What are the other options? One is that Obama wanted to be thought of as having been born in Kenya, and he deliberately put out false information. Why would he want that? It's not advantageous to his political career, and we know that, if anything, he sought to embed himself more deeply in American culture by going to Chicago and working with poor black people, by attending Jeremiah Wright's church, and even — it's indelicate to say so — by marrying Michelle.
Where's the advantage in being seen as African African? It certainly isn't a way to get affirmative action from law school admissions and appointments committees. They may crudely care mainly about the way their classrooms look and take advantage of African African applicants, but the theories of affirmative action (especially the legal ones) have to do with black people who come from the American culture with its history of discrimination, prejudice, and disadvantage.
Considering that, you might jump to (or closer to) the conclusion that Obama really was born in Kenya. I'm not going there. How would Stanley Ann have traveled to Kenya when she was 18 and pregnant? Where would she have gotten the money? She had a lot of nerve, but would she have thrown herself halfway across the world to put herself, in her most vulnerable time, in a third world hospital? I don't believe it.
I'm as convinced as I need to be that Obama was not born in Kenya. (And I think that, even if he was, he's eligible to be President, since he was an American citizen at birth, being born to an American woman who happened to be traveling.) I'm interested in the possibility that Obama wanted to be thought of as having been born in Kenya. But I'm not going to think that unless I can understand his motivation. As I said above, it would not help him get affirmative action or any mainstream political advantage — quite the opposite. Let's explore the possible motivations: a feeling of alienation from the United States, a desire to connect more deeply to his African roots, a preference for African-style left-wing politics over the American political tradition, perhaps some belief that it's noble to be from Africa.
I can see a way to build a psychic profile of the Obama who dreams of being more truly African. It was in 1989 — 2 years before the publication of the brochure — that Jesse Jackson led a movement to get us to stop saying "black" and start saying "African-American." Here's a contemporaneous NYT article:
The term, used for years in intellectual circles, is gaining currency among many other blacks, who say its use is a sign that they are accepting their difficult past and resolving a long ambivalence toward Africa....
For many, the issue is already settled, not only in their minds but in their hearts. ''Whenever I go to Africa,'' said Roger Wilkins, a senior fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies, ''I feel like a person with a legitimate place to stand on this earth. This is the name for all the feelings I've had all these years.''...
Leaders of the movement... say they want to shift the definition of the group from the racial description black to a cultural and ethnic identity that ties the group to its continent of origin and fosters dignity and self-esteem.
''This is deeper than just name recognition,'' said Mr. Jackson who, along with others, called for the change at a news conference in late December. ''Black tells you about skin color and what side of town you live on. African-American evokes discussion of the world.''...
Hilda Whittington, a Chicago lawyer, has been calling herself an African-American since Mr. Jackson's remarks last month and is now planning a trip to West Africa next year. ''After thinking about it, I kind of like it,'' Mrs. Whittington said. ''We should call ourselves African-Americans and get it over with. This is it for me.''...Nevertheless, I believe the most likely answer is that "born in Kenya" was a mistake, made by some literary agency underling, in a brochure that never inspired close reading, even as the years passed. I mean, there are things in Obama's book that you could pull out today and surprise people with. I was doing that last week. And that book is sitting there in plain sight. Really, it's quite amazing the things we don't notice that are right in front of us.
Now a term that was once considered militant is going mainstream. '''African-American' reflects a post-modern black consciousness,'' said Dr. Roderick Watts, an assistant professor of psychology at Yale University, who last year founded a community group with the name the Association of Agencies Serving African-Americans. ''It has a self-affirming quality that seems to fit right now.''