- Dreams from my father : a story of race and inheritance (1st ed.). New York: Times Books. 1995-07-18. LCC E185.97.O23 A3 1995. ISBN 081292343X.
- Dreams from my father : a story of race and inheritance (1st pbk. ed.). New York: Three Rivers Press. 2004-08-10. LCC E185.97.O23 A3 2004. ISBN 1400082773. OCLC 55534889.
From an improbably short span it seems that my father fell under the same spell as my mother and her parents; and for the first six years of my life, even as that spell was broken and the worlds that they thought they'd left behind reclaimed each of them, I occupied the place where their dreams had been.
Strange how a single conversation can change you.
With our eyes closed, we uttered the same words, but in our hearts we each prayed to our own masters; we each remained locked in our own memories; we all clung to our own foolish magic.
- They know too much, we have all seen too much, to take my parents' brief union — a black man and a white woman, an African and an American — at face value. When people who don't know me well, black or white, discover my background (and it is usually a discovery, for I ceased to advertise my mother's race [white] at the age of twelve or thirteen, when I began to suspect I was ingratiating myself to whites), I see the split-second adjustments they have to make, the searching of my eyes for some telltale sign. They no longer know who I am.
- At the time of his death, my father remained a myth to me, both more and less than a man.
- I would not have known at the time, for I was too young to realize that I was supposed to have a live-in father, just as I was too young to know that I needed a race. From an improbably short span it seems that my father fell under the same spell as my mother and her parents; and for the first six years of my life, even as that spell was broken and the worlds that they thought they'd left behind reclaimed each of them, I occupied the place where their dreams had been.
- Away from my mother, away from my grandparents, I was engaged in a fitful interior struggle. I was trying to raise myself to be a black man in America, and beyond the given of my appearance, no one around me seemed to know exactly what that meant.
- Strange how a single conversation can change you. Or maybe it only seems that way in retrospect. A year passes and you know you feel differently, but you're not sure what or why or how, so your mind casts back for something that might give that difference shape: a word, a glance, a touch.
- Was the collaboration of some slaves any different than the silence of some Iranians who stood by and did nothing as Savak thugs murdered and tortured opponents of the Shah? How could we judge other men until we had stood in their shoes?
- The emotions between the races could never be pure; even love was tarnished by the desire to find in the other some element that was missing in ourselves. Whether we sought out our demons or salvation, the other race would always remain just that: menacing, alien, and apart.
- Organizers didn't make any money; their poverty was proof of their integrity.
- Still, there was something about him that made me wary. A little too sure of himself, maybe. And white...
- With our eyes closed, we uttered the same words, but in our hearts we each prayed to our own masters; we each remained locked in our own memories; we all clung to our own foolish magic.
- That's what the leadership was teaching me, day by day: that the self-interest I was supposed to be looking for extended well beyond the immediacy of issues, that beneath the small talk and sketchy biographies and received opinions people carried within them some central explanation of themselves. Stories full of terror and wonder, studded with events that still haunted or inspired them. Sacred stories.
- It was into my father's image, the black man, son of Africa, that I'd packed all the attributes I sought in myself.
- The king is overthrown, I thought. The emerald curtain is pulled aside. The rabble of my head is free to run riot; I can do what I damn well please. For what man, if not my own father, has the power to tell me otherwise? Whatever I do, it seems, I won't do much worse than he did.
- ...maybe once you stripped away the rationalizations, it always came down to a simple matter of escape. An escape from poverty or boredom or crime or the shackles of your skin.
- And if you say to him that he's serving the interests of neocolonialism or some other such thing, he will reply that yes, he will serve if that is what's required. It is the lucky ones who serve; the unlucky ones drift into the murky tide of hustles and odd jobs; many will drown.
- What had I expected my little lecture to accomplish? My simple formulas for Third World solidarity had little application in Kenya. Here, persons of Indian extraction were like the Chinese in Indonesia, the Koreans in the South Side of Chicago, outsiders who knew how to trade and kept to themselves, working the margins of a racial caste system, more visible and so more vulnerable to resentment. It was nobody's fault necessarily. It was just a matter of history, an unfortunate fact of life.
- Oh, Father, I cried. There was no shame in my confusion. Just as there had been no shame in your father's before you. No shame in the fear, or in the fear of his father before him. There was only shame in the silence fear had produced.
It is the lucky ones who serve; the unlucky ones drift into the murky tide of hustles and odd jobs; many will drown.
- I realized that who I was, what I cared about, was no longer just a matter of intellect or obligation, no longer a construct of words. I saw that my life in America — the black life, the white life, the sense of abandonment I'd felt as a boy, the frustration and hope I'd witnessed in Chicago — all of it was connected with this small plot of earth an ocean away, connected by more than the accident of a name or the color of my skin. The pain I felt was my father's pain. My questions were my brothers' questions. Their struggle, my birthright.
- The study of law can be disappointing at times, a matter of applying narrow rules and arcane procedure to an uncooperative reality; a sort of glorified accounting that serves to regulate the affairs of those who have power — and that all too often seeks to explain, to those who do not, the ultimate wisdom and justness of their condition. But that's not all the law is. The law is also memory; the law also records a long-running conversation, a nation arguing with its conscience.
- What is our community, and how might that community be reconciled with our freedom? How far do our obligations reach? How do we transform mere power into justice, mere sentiment into love?
- All too rarely do I hear people asking just what it is that we've done to make so many children's hearts so hard, or what collectively we might do to right their moral compass — what values we must live by. Instead I see us doing what we've always done — pretending that these children are somehow not our own.