December 25, 2013

"I noticed that there was nobody like me in the Sears, Roebuck Christmas catalog that Toot and Gramps sent us, and that Santa was a white man."

"I kept these observations to myself, deciding that either my mother didn’t see them or she was trying to protect me and that I shouldn’t expose her efforts as having failed. I still trusted my mother’s love — but I now faced the prospect that her account of the world, and my father’s place in it, was somehow incomplete."

Wrote Barack Obama in his memoir "Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance." Later, his father does find a place in his world at Christmas time, and it's like this:

One evening, I turned on the television to watch a cartoon special—How the Grinch Stole Christmas—and the whispers broke into shouts.

“Barry, you have watched enough television tonight,” my father said. “Go in your room and study now, and let the adults talk.”

Toot stood up and turned off the TV. “Why don’t you turn the show on in the bedroom, Bar.”

“No, Madelyn,” my father said, “that’s not what I mean. He has been watching that machine constantly, and now it is time for him to study.”

My mother tried to explain that it was almost Christmas vacation, that the cartoon was a Christmas favorite, that I had been looking forward to it all week. “It won’t last long.”

“Anna, this is nonsense. If the boy has done his work for tomorrow, he can begin on his next day’s assignments. Or the assignments he will have when he returns from the holidays.” He turned to me. “I tell you, Barry, you do not work as hard as you should. Go now, before I get angry at you.”

I went to my room and slammed the door, listening as the voices outside grew louder, Gramps insisting that this was his house, Toot saying that my father had no right to come in and bully everyone, including me, after being gone all this time. I heard my father say that they were spoiling me, that I needed a firm hand, and I listened to my mother tell her parents that nothing ever changed with them. We all stood accused, and even after my father left and Toot came in to say that I could watch the last five minutes of my show, I felt as if something had cracked open between all of us, goblins rushing out of some old, sealed-off lair. Watching the green Grinch on the television screen, intent on ruining Christmas, eventually transformed by the faith of the doe-eyed creatures who inhabited Whoville, I saw it for what it was: a lie. I began to count the days until my father would leave and things would return to normal.


SomeoneHasToSayIt said...

Wrote Barack Obama in his memoir . . .

I do not believe that statement should be written as an assertion.
Too many questions out there for it to so qualify.

Better would be something like "It says in Barack Obama's memoir . . . "

Anonymous said...

My Christmas Wish of an Obama-Free day has Been Dashed. and Donnered. and Blixened. Etc.

Mid-Life Lawyer said...

Or "I Have Major Daddy Issues" by Barry Soetoro.

madAsHell said...

I went to my room and slammed the door

He still does to this very day.

Merry Christmas to all !!

EDH said...

Thinking back to my own experience, it's amazing how many instances of domestic discord (not just in my family) I can remember that took place against the backdrop of 1960s holiday TV specials.

In fact, I can even remember us naming the incidents after something from the program.

The Christmas cartoon and the damage done!

Beldar said...

Haven't researched it much, but I do note this, from Sears' own History of the Sears Catalog:

"The 1903 catalog included the commitment 'Your money back if you are not satisfied,' and Richard Sears added a handwritten note to his customers. Always looking to cater to customer needs, Sears employed translators who could 'read and write all languages.' He featured new items such as barber chairs, disc graphophones, and basketballs and goals (hoops). The next year he sold the Eveready searchlight and the babygate, and the company announced the opening of the Sears camera factory. The wig department added wigs for African-American men and women."

I would make a large wager that before ghost-writing these lines, Obama's buddy, anti-American terrorist friend Bill Ayers didn't actually do any research to check on whether Sears directed any of its marketing efforts to black people in the 1960s.

Michael K said...

I'm with Betamax. THis is not the day to mention Barak the Magnificent.

Beldar said...

Obama was born in 1961. At least by the 1975 Christmas catalog -- when Obama would have been about junior-high age -- Sears was running ads like this one. (Image from this webpage.)

I just assume now that everything said by or even attributed to Obama is at least partially untrue, most of it deliberately or at least recklessly so. That seems to be a statistically valid assumption, but of course some people still believe in him, and in unicorns.

Beldar said...

As to whether Chicago-based Sears was a good or bad choice to illustrate reflexive and intrinsic racism in America, consider, too, this info (again drawn from Sears' corporate history on its website:

"After [Julius] Rosenwald stepped down as Sears president in 1924 [he remained its chairman until 1932], he devoted most of his time to philanthropy. Over the course of his life, he donated millions of dollars to public schools, colleges and universities, museums, Jewish charities and black institutions.

"Of all his philanthropic efforts, Rosenwald was most famous for the more than 5,000 'Rosenwald schools' he established throughout the South for poor, rural black youth, and the 4,000 libraries he added to existing schools. The network of new public schools subsequently employed more than 14,000 teachers. In 1927, Rosenwald received a special gold medal from the William E. Harmon Awards for Distinguished Achievement in Race Relations for his contributions to the education of black youth."

Beldar said...

Maybe Toot and Gramps didn't send young Obama the latest issue of "Ebony" when Obama was 10, but by 1971 Sears was running ads like this one.

I'm not arguing that there was a thoughtful and demographically perfect mix of black and white faces in American advertising when Obama was a child. But "nobody like me" is almost certainly an exaggeration, as is almost every other attempt to manufacture a history in which Obama was a victim of racism.

Skeptical Voter said...

Why the heck would Obozo let facts get in the way of his narrative? He's a man who believes that giving a speech is the same as getting something done. I imagine that out on the links, he talks to the golf ball and expects that it will find its way into the cup. Scores 18 holes in one every round that way.

SomeoneHasToSayIt said...

I noticed that there was nobody like me in the Sears, Roebuck Christmas catalog that Toot and Gramps sent us, and that Santa was a white man.

Could there be a more unintentionally revealing indictment than that [sad] statement?

With him, it is ALWAYS about the messenger, never the message.

The epitome of the forever clueless.

Bob Boyd said...

Nothing like a big slug of yesterday's pablum on a bright Christmas morning.

campy said...

“I tell you, Barry, you do not work as hard as you should. Go now, before I get angry at you.”

Yeah, still current.

Howard said...

Someone turn a hose on Beldar, he's ripping that guy to shreds.

Will Cate said...

100% fiction.

Bob Boyd said...

by "nobody like me" he meant with a halo.

Humperdink said...

I suspect Barry's biggest disappointment with the Sears catalog was that it didn't carry a full line of golf clubs.

John said...

I am confused. Who is "my father" in this piece?

Obama's father,Barrack Obama Senior, saw his son once, in 1971. This seems to take place in 1974.

When Obama/Ayers says "my father" he can't mean him since he was not present.

Did he mean Lolo Soetero, his stepfather? Doesn't seem like it since by 1974 he had been out of the picture for 3 years and Obie was living in HI with his grandparents.

Did he mean his grandfather?

Without knowing who his "father" is in this piece, it makes no sense to me whatever.

I keep thinking that I need to read this book. I also keep thinking I need a proctoscopy too.

Not sure which one I want to put off more.

John Henry

pm317 said...

Baloney from a rich well fed guy. Ask that FL black kid who begged someone to adopt him and give him a normal life. Obama's mom didn' t see the color of his dad. But all Obama does is see color in everything. How unfortunate!

William said...

Obama does not, as Hemingway would say, work close to the horns. Does his anger at his father bleed over onto a white patriarchal society, or are the dynamics vice versa?.....At any rate growing up black in Hawaii and Indonesia was more likely to make him feel special rather than different. His life had a certain amount of chaos but not so much in the way of suffering.

Joe said...

From 1971 sears catalog: check out the guy with the 'fro:

Scroll down for the black women in red; she has the nicest outfit:

I had to include this: An 18 inch color TV for "only" $369.95! That's about $2,128.98 in inflation adjusted dollars.

Ann Althouse said...

The two excerpts are from different parts of the book. The second part is indeed time spent with his bio father.

Beldar said...

Just before the language Professor Althouse quoted about the Sears, Roebuck catalog, "Dreams from My Father" asserts:

"I began to notice that Cosby never got the girl on I Spy ...."

I guess that might depend on how Clintonesque a parsing one gives to the word "get." Or maybe Barry missed this episode.

I wonder if there's even one entire paragraph in "Dreams From My Father" that is entirely true.

John said...


I don't know if this is true for the whole catalog, but looking at the few pages you posted, blacks seem way over represented, statistically.

I believe that blacks made up about 13% of the populations.

In the picture of the guy with the fro, he is 1 of 7 or 14%. So about right, though slightly on the high side.

The woman in red was 1 of 3 or 33.3%

It would be interesting to do an analysis of the entire catalog to see if Obie is full of shit once again.

Oh, Hell. We already know the answer to that, don't we?

John Henry

David said...

Someone alert Megan Kelley. Even Obama says she was right.

Howard said...

Beldar, although I'm not typically one to follow the latest trend, you have won the internets for the last five years. Incredible to think how incurious the media has all been.

Bob Boyd said...


Which asshole to peer into?
Your own.
The proctoscope never lies.

While we're on the subject:

SteveR said...

Poor boy, no wonder he grew up with such a horrible attitude. No opportunity, no privilege, no benefits. Hell he didn't even look like his mother and grandparents since we are resorting to the most simplistic criteria possible.

Joe said...

RE: I Spy

Watched most of the episodes a few years back. As is common, when it was good it was very good, but it tended to be rather forgettable. I recall that Culp rarely got the girl, so the criticism is pointless.

(It's clearly implied in the show that Kelly is getting action, but that would go over the head of a four-year-old. Oh yeah, what four-year-old remembers TV, let alone that one isn't getting the girl? Or that there is a point in "getting" the girl?)

MathMom said...

@John Henry -

I read his book. Got it from the library, because I don't want to encourage Barky to try to get Bill Ayers to write another one for him.

It took me six weeks to slog through it, but it was worth it, because the library got the benefit of the hefty late fines I paid.

You should read it. If you are like me, you'll see a damaged, twice abandoned, emotionally needy, poorly-parented child, whose (possibly) only good example in life came from Toot. And to fix this gaping hole in his soul, he sucks adulation out of crowds, but remains empty.

He should be playing out his personal drama in a counselor's office, not in the Oval Office.

SomeoneHasToSayIt said...

If you want to have a good laugh, check out the patronizing lengths Madison Av goes to in today's TV commercials, regarding portraying Blacks.

They are almost always the wise ones, smartest person in the room, the CEO, the stock broker, the entrepreneur, in intact families with middle class values, and totally integrated into all gatherings, be it watching football at someone's house, out at the bar, backyard parties. EVERYONE has Black friends who look happy to be there.

It's ridiculous wishcasting.

Beldar said...


I actually remember that episode of "I Spy." In 1967, when it aired, I was a nine-year-old in the panhandle of West Texas, and I thought Bill Cosby was the coolest guy on TV. I was a nerdy, serious kid who identified much more closely with Cosby's character, who was a serious and capable spy; and it was indeed Culp's character who was the playboy, but that didn't resonate with me at my age. As both Cosby and Culp have always said (then and subsequently), their intention with "I Spy" was to make a statement about race precisely by never focusing on race -- and they succeeded. That superb example, though, was obviously lost on Barack Obama.

Indeed, I was such a Bill Cosby fan that after weeks of wheedling, I persuaded my mom to let me subscribe to the Columbia Records Club specifically so I could get Bill Cosby's latest comedy albums before the were available in our local record store. I memorized every word, every inflection, of every one of his comedy routines; as an amusing interlude during my parents' bridge parties, they'd call me in and have me recite "Noah" or "Right" for their guests.

Of course, Bill Cosby went on to become "America's Dad" -- neither because, nor much in spite, of the fact that he's black. He's still one of my heroes. Our President isn't.

Humperdink said...

I saw Bill Cosby perform live this past January in our one horse town in NW Pa. Packed house, of course. 99.9% white audience. The .01% was our guest from New York.

I have never laughed so hard, for so long, in my life. The man still has it @ 76.

Race was never mentioned.

RigelDog said...

There is no way he personally wrote these passages; so stark, so lyrical. The episode rings true, though. My heart aches sometimes for little boy whose parents couldn't get far enough away from him.

Michael K said...

I listened to Cosby albums, too. The guy is amazing and no mention of race that I ever heard. His routine about electricity is still one of the best.

lemondog said...

Waahhhhhhh. Well boo hoo Barry.

Sears 1974 catalog:

Do I see black people?

Questionable taste but how about this?

Browndog said...

Yes, young Barry was quite the deep thinker. So deep, so melodramatic (without the drama), he stood above and apart from the mere mortals that did not internalize every single emotion and circumstance, and apply them to a greater theoretical meaning of Mankind.

Bill Ayers has quite the flair when penning the life and times of another.

Beldar said...

The horse I'm beating is long since dead, but FWIW:

Here's the entire sentence I quoted earlier (12/25/13, 12:04 PM), which appears just before the "Sears/Santa" reference Prof. Althouse quoted from "Dreams From My Father" in the title of this post:

"I began to notice that Cosby never got the girl on I Spy, that the black man on Mission Impossible spent all his time underground."

I'm pretty sure that were he still alive, that assertion would've surprised and offended Greg Morris, whose Mission Impossible TV character from 1966 to 1973, Barney Collier, not only was shown above ground but also sometimes got the girl.

Of course the late actor Ivan Dixon, whose character played Sgt. James 'Kinch' Kinchloe in Hogan's Heroes from 1965 through 1970, was -- like Bob Crane and the rest of the "Heroes" -- often underground, in tunnels. Maybe young Mr. Obama (or his ghost-writer) have just gotten confused over who was whom in what TV series.

Joe said...

Barney was the key to the Mission Impossible team. Phelps came up with ridiculous plans, Rollin and Cinnamon were great, but replaceable; without Barney few of their plans would have worked.

Beldar said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Joe said...

The Golden Age Of Blacks In Television: The Late 1960s

In the 1970s, there was "Sanford and Son" (which is still funny), Sesame Street and Spearchucker Jones from the first season of M*A*S*H (when it was still funny.)

Beldar said...

I'm also guessing young Mr. Obama wasn't a Star Trek fan, so perhaps he can be excused if he missed William Shatner, as Captain Kirk, swapping spit with Nichelle Nichols, as Lt. Uhura. Obama would have been about age seven on the occasion of network TV's first interracial kiss in 1968. But if he was unaware of the changes taking place in American culture at that time — if he was unaware of the black role models of that day who were by then gaining rapid acceptance throughout American society, and not just in sports or entertainment — then he was a very oblivious and frivolous youngster indeed.

John said...

Somonehastosayit said:

They are almost always the wise ones, smartest person in the room, the CEO, the stock broker, the entrepreneur, in intact families with middle class values, and totally integrated into all gatherings, be it watching football at someone's house, out at the bar, backyard parties. EVERYONE has Black friends who look happy to be there.

I remember Thomas Sowell (I think) once wrote about the Seinfeld show and complaints about no black regulars.

Sowell asked: Which one should have been black, Kramer, Elaine or George?

He said that if any of them had been black there would have been even louder outcries about making blacks look like fabulist, ditzy, liars.

John Henry

heyboom said...


A supreme effort my friend. It just so happens that I attended a Rosenwald school from grades 7 through 9 (back then it was considered Junior High. My 7th grade was the first year that the school was integrated. Not everyone was on board with that so the first half of the year was quite tumultuous.

heyboom said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
lemondog said...

...then he was a very oblivious and frivolous youngster indeed.

I doubt many 7 year olds have the contextual knowledge to grasp cultural changes taking place.

MathMom said...

Beldar -

I had a similar conversation with my husband - about why young Black men don't aspire to be Barney Collier. He was cool!

I had a severe illness a couple years ago which kept me awake much of the night for several months. There was little on TV except infomercials or politics to keep my mind off the pain. Finally, I noticed that Netflix had all seven seasons of Mission: Impossible, and started watching those on my computer. Even got a Roku just so I would have a remote and could enjoy them full size on the TV.

The thing I noticed with a marathon of MI viewing, was that Barney was the key to everything. He was the expert, the go-to guy, the implementer of impossible ideas. He was always being brought into buildings in fake file cabinets, or climbing down the elevator shaft, or masquerading as some sort of workman to get inside the target. Then, since he knew how to do absolutely everything, the mission was accomplished because of his expertise.

And...several times, he got the girl.

I was about 13 when I first saw the show. I always thought Barney was cool, and I was just a little White girl from Idaho.

Original Mike said...

"I noticed that there was nobody like me in the Sears, Roebuck Christmas catalog that Toot and Gramps sent us ..."

No commies? How could he tell?

n.n said...


The incorporated and politicized civil rights movements served to delay full integration through nurturing and perpetuating prejudice, for profit, of course.

n.n said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
n.n said...

I look at the catalogs from yesterday and today, and I don't see, I never saw, anyone who looks like me. I am still hoping to catch my physical twin, but I am resigned to believe that may never happen.

Beldar said...

@Lemondog: The point of the lines attributed to Obama and published in his quote-unquote autobiography was that as a child, he was indeed aware of the social status of members of various races, based on their race, in America. It's exactly as simple, his argument assumes, as looking to see what faces on TV looked like his own.

The thing is, the American he claims to remember -- one in which blacks were only tokens, never role models -- was mostly gone by the time he was out of diapers, and arguably before that. Certainly by the time he was seven (in 1968) -- as all the examples I've cited demonstrate -- there were people who looked like him in heroic roles on TV and in the Sears Christmas catalog.

Were it not so late, I'd scour the internet looking for "black Santas" circa 1968 as well. Modern critics claim that it was the Coca Cola company that "made Santa white," and it was certainly Coke's advertisements that made Santa a very big deal -- more than just "St. Nicholas" -- in America (and then worldwide). But Atlanta-based Coca Cola was also one of the Fortune 500 companies that was most progressive in featuring blacks in its mass-market advertising, in part through the pioneering work of Moss Kendrix.

And of course, at the time Obama supposedly wrote "Dreams From My Father," he was a semi-employed older-than-average graduate of Harvard Law School, so his memories of being a seven-year-old were refracted through that skewed lens.