Obama's life of striking contrasts

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Barack Obama's friend was angry. The high school coaches were benching good black players. Black kids weren't getting dates.

"These girls are A-1, USDA-certified racists. All of 'em," the friend said while the two teenagers wolfed down French fries, as the story goes in Obama's memoir.

As far back as that sort of exchange in high school, a recurring character type has played a role in the life of Obama: a friend or associate who is quick to blame white America for the troubles of the black community.

The Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., whose racially explosive sermons now threaten to undercut Obama's presidential campaign, is the latest example. Before Wright, there was "Ray," Obama's angry high school friend depicted in his 1995 book, "Dreams From My Father," and later there was "Rafiq," a black Muslim in Chicago who, Obama wrote, blamed the city's white power structure for the struggles of public housing residents.

But to some who know Obama, there is an irony in how he is now being criticized for Wright's fiery comments.

In his political life, disaffected black figures have helped Obama shape and project the identity that is now the center point of his presidential campaign and that has proved appealing to much of the Democratic electorate, black and white.

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