What Barack Obama's Childhood In Hawaii Was Really Like

Former President Barack Obama was born on August 4, 1961, in Hawaii to Ann Dunham and Barack Obama Sr. His parents met when they were both students at the University of Hawaii; Dunham and her family had moved to Hawaii from Kansas, and Obama had come from Kenya to study. While Barack Obama Sr. left the family when their son was only 2 years old, Dunham remained in Hawaii and worked diligently to provide a good life for Barack Obama Jr., with the help of her parents, Stanley and Madelyn Dunham. 

In 1967, after Barack Obama's mother remarried a man named Lolo Soetoro, the family moved to Indonesia, but in 1971 Barack moved back to Hawaii to live with his grandparents and attend school there. After graduating from Punahou School in 1979, the future president enrolled at Occidental College in Los Angeles and then transferred to Columbia University, where he studied political science. 

And the rest, as they say, is history. But what was his childhood really like for him in 1960s and 1970s Hawaii? According to his own recollections, while he has many happy memories of his childhood, there were also challenges. As the son of a Black man and a white woman, Obama did face discrimination and racism. 

Obama experienced racism as a young boy

While speaking at an ABC Town Hall event back in 2016, Barack Obama shared experiences he has had throughout his life in which he was subjected to racism. One incident he recalled occurred when he was just 10 years old and living in Hawaii. 

While entering an elevator at his grandparents' apartment building where he lived, Obama recognized a white woman who also lived on his floor. She was in the elevator when he got on, but when he stepped in, she quickly got out. "I was puzzled," the former president recalled (via Politico). "I said, 'Do you want to come up,' and she said no." But then the young Obama saw that the woman immediately got onto a different elevator and headed to the same floor. "She came right back up but was just worried about riding an elevator with me," he said.

As he grew, Obama noticed a lot of doors locking around him, people crossing the street to get away from him as he approached on the sidewalk, etc. "I do think that in that sense, what is true for me is true for a lot of African-American men," he said. "There's a greater presumption of dangerousness that arises from the social and cultural perception that have been fed to folks for a long time. I think it is not as bad as it used to be, but it's still there."

Fond memories and parenting lessons

While these experiences reflected the racism that is still alive in America, a young Barack Obama learned many lessons growing up that gave him hope and became a driving force behind Obama's ambition. In fact, he credits his upbringing, especially his mother's love, for a great deal of the success he went on to achieve as an adult. 

While his mother had him at 18 and became a single mother when Barack Obama was just two, his unconventional upbringing was filled with warmth. In his memoir "Dreams from My Father", Obama said that his mother, who passed away in 1995, was "eccentric in many ways" and "somebody who was hungry for adventure and skeptical of convention. But she loved the heck out of her kids." He explained that, "In some ways, by the time I was 12, 13, she's interacting with me almost like a friend as well as a parent." He admitted that that approach was "not sort of a recipe for ideal parenting. But what I did learn was that unconditional love makes up for an awful lot, and I got that from her."

When preparing to leave office after eight years in The White House, Obama told David Axelrod in an episode of his podcast "The Axe Files," "For all the ups and downs of our lives, there was never a moment where I didn't feel as if I was special, that I was not just this spectacular gift to the world."