Understanding Stanley, the President’s Mother

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The New York Times Magazine will run a remarkable profile Sunday about President Obama’s mother, Stanley Ann Dunham. Adapted from reporter Janny Scott’s book, “A Singular Woman: The Untold Story of Barack Obama’s Mother,” it shows, in short, how much good reporting can shed new light on well-trod ground. In this piece, we get suggestions of possible domestic violence in Dunham’s second marriage, of spankings that Obama may have received but now denies, and of a climate of racial animosity that Obama endured as a child living in Indonesia.

After lunch, the group took a walk, with Barry running ahead. A flock of Indonesian children began lobbing rocks in his direction. They ducked behind a wall and shouted racial epithets. He seemed unfazed, dancing around as though playing dodge ball “with unseen players,” Bryant said. Ann did not react. … “No, he’s O.K.,” Ann said. “He’s used to it.”

This is Obama at the age of 9. He would move to Hawaii to live with his grandparents a year later. The author, Janny Scott, interviews the president about his mother. He sticks to points he has made before. But he does make an interesting admission, saying he does not hold his mothers failures in caring for him against her. He says he does not believe parents serve their children by being unhappy, suggesting a level of justified selfishness. He also says that he never doubted her unconditional love, and that it sustained him, entirely.

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