2008 Presidential Election, Race and Racism
Professor Vernellia Randall
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Africa (East): Black president or “irrational exuberance”?


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Timothy Kalyegira
The DailyMonitor.com

One of the biggest stories of 2008, when history is written, will inevitably be that of Barack Hussein Obama Jr, the first-time Senator from the US state of Illinois who announced his presidential bid in 2007, has since become an international sensation and (if the current momentum can pass for a barometer), is at the threshold of making history.

His string of recent victories over the formidable Hilary Rodham Clinton -- the former First Lady, Senator from New York, cerebral, more beautiful at 60 than she was at 25, with intimidating intelligence, a highly organised campaign machine and a still very popular ex-president husband Bill Clinton- has left the world blinking in disbelief.

Millions of Black Americans- and multiple millions more Blacks worldwide, unable to believe what they are witnessing- are starting to ask the question of questions: is America, the world's most powerful and influential nation, about to get a Black president?

The wave of exuberance upon which Obama is riding is reminiscent of that which greeted a young Black golfer in April 1997, named Tiger Woods.

In what was traditionally regarded as a white man’s sport, here was a 21-year-old boy, during one of the world’s gold majors, the US Masters at Augusta, in the southern state of Georgia, firing 300-metre shots and going on to win his first major tournament.

Following that historic 1997 win, Tiger Woods went on to dominate golf for the next decade, remaining the world's number one ranked player for most of the period, and only intermittently beaten by a handful of other players such as South Africa's Ernest Els and Fiji's Vijay Singh.

This oddity (a Black man atop the world ranking in a white, upper middle-class sport) is what the world is now starting to see in Barack Obama

One can’t help but think that part of Kenyan opposition leader Raila Odinga’s unwillingness to cede the rigged 2007 election to Mwai Kibaki is that Odinga’s Luo tribesman Obama is giving him ideas. If he can do it against such odds in America, why can’t I do it here?

If Obama wins the Democratic Party nomination later in the year and goes to take on Arizona Senator and Vietnam War veteran John McCain, the same youthful vigour he exudes, the whole near-hysteria that accompanies him wherever he campaigns, will ensure that he beats McCain.

And so we must ask the all important question: why? Why and how is a Black man in a still racially segregated nation America suddenly doing so unbelievably well when the total population in America of all Blacks of all shades is still only 11 percent?

Blacks, male and female, still earn much lower than do Whites. Country and Rock music (associated with Whites) are still by a huge margin the best selling and most popular music in America.

Only in 2001 when movie stars Halle Berry, Denzel Washington, and Sidney Poitier won was it the first time that Blacks had won that many Academy Awards at one event. The number of Black CEOs in the 500 biggest companies in America are still a drop in the ocean.

Senator Obama himself is about the only Black Senator in the current 100-member Senate, the upper house of the United States Congress.

And yet here is Obama apparently breaking with all that and now realistically looking like becoming the first ever Black person to become the leader of a world superpower since the Pharaohs of ancient Egypt.

Obama, while charming and poetic, has not really said much by way of substance. He speaks with the swagger of rap artists, with his emphasis on rhyme and rhythm. His theme of change is only another of the many political slogans that mean little. Hilary Clinton is the much better candidate in terms of weight of intellect, experience, and stature on the world stage.

In December 1996, when the NASDAQ and New York Stock Exchanges were roaring, the Internet’s “Dot Com” companies were booming and were the toast of Wall Street and setting new index records almost month on month five years ago, the then Chairman of the US central bank, the Federal Reserve, Alan Greenspan warned of America being caught in the grip of “irrational exuberance,” the wave of unquestioning, unthinking excitement that usually comes before a great fall.

And the fall did come. The Internet companies crashed by the dozen and more recently, the high that came with the offer of housing loans to Americans who clearly could not afford to repay them have led to brief.

Is this what this Obama wave is- “irrational exuberance” at a time the country is at war on several difficult fronts, in the seventh year of what is shaping up to be a highly volatile 21st century?

Is America heading for a great fall? The answers to these questions we must return to next week.



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