After high school in Hawaii, Barack Obama went to Occidental College (1979-1981), a good liberal arts college in Los Angeles. You saw it in the film “Clueless” (1995). He was there two years and then went to Columbia University in New York.
He said he was still drinking and doing drugs, just going through the motions. But then again getting into Columbia could not have been easy. It is one of the top universities in the country.
The blacks at Occidental largely kept to themselves. Obama said it was not because they disliked whites or felt uncomfortable with them, it was just easier that way. With other blacks the whole race thing did not rear its ugly head. But, as it was, they wound up talking about the whole race thing anyway.
There were blacks who mixed with whites. They were mostly middle-class blacks. They thought that if they dressed well, spoke proper English and avoided other blacks that whites would see them as “individuals” and not, say, “niggers”.
Obama could not completely condemn them: he saw parts of himself in them. He was black and middle-class too. In fact, he was doing the very same thing – the only difference was that he came from Hawaii where there were hardly any blacks, so he was trying to fit in with blacks, not whites. But it was the same sad act.
But then one day he met Regina.
She accepted Obama the way he was. He did not have to put on an act for her. She was one of the first to call him Barack instead of Barry. She said Barack was a beautiful name.
She helped him to see the good and honest part of himself and got him to build on that. The look in her eyes told him to push beyond the bitterness: the world is unfair, sure, but people were counting on him to make it better.
Regina was from the South Side of Chicago. She had a rootedness in the black world that Obama could only dream of. Obama was a black American but he had nowhere in black America to call home. He was not from the South Side or Compton or Harlem or West Philly or the South or anywhere like that. But one day he would make the South Side his home and put down roots.
In the second year at Occidental he took part in the divestment campaign: to get Occidental to pull its money out of companies that did business in South Africa. Mandela was still in prison and South Africa was under nakedly white rule.
Obama noticed that people started listening to his opinions, that his words mattered. They asked him to give a speech. He did. It was short and it was simple but it was from the heart. It struck something in people that made them want to hear. Even the Frisbee players stopped throwing their Frisbees and stood and heard.