A few days ago, I was surfing YouTube when I came across a video of Barack Obama I’d never seen before. According to its title, neither had anyone. “Never Before Seen Video: Obama Whines About White Privilege,” it said. The thumbnail looked grainy and old, and was that really a picture of a young Barack? Color me interested. I clicked.
Soon, I was listening to the unmistakable Obama baritone in an elliptical accent I’d never heard before. His voice sounded young, belying his 27 years, but deeper than the eye would expect from a man looking rail-thin in an oversized 90s shirt and jeans.
I soon realized I was watching something fairly remarkable. This was Obama all right, and he was touring Kenya and meeting with his father’s family for the first time. Next to him was his new wife Michelle, looking more like a bored young tourist than the pop-culture apogee of the moment.
Here was penetrating, candid documentation of a pivotal moment in one of our culture’s most scrutinized lives. And added only this month, October 2016? With this weird title? What was this video?
I did some clicking. The film is “A Journey In Black and White,” a twenty-minute short by Obama’s half-sister Auma that documents Barack’s first visit to Kenya. Auma was a film student in Germany, which comes through in her capable editing and narration.
The film’s provenance remains a mystery. All we know is that its release was a recent project of Charles C. Johnson, a conservative internet creation so abhorrent he prefers the title “troll.” (Simon Owens recently argued that “white supremacist” is a better fit.) Johnson is famous for taking online conservatism to actually dangerous places, and as such, has been banned from Twitter. He’s taken to life as a digital cockroach, and seems to have created a damp corner of the bathroom all to himself.
His new site is called WeSearchr, which is either a pun on “crowdsourced research” or the way Johnson’s fans pronounce researcher on the short bus. Basically, it’s a Kickstarter for right-wing conspiracy theorists. People can post “bounties,” which are bombshells they feel they have a lead on, and the site’s audience then donates money to fund the stories’ exposure — as in, the owner of the Obama video will sell it to us for ten grand, and if we pay them we can see what really happened in Kenya. In other words, it’s Johnson collecting money from people so rabid and stupid that they’ll pay to be part of the next great Breitbart headline. Not a bad idea to tap the market of basement dwellers looking for something to do during refractory periods.
Some of the stuff on the site is pretty good, though. At a “cost” of $7,500 they found proof Barack Obama didn’t write Dreams From My Father, paid $10,000 for recordings of John McCain reading Viet Cong radio propaganda while a POW, and a bunch of other unsubstantiated stuff.
One of the supposed coups is this Obama video, which certainly seems real. According to whoever posted this, it took $10,000 to obtain. How? We don’t know.
I have to admit, they did unearth something I haven’t seen before. Given the level of interest the video would have gotten, I assume it was genuinely kept private until now. Then again, Auma Obama clearly intended it for screening, so, maybe she just got over on these mouth-breathers by “exposing” it for money?
There’s not an iota of damaging material in it, of course. It’s actually kind of mind-boggling to think of how blindingly racist you’d have to be to find the video angering in any way. Obama could not come across more impressively. All we see is a brilliant young man confronting a heritage he’s not sure how to approach. Throughout, he’s trying to understand the lives of his own people, always aware of the distance between them.
It’s a moving sight to behold, especially in light of how Obama later recalled the trip. Here’s what the future president wrote in his memoir:
I felt the comfort, the firmness of identity that a name might provide, how it could carry an entire history in other people’s memories, so that they might nod and say knowingly, ‘Oh, you are so and so’s son’. No one here in Kenya would ask me how to spell my name, or mangle it with an unfamiliar tongue. My name belonged and so I belonged, drawn into a web of relationships, alliances, and grudges that I did not understand yet.
This video complicates that memory. In it, we see Obama attempt to relate to his family, his every incursion monitored by Auma’s protective, skeptical, loving narration. It is a nuanced, thoroughly human look at one of history’s great lives.
All of which makes it more funny than sad that the public debut of this video took place on fucking InfoWars, a site so named for its commitment to waging nuclear war on information. You’d have to be the goddamn burning cross itself to be offended by Obama’s sanguine lament of Kenya’s post-colonial challenges. But, again, these are the dregs of the internet we’re talking about.
Even funnier is the fact that Charles Johnson has found people somehow dumber than him to basically pay him for no reason. Ever since he tried to crowdfund the assassination of a Black Lives Matter activist, he’s clearly realized there is coin to be made in making the bottom-feeders of our society feel like political movers. Hell, I hope they keep doing it! This video was fantastic. If there’s any other Young Obama stuff in the Illuminati vault, go find it, asshole.
For the rest of us, this video is indeed a treasure unearthed. Someone with better video skills than I needs to get on the task of removing WeSearchr from it and posting it under its intended title. I can only hope there’s more out there we haven’t seen.
Ben Cohen is the editor and founder of The Daily Banter. He lives in Washington DC where he does podcasts, teaches Martial Arts, and tries to be a good father. He would be extremely disturbed if you took him too seriously.