The American. A particular way of looking at the world. If you can keep your distance, it’s all there, in what’s said and what’s left unsaid. So I read the book to help me understand just what it is that makes white people so afraid. Their demons. The way ideas get twisted around. It helps me understand how people learn to hate.”’

— Barack Obama recounting a college experience in Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance.

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