2008 Presidential Election, Race and Racism
Professor Vernellia Randall
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Ghana: Obama and the Gap in American History

 

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E. Ablorh-Odjidja
1/14/08 Accra Mail (Ghana)

 


Some call the Obama's political rise a phenomenon, but in reality, it is a transformative moment that was meant to happen since the creation of America.

America's first president ought to have looked like Barack Obama. After all what is to be expected of a nation that builds itself on the principle that all men are created equal, then goes on to claim the proverbial "melting pot" as the American condition?

Instead, the principle and the claim got derailed long ago when America found slavery more profitable. Finally, America has come to meet Obama, a black man born in the crucible of America.

Obama is now the most exciting presidential candidate, in a field of all white democrats and republicans, and he is being compared with the likes of J. F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King.

But could Obama fill a gap that has been there since the founding of this nation; namely become its first black president? A sizeable proportion of the population thinks so.

The flash, the fervor, the style are all factors that Obama has brought to the 2008 campaign, thereby allowing some to describe his political rise as a phenomenon, this an interesting description in itself when the same wasn't used to describe Clinton "the come back kid" from Hope, Arkansas, now Old Bill, the ex-president. Why?

Well, for some, Bill's presence as a white candidate running for this office was a given. The ancestral line for all occupants of the White House to date has been white; regardless of a contrary claim for one of them.

Good Old Bill Clinton, still from Hope, and now strategically placed in New York to give his wife a chance to run for the high office, even went on to garner a large black following that supported his victory parade to the White House.

In time and in the White House, Clinton had a black secretary and managed to earn the title "the first black president" not for any spectacular thing he did for blacks locally or worldwide while in office, but for some mysterious reason like his lackluster performance on the saxophone!

Well, so much for our political sentiment. With Bill away from the White House, and now rooting for his wife Hillary, here comes a real chance for a black shot at the American presidency. Obama.

The probability is that Obama can be elected president and the factors that point to this are many.

Let's start with Bill Clinton. Bill rode to the White House in 1992 on the back of 43% of the popular vote. Among blacks, 83% had voted for Clinton while 10% went to Bush the elder. The margin separating the winner Clinton and Bush was under 6% after all the votes were counted.

Considering the massive weight of the black vote for Clinton, you have to wonder whether he could have won if a sizeable and balanced shift of this vote had gone to Bush the elder?.

Potentially, Obama should garner more votes. He is a democrat. Blacks are the most loyal democrats. Couple these two in these partisan times and you should have as strong a voter base for Obama as Gore had in 2000 and Kerry in 2004 - or better.

However, the above is not all good news. What if blacks refused to give en mass the traditional democrat vote to Obama? Already, there are some doubts among blacks if he is black enough.

And what if the democrat party turned lackadaisical in its support for a black presidential candidate and a nominee of their party?

Talks about America not being ready for a black president should not be the issue here nor should it be about Obama's experience and qualification. He is smart enough and as Oprah succinctly put it the experience "one gets in office can no way compare to the one acquired in the hallways of life."

The issue should rather be whether democrats, and democrats alone, are ready for a black president. There is enough happening on the political scene to indicate that the rest of America is ready.

American culture is already suffused with blackness; starting with interracial marriages, the absorption of black gospel music, Jazz, Rock and Roll, revolutionary language like "We shall overcome" and now Hip-Hop into the popular culture.

America, unknown to itself, has for generations been preparing for this transformative moment - a black presidency. Just look at the current crop of white youth that follows Obama. They have so far provided more steam for his campaign than his fellow blacks whose loyalties are evenly divided between Hillary and him. These white youth are the storm troopers of the change to come.

The mostly white Iowa women's vote that went to Obama instead of Hillary should also be considered as signal. Some may attribute the support Obama got from Oprah, the alter ego of white middle class women, the most popular television show host in America today, and a cultural icon, as the reason. All the same, Oprah is black and part of the cultural assault on the white psyche.

Then there is Obama himself, affable, clean cut and an offspring of interracial marriage; his mother an American white and father an African from Kenya. By all means, he should be all American. His rise should not be attributed to a miracle.

But there are those who may think so and continue to dabble in anachronism to insist that Obama is a phenomenon. They will only reveal that aspect of racism that insists that the black man cannot amount to anything; that men like Martin Luther King, Nkrumah, Mandela or Annan are to be considered historical flukes according to this notion of silent racism.

The fluke only happens if you should dwell solely on what is happening on the political scene in Africa, specifically in Kenya, Obama's paternal origin, where an exercise in political franchise has turned deadly. Or look at America's dark underbelly of racism. Then you would believe in the intention of the phenomenon being hailed about Obama; the racist notion that all men are not equal.

But match the man with the proper circumstance and you will believe that all men are born equal. And that the opportunity to be a noble man and to lead effectively is enshrined in the institutions we build.

In America, Obama stands tall, about to dominate the political scene. Hopefully, black and white votes will affirm him for the presidency, a black man governing the most powerful nation on earth.

E. Ablorh-Odjidja, Publsiher www.ghanadot.com, Washington, DC, January 8, 2008

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