The introduction to Barack Obama's memoir Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance (1995) contains the passage:

And yet what strikes me most when I think about the story of my family is a running strain of innocence, an innocence that seems unimaginable, even by the measures of childhood. My wife's cousin, only six years old, has already lost such innocence: A few weeks ago he reported to his parents that some of his first grade classmates had refused to play with him because of his dark, unblemished skin.

I fail to understand the meaning of the words "running strain of innocence".

  • You'd better post this on ELL SE - the SE section for English learners. May 26, 2019 at 4:36
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    The question is perfectly within the scope of this site - asking for the meaning of a phrase in a passage is as much about literature as it gets (just check our meaning tag. If, however, you think you'd get a better response elsewhere, just ping me here. May 26, 2019 at 4:51

1 Answer 1


"Running" in this context means "happening repeatedly." A running joke is one which the people involved reference over several meetings, maybe for years, possibly generations.

A "strain" here means a tendency towards a kind of behavior: a trait or a facet of someone's personality.

So Obama is saying that in his family, many people, generations of them, have been innocent in facing the world. They aren't cynical. They aren't hurt. They face the world thinking only good things, and haven't been disillusioned.

  • It might be worth going into more detail about what exactly Obama means by "innocence" — does he mean it generally, or is he specifically referring to innocence about racial discrimination in the USA, as suggested by the context? May 27, 2019 at 11:47
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    @GarethRees Having not read the text, I can't comment on that nuance. May 27, 2019 at 23:44

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