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The Challenges that Being Black Creates for Douglass and Obama Essay

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Updated: Aug 5th, 2021


Life is very interesting because it has many spheres. Wherever people come from, or the challenges they have faced to reach their current position is of less significance. On literally looking at Barack Obama, the president of the United States, one would think his childhood life was on a silver platter. The same applies to the famous author, Frederick Douglas, who was a famous human activist during his time (Weidt 63).

Barack Obama and Frederick Douglas have one thing in common; they are both black people who encountered many challenges in their struggles to live with the whites. The two individuals passed through many difficulties in their childhood and career life. Times had changed in the twentieth century, and one could think that racism was a thing of the eighteenth century.

However, that is not the case since a lot of racism was evident in the twentieth century, and Barack Obama was one of the victims. Many authors have written books, poems, and other literary works in their attempt to portray racism in different ways. However, narratives based on personal experience are so insinuating because they depict a real life experience.

To express his personal struggles, Barack Obama wrote his book, Dreams from my father, while Frederick Douglas wrote the book entitled, Narrative of the life of Frederick Douglas, an American Slave. From the narrations in the two books, this paper gives a critical analysis that compares the challenges that being black created for Douglas and Obama.

Challenges during Obama and Douglas’ early years of life

On his birth in 1818, Frederick Douglas was known as Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey. Frederick was born and raised as a slave, and thus, he worked as a slave in Maryland for a long time during his childhood. Slave children had no right to access education, and although Frederick desired to read and write, he never had that opportunity during slavery.

Frederick suffered from beatings and physical torture during his childhood (Douglas 942). After a series of sufferings, Frederick finally managed to escape from slavery, and headed to New York before eventually settling in New Bedford, Massachusetts.

Barack Obama was born to Ann Dunham of Kansas, and Barack Obama Sr., a PhD student from Kenya, in Honolulu, Hawaii. Obama was luckier than Frederick was because slavery had reduced during his birth.

He never suffered from beatings, physical torture and other cruel practices as Frederick did in his childhood slavery. However, in his daily life Obama experienced considerable instances of racism. Obama lived in the neighbourhoods of the whites and white’s children could repeatedly bully him.

Challenges during Obama and Douglas’ education life

During his childhood, Frederick Douglas remained enslaved in the farms while the white children were in good schools. The white farmers took advantage of the powerless blacks, and made it difficult for their children to access education.

Douglass and other black children had to work on the farms and this made them very ignorant. The children of the whites went to the best schools to gain knowledge, which would establish and improve their future careers. Frederick only received self-education whenever he encountered some educated and freed blacks. He only lived with the hope that someday he would get a chance to learn how to read and write.

Obama did not receive such challenges because education was a primary right during his time of birth. Slavery had long been abolished, but Obama faced a lot of racism for being black in his education life. During his childhood, Obama could not secure a change to study in the best schools. The best schools were meant for the whites and the elite individuals.

The blacks and the poor people in the society had access to medium- standard schools. In such schools, education was not up to standard as compared to the elite schools attended by the children of the whites the wealthy individuals (Atwater 124). Obama experienced bullying in schools from the whites. In his college studies, Obama struggled a lot to fit in the America society (Atwater 126).

There was a clear indication of racism when Obama tried to establish his political career to become the first African-American president of the Harvard Law Review while studying his law career in Harvard Law School.

Challenges in Parenting and identity

Challenges in parenting and the search for personal identity emerged as some of the greatest challenges that being black created for Frederick and Obama. Douglass did not know his father, but he only heard rumours that a white master fathered him. According to Frederick, slave children hardly knew their origins, dates of birth or relatives.

This is because the white masters separated the black children from their relatives early in life. For instance, Frederick was separated from his mother to avoid disclosure of his biological father. Probably, Frederick’s mother was a victim of rape, and that is why the white master never wanted any revelation.

Frederick indicates that the slave’s children were separated from their mothers at twelve months of age, where their mothers were hired to work as slaves in farms far away. An aged grandmother would then take over the care of the toddlers. With the motherly love, Frederick’s mother would travel for miles to have a closer look at her child and soothe him at night.

The hard work during the day, the miles at night, pains and suffering of Frederick’s mother would not spare her life, and she died while Frederick was seven years of age. Frederick underwent psychological torture because he was not allowed to be with his mother during her times of sickness, death or burial. That was a remarkably tough moment that Fredrick faced for being black.

On the other hand, Obama’s father was a black person who had to return to his home after they divorced with Obama’s mother. Obama experienced psychological torture trying to know his father who had returned to his native land, Kenya. Obama’s mother had little knowledge of his father’s origins and relatives, yet the boy wanted to know his real identity.

His struggles continued until Obama gave up on the search for his father. On one cruel morning, during the cold month of November, Obama received a call from his aunt Jane in Nairobi, Kenya, informing him of his father’s death in a car accident. Just like Frederick, Obama suffered psychological torture because all he could remember were stories of his mother telling him that his father was a terrific driver.

Challenges in adulthood and career development

A sound education foundation is of paramount importance in every person. For Frederick, lack of proper education in childhood, the quest for self-education and the need to escape from slavery were challenges that messed up his adulthood (Miller 54). Frederick had to meet strict terms and conditions before leaving the farm, and this delayed his chance to obtain education.

Even after leaving the farm, Fredrick had to live like a fugitive slave. He bought his freedom by making endearing friendships, touring Europe and risking his life as an organizer of anti-slavery movements (Miller 73). Frederick had to undergo significant struggles to become a competent writer and orator. He had to struggle tirelessly to become an African-American social reformist and diplomat.

Racism is what prolonged his struggle to become a popular anti-slavery and human rights activist. The fact that Frederick was black prolonged his potentiality to make use of his literary and public speaking skills to mobilise people against doing evil.

For Obama, racism prevailed in his struggle to establish his career as a lawyer, educator, and politician. The fact that he was a black and poor youth almost ruined his early adulthood. The poor black youths used drugs and abused substances because of unemployment frustrations, lack of education, and hopelessness (Obama 93). Obama was among them, and he could drink himself stupidly.

After recollecting his life, Obama entered the field of politics, where racism clearly portrayed in his campaigns for election as the first Africa-American president of Harvard law review.


From this analysis, it is evident that racism is the central theme in the two books. In their youth and adult lives, Obama and Frederick provide adequate evidence of the challenges that their skin colour created. They describe how racism ruined their life, whereby, Obama was almost carried away by alcohol and drugs.

From the two narratives, it is evident that both authors were able to overcome racism and its challenges to become great people. Although Fredrick died in 1895, his history of a life well lived will prevail in the American history. Barack Obama is the president of the United States, and he is a clear indication that the struggles in life are not significant; what matters is the final destination.

Works Cited

Atwater, Deborah F. “Senator Barack Obama: The Rhetoric of Hope and the American Dream.” Journal of Black Studies 38.2 (2007): 121-29. Print.

Douglass, Frederick. Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, New York: Crown Publishing Inc, 1990. Print.

Miller, James A. Frederick Douglass 1818-1895: The Heath Anthology of American Literature, Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1998. Print.

Obama, Barack. Dreams from My Father, New York: Random House, 2004. Print.

Weidt, Maryann N. Voice of Freedom: A Story about Frederick Douglass, Minneapolis: Lerner Publications, 2001. Print.

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