The same day that President Obama released a copy of his longform birth certificate in order to, depending on whom you asked, put crazy rumors to rest or dignify racists or shed light on the extremeness of the right, another historical document from his family was being examined: His father's immigration file. A close reading by writer Andrew Rice reveals that it tells a story of the government politely conspiring to kick Barack Obama Sr. out of the country — apparently for consorting with white women.
In Dreams From My Father, Obama Jr. writes about the essential mystery surrounding his father, including why he left the United States and his young son. The file, released under an Arizona reporter's FOIA request, makes clear that the elder Obama didn't have much of a choice about it.
It includes a 1961 document saying officials at Harvard, where Obama Sr. went after meeting Ann Dunham at the University of Hawaii, "weren't very impressed with him," but told immigration officials to hold off "until they decided what action they could take in order to get rid of him." He had been "running around with several girls" and officials "warned [him] about his playboy ways."
And a 1964 document indicates further collusion between Harvard and an immigration official:
Obama has passed his general exams, which indicates that on academic grounds he is entitled to stay around here and write his thesis; however [Harvard] are going to try to cook something up to ease him out.... They are planning on telling him that they will not give him any money, and that he had better return to Kenya and prepare his thesis at home.
So what motivated Harvard officials and the INS to look for reasons to make him leave? The file is full of reports of the relationships Obama had with two white women, Dunham and his third wife Ruth Nidesand, as well as his first wife in Kenya and a Kenyan exchange student in the States.
It's possible that part of it was the university seeing its role as being in loco parentis, maintaining the moral character of its students against what they saw as polygamous or extramarital behavior. But at a time when seventeen states had anti-miscegenation laws on the books, it's impossible to ignore the racial element of the officials' "concern." Writes Rice,
I think the file proves, fairly conclusively, that racism drove the president's father from the United States...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.
We've made some progress, surely, but yesterday morning taught us it's far from complete.