In my latest reading of Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance, Barack Obama relates the story that his Granny in Kenya told him about his paternal grandfather and his father. On pages 429-430, Obama narrates:
“When my tears were finally spent, I felt a calmness wash over me. I felt the circle finally close. I realized that who I was, what I cared about, was no longer just a matter of intellect or obligation, no longer a construct of words. I saw that my life in America—-the black life, the white life, the sense of abandonment I felt as a boy, the frustration and hope I’d witnessed in Chicago—-all of it was connected with this small plot of earth an ocean away, connected by more than the accident of a name or the color of my skin. The pain I felt was my father’s pain. My questions were my brothers’ questions. Their struggle, my birthright.”
As I read this passage, I thought about the scene at the end of Roots: The Next Generation, in which Alex Haley (played by James Earl Jones) hears about his ancestor Kunta Kinte from a tribal historian in Africa. “You old African!”, Haley exclaims. “I’ve found you. Kunta Kinte, I’ve found you!”
There are people who have disputed the accuracy of parts of Haley’s tale. There are also people who have disputed the accuracy of Obama’s tale in Dreams from My Father, for that matter! But perhaps both of them had a profound experience in which they got in touch with their roots and felt a little less disconnected from the world, as they gained or learned more about their identity.