President Obama has admitted that a white girlfriend he depicted in his 1995 autobiography [-] in which he wrote about their searing argument over racial attitudes — was actually a composite of several girlfriends from his past.
Mr. Obama told biographer David Maraniss in an Oval Office interview that the so-called “New York girlfriend” he wrote about in his autobiography “Dreams From My Father” is based on multiple women he dated in New York and Chicago.
“I was very sensitive in my book not to write about my girlfriends, partly out of respect for them,” Mr. Obama told Mr. Maraniss. “So that was a consideration.”
Vanity Fair magazine published excerpts Wednesday of Mr. Maraniss’ new biography of the president, to be published by Broadway Books, a division of Random House’s Crown Publishing Group.
In “Dreams From My Father,” Mr. Obama never referred to the “New York girlfriend” by name, but he described her appearance and other characteristics in specific detail. And he wrote about one episode in which they became embroiled in an argument over race.
Mr. Obama wrote in his book:
“One night I took her to see a new play by a black playwright. It was a very angry play, but very funny. Typical black American humor. The audience was mostly black, and everybody was laughing and clapping and hollering like they were in church. After the play was over, my friend started talking about why black people were so angry all the time. I said it was a matter of remembering — nobody asks why Jews remember the Holocaust, I think I said — and she said that´s different, and I said it wasn´t, and she said that anger was just a dead end. We had a big fight, right in front of the theater. When we got back to the car, she started crying. She couldn´t be black, she said. She would if she could, but she couldn´t. She could only be herself, and wasn´t that enough.”
The book contains a disclaimer that “some of the characters that appear are composites of people I´ve known.”
Mr. Maraniss said the president now acknowledges that this incident did not happen with his New York girlfriend, whom Mr. Maraniss identifies as a woman named Genevieve Cook.
“During an interview in the Oval Office, Obama acknowledged that, while Genevieve was his New York girlfriend, the description in his memoir was a ‘compression’ of girlfriends, including one who followed Genevieve [Cook] when he lived in Chicago,” Mr. Maraniss wrote in the new biography.
“In ‘Dreams from My Father,’ Obama chose to emphasize a racial chasm that unavoidably separated him from the woman he described as his New York girlfriend,” wrote the author, who interviewed the woman. “None of this happened with Genevieve. She remembered going to the theater only once with Barack, and it was not to see a work by a black playwright.”
Mr. Maraniss said the president acknowledged this scene did not happen with Ms. Cook.
“It is an incident that happened,” Mr. Obama told the author, without offering more specifics.
“That was not her,” the president told Mr. Maraniss. “That was an example of compression I thought that [the anecdote involving the reaction of a white girlfriend to the angry black play] was a useful theme to make about sort of the interactions that I had in the relationships with white girlfriends. And so, that occupies, what, two paragraphs in the book? My attitude was it would be dishonest for me not to touch on that at all … so that was an example of sort of editorially, ‘How do I figure that out?’ “