LAST_UPDATESun, 24 Jun 2018 9am

Obama’s Poetic Letters To Ex-Girlfriend Show His Self-Discovery And Struggle With Racial Identity

The world may know him as former United States President, but letters reveal that Barack Obama was like any guy who was trying to find his way in this world.

Emory University, Atlanta, this week, released excerpts of nine love letters when then 20-something Obama was in Columbia University in New York, then in Indonesia, and wrote to his girlfriend in California, Alexandra McNear.

According to AP, the university has had the letters since 2014 but could only make them public now.

In the course of two years from 1982 to 1984, Obama who was striving to make something out of his life found comfort in McNear, “Your call gave me a boost”, “Hearing your voice was like discovering a passage in a book I had read a while ago”; while at work, he remained unsure despite emerging as “one of the ‘promising young men’ of Business International, with everyone slapping my back and praising my work.”

In one of the letters in 1983, Obama clearly sounded vulnerable and displaced, “I feel sunk in that long corridor between old values, actions, modes of thought, and those that I seek, that I’m working towards,” were the cursive words that were penned.

A very poetic Obama also wrote in 1984, “My ideas aren’t as crystallized as they were while in school, but they have an immediacy and weight that may be more useful if and when I’m less observer and more participant.”

Photo: Emory UniversityPhoto: Emory University

From the correspondence, Rosemary M. Magee, the director of the university’s Stuart A. Rose Manuscript, Archives and Rare Book Library, described, “What we learn about is a young man who is yet to become or even dream about becoming President Obama.”

“It’s a story of a journey over a couple of years about a sense of self-understanding, self-definition and his understanding of himself and place in the world,” she adds.

Clearly, a young Obama was grappling to find a purpose in life and which direction he should go, while also lamenting his incompatibility with his ex-girlfriend in 30 pages of letters he wrote to her in the now archived letters.

Andra Gillespie, an associate professor of political science at Emory University said the breakup between the couple was bound to happen as revealed in the letters, they struggled with finding themselves and where they were heading to in the relationship.

“There’s no breakup letter per se, but you can see there are a couple of post-breakup letters. Their relationship, at the point that we’re reading it, is very intellectual and they’re clearly struggling with each other,” Gillespie said.

Expressing his thoughts about their relationship, “It seems we will ever want what we cannot have. That’s what binds us. That’s what keeps us apart,” a confused Obama wrote.

The future president also struggled with his racial identity as he wrote in one letter, “I must admit large dollops of envy for both groups, my American friends consuming their life in the comfortable mainstream, the foreign friends in the international business world.

“Caught without a class, a structure, or a tradition to support me, in a sense the choice to take a different path is made for me.”

And in Indonesia, he felt alienated, as he confessed, “I’m treated with a mixture of puzzlement, deference and scorn because I’m American, my money and my plane ticket back to the U.S. overriding my blackness. I see old dim roads, rickety homes winding back towards the fields, old routes of mine, routes I no longer have access to.”

It is hard to imagine the young man who once wrote those words moved on to become the American president for two terms. And although Obama may have left office in January, a month later, he was ranked 12th greatest president, the best any president has had since Ronald Reagan, according to a recent poll of historians.