On the heels of the historic press conference in which President Obama released his long form birth certificate to silence the “carnival barkers” and birthers, the Arizona Independent, a weekly paper, published the immigration file of Barack Hussein Obama, Sr., the President’s father.
The file, obtained by the paper via the Freedom of Information Act, reveals that Obama Sr.’s departure from the country wasn’t exactly voluntary, and perhaps answers some of the questions the President discussed in his book, Dreams of My Father.
According to the documents, the President’s father was effectively forced out of the country through a collaboration between Harvard University, where the elder Obama was a Ph.D. student, and the U.S. government. Why? Well it seems many were uneasy about Obama Sr.’s propensity to date a lot of women, especially white women.
After Obama Sr. applied for an extension of his student Visa, immigration officials asked the university if he was still a student. Harvard’s International Office director David Henry told the government while they were not “impressed” with Obama, he had passed his general exams and was able begin working on his Ph.D. thesis. However, M.F. Mckeon, an immigration investigator, explained the University would “cook something up to ease him out.”
Shortly thereafter, in May 1964 Obama Sr. received a letter from David Henry telling him that Harvard would no long provide financial assistance for him to continue his studies in Boston and that he should return to Kenya to write his thesis at home.
Why did Harvard find the President’s father unimpressive? Apparently, the university found that Obama Sr. had two wives—one in Kenya and a “wife and child in Honolulu.” And although an immigration memo stated, “Polygamy is not an excludable or deportation charge as Subject is a non-immigrant,” Harvard still wanted Mr. Obama out.
Even though some may see this as Obama Sr.’s polygamist past coming back to haunt him, Andrew Rice, journalist and expert on post-colonial Africa, has a different interpretation: Racism.
“I think the file proves, fairly conclusively, that racism drove the president’s father from the United States. I went back and forth a bit with Ben Smith (whose blog post brought this file to my attention) over whether “racism” is really the right word for the bureaucratic attitudes and actions these documents contain. There’s no use of slurs or harsh language, certainly. What I think the documents reveal, though, is a subtle, institutionalized conspiracy that in a way seems more insidious than overt cross-burning racism, because almost surely none of its participants thought of their actions as discriminatory at all. In that sense, the file is an instructive artifact, not just of our president’s biography, but of our nation’s history of conflicted attitudes about race, foreign cultures, intermarriage and sex.
“Hard as it may be to believe today, it seems clear from a close reading of the file that the president’s father was driven from this country because of his messy personal life. And reading between the lines, it’s not hard to see a subtext of miscegenation. “
Miscegenation, more commonly known as race mixing (or interracial marriage), seems to be at the root of Harvard’s preoccupation to have the President’s father quietly removed from the country.
Although, as Rice points out, “it is common for a well-traveled young [African] person like him to have a first wife back in his home village,” immigration officials seem to become preoccupied with Obama Sr.’s relationships with white women. Not only was he married, and later divorced, to a white woman in Hawaii (the President’s mother, Ann Dunham), but officials once again became alarmed when he got engaged to another white Harvard student, Ruth Nidesand, whose parents called the university to complain about their engagement.
While it’s clear Obama Sr. was quite possibly a philanderer, For Andrew Rice, it’s simple. Barack Obama Sr. was ushered out of the country not because he couldn’t cut it at Harvard, but because he dated, and later married, white women.
“It’s clear that Obama Sr. marked himself as an undesirable from the very moment he married a white woman, and the racist subtext is pretty overwhelming throughout the documents. Sure, he seems to have behaved like a cad. But ask yourself this: if the male student involved was, say, French, is it conceivable that the U.S. government would have spent so much time investigating his romantic entanglements with various Americans? And, it seems clear, not-so-subtly nudging the Harvard authorities to cut off his scholarship? The answer to these questions is self-evident.”
On the surface, hearing that the government and Harvard University worked to quietly get rid of Barack Obama Sr. because of his romantic involvements seems like something from long-gone era. However, in light of the rhetoric surrounding birthers, questions about President Obama’s academic records, and the call from many for the President to “show his papers,” this incident is just another reminder that race and racism is still very much at work in our society today.