If the least attentive of news watchers this past month can identify only two people by sight, one of them is surely Rachel Dolezal (pronounced DOLE-uh-zhal).
Rachel, of course, has spent the last decade passing for a black woman. And say what you will about her authenticity or lack of it, she, unlike other famous transitional types in the news, is not insisting we call her by a new name like, say, “Shamiqua.”
In his memoir, “Dreams from My Father,” Barack Obama tells the story of how he transitioned from “Barry” to “Barack.”
“Regina,” a coed from Chicago’s South Side, somehow found her way to Southern California’s pricy Occidental College. In “Dreams,” Obama described her as “a big, dark woman who wore stockings and dresses that looked homemade.”
Although the character was largely fictional, Obama assigned Regina a tangible real-life task. It was she who convinced Obama to abandon the name “Barry,” a name that presumably sounded much too white and middle class.
“Do you mind if I call you Barack?” she asked. “Not as long as you say it right,” he answered. Coming straight from the motherland, Obama’s baby daddy, Barack Obama Sr., pronounced his name bear-ick, not buh-rock.
Barack Senior himself was known as “Barry” when he was in Hawaii. When Obama visited Africa, well after he became “Barack,” all of his kin called him “Barry.” It was Obama who would contrive the new pronunciation, perhaps because the new pronunciation sounded more forceful, more revolutionary, more black.
In February 2001, as part of an oral history on black America, Julieanna Richardson interviewed then-state Sen. Barack Obama. Obama told Richardson that his childhood in Hawaii was “idyllic” and that “the image that [he] had of being a black American was almost exclusively positive.”
He added, “All the children around me were of some mixture, and so I was not unusual or untypical in Hawaii.” He mentioned not a single racial affront.
Obama was either deceiving Richardson or deceiving the readers of “Dreams.” The evidence suggests the latter. David Remnick, the author of “The Bridge: The Life and Rise of Barack Obama,” conceded that Obama “darkens the canvas” in “Dreams” and that many of the grievances cited were “novelistic contrivances.”