Daily Telegraph (UK), January 31, 2008
As the saying goes: you wait a long time for one bus and then two
show up at once. A woman and an African American are running for
President of the United States. Only one of them", will be the
choice of the Democrat Party for the final run-off. The election of
either", would be historic, a landmark, ground-breaking and
They both fit nicely, like some adman's dream, into that romantic,
bedrock notion that America has of itself: that it is possible for
anyone to occupy the Oval Office.
If only Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama would flip a coin to decide
who will be President and who will be Vice-President, at once there
would be a formidable Dream Team, an unstoppable duo.
It is because of this wish for coalition and cohesion that I find
myself having to face the fact that I have lived away from America
for a long time.
Ever since I arrived in London, more than two decades ago, I have
avidly followed every presidential election - each a link to my
native land. Even after becoming a British citizen a decade ago and
doing what for an American is the unforgivable - swearing allegiance
to a foreign monarch - the election of the president still belonged
But this race looks different. I find myself watching it all through
a kind of prism, switching back and forth between CNN and Fox News,
slightly in awe of the noise and the glitz and the money and the
passion, wondering why it is all so "about America'', wondering if
they know that the rest of the world is out here watching and
holding its breath.
As an African-American woman who considers herself a feminist, the
wrangling, the rancour, the increasing bitterness and hostility
between the Clinton and Obama camps is tragic to behold.
My family, for the most part, votes Democrat, as do the majority of
African American families. My late father, having been born into
profound racial segregation in rural Mississippi in the 1920s, was a
stickler for showing up on polling day. Back then, potential voters
were sometimes expected to take a test for literacy and, if you were
black, that test could, at the discretion of local officials,
include the ability to read a small tract in Mandarin Chinese. If
you couldn't do that, you couldn't vote.
It's no wonder my family are all so passionate about exercising our
democratic right. But we have never before been so torn asunder.
At present, we can be divided into two camps. There are the "Hill
and Bill'' folks: not terribly enthusiastic, but pragmatic,
sceptical and willing to accept a two-headed presidency provided it
will rid the body politic of the Bush Tendency.
And then there are the exponents of what my brother calls "Obamarama'':
those who have almost deified the senator from Illinois (my home
state) and who brook no disagreement, no hesitation in
acknowledgment of him.
But you can't really blame them. After more than 500 years of being
in the back of the bus in terms of power, finally there comes along
a candidate who can put African Americans in the driver's seat.
But Senator Obama's campaign to create a "post-racial'' America
seems to have fallen by the wayside - partly following the faux pas
Hillary Clinton made in which she seemed to imply that Martin Luther
King was nothing without the help of Lyndon Baines Johnson. The
racial flame was lit and everyone rushed to embrace the "brother''
without question; those who did not were - and are - considered to
be, at best, mincing, mewling "Uncle Toms''; and at worst deluded,
self-hating traitors. As one family member, a fully-paid up drum
major for "Obamarama'', yells in increasingly strident emails
written in capital letters: "BELIEVE!''
I can remember Dr Martin Luther King standing at the foot of the
Lincoln Memorial on that hot August day in 1963, when I was still a
schoolgirl. I was watching the masses of people on our television
screen marching to honour the past, to make a better present and,
most of all, to fight for my future and the future of those who
would come after me.
Dr King said that day that what he wanted was an America that judged
his children on the content of their character, not the colour of
their skin. On that day, he gave me - and all the victims of colour-oppression
and their descendants - permission to move away from race if we
chose to, to look beyond it to something bigger; our own way of
looking at the world. Senator Obama has asked people to do that,
too, but he has been given the Mantle of History. It is a heavy load
I suppose what I resent the most from the Obamaramas, and what I
think would appal the senator if he knew this was being said about
him, is the suggestion that he is the last hope, in our lifetime, of
a black person becoming president. But there is a generation of
African Americans born after 1960 who are talented, capable,
brilliant and ready. Barack Obama is not the end.
I am proud of Obama, proud of what he has made of his life, what he
has done and wants to do. But I lean towards Hillary - as strange,
traitorous and misguided as this may seem to the followers of "Obamarama''.
Forget the dynastic fears and the worries that Bill may be in the
driving seat. The Kennedys are a dynasty. No one batted an eye when
Bobby ran all those decades ago. Or that Bush père et fils stood for
election: twice. This shouldn't worry us.
Just think about what Hillary has to offer: not dreams, but what
President Theodore Roosevelt promised and what Churchill
re-stated to the British at the start of the Battle of Britain:
"Blood, toil, tears and sweat.''
From my vantage point in Britain, as I watch the world grow smaller
and other countries grow in influence, I can't help but think that
this is what America needs. A reality check. There will be no dreams
under this President Clinton. We will stay awake, face the music and