A biography of former President Barack Obama is making waves for a claim that he proposed to his non-Black girlfriend twice, but his desires to take political office and assume a Black identity got in the way of marriage.
Historian David Garrow says in his new book, which is on sale Tuesday, May 9, and called “Rising Star: The Making of Barack Obama,” that Obama met Sheila Miyoshi Jager two years before he met his wife and former first lady Michelle, according to experts obtained by The Washington Post.
Garrow’s book claims Obama, whose father was Kenyan and mother was white with English ancestry, began abandoning his multi-ethnic identity when he decided to pursue a political career. Jager, his then-girlfriend who is of Dutch and Japanese ancestry and currently a professor at Oberlin College, told Garrow Obama had “a deep-seated need to be loved and admired.”
The couple’s relationship was purportedly one that found them spending lots of time alone while Jager studied at the University of Chicago and Obama worked as a community organizer. After they met one another’s parents, talks of walking down the aisle began.
“In the winter of ’86, when we visited my parents, he asked me to marry him,” Jager told Garrow.
But her parents were opposed due to Obama’s career outlook and because they felt Jager was too young. They had no issues with his race because, according to a close family friend, they saw Obama as “a white, middle-class kid.”
Jager said she saw an abrupt change in her 25-year-old boyfriend in 1987.
“I remember very specifically … about a year into our relationship, he already had his sights on becoming president,” she said.
Obama’s political aspiration meant he was concerned how he would be perceived in public, which included the woman he was dating. Garrow wrote there was a “heightened awareness that to pursue [presidency], he had to fully identify as African American.”
The change made Obama’s relationship with Jager tense.
“The marriage discussions dragged on and on” Jager said, noting they were influenced by Obama’s “torment over this central issue of his life . . . race and identity.”
“[The] resolution of his Black identity was directly linked to his decision to pursue a political career,” she added, which would include a stint as senator of Illinois.
With their relationship strained, Obama asked Jager once again to marry him days before he headed to Harvard Law School in 1988.
“[It was] mostly, I think, out of a sense of desperation over our eventual parting and not in any real faith in our future,” said Jager, who was leaving for Seoul to research for her dissertation at the time.
Arguments continued between the couple and they eventually broke up, only keeping in touch sporadically throughout the years. Obama moved on with Michelle Robinson, whom he met at a Chicago law firm after his first year in law school.