Originally published November, 2008
On November 4th 2008 it was announced the Barack Obama would be the next president of the United States of America. There has been a lot of conversation about what he will do as president and how he will do it. It is true that he has a lot that he needs to do if he wants to change the state of America and it’s relations with the world. It is obviously an uphill battle. I’ve told many people in the last few days that I think that most likely his presidency will reflect the administration of Bill Clinton. There has been a lot of talk about Obama playing the centre and uniting the country. He is not a “radical” or a “socialist” as many right-wing folks have tried to label him this is obvious (he is not Malcolm X, Che Guevara, Bobby Seal or Dedan Kimathi) what he does seem to have however is a strong awareness and intelligence that will help him to work towards the things that he has spoken about over the course of his long campaign. I think the best we can do is wait and see what he will do before we begin to define him in one way or another. Barack Obama’s actions will tell us who he is and what kind of a leader he will be in the future, hope and speculation cannot tell us that. Americans and people all over the world should not pretend that Obama is perfect and will not make mistakes and we should not hesitate to call him on his decisions if and when he makes bad ones.
But….what I really want to speak about here is the paradigm shift that has just happened in the United States and all over the world. I don’t mean paradigm shift in the sense that things will drastically change in the world because of the election of the first black president but what I do mean is that a radical change in perception (and reality) has happened literally over night on November 4 and 5, 2008.
Obama has been defined as a black man. I don’t want to assume that he defines himself as simply as this (like many assumed that Tiger Woods, another person of mixed race and heritage defined himself as black) but I do know that the world sees him as a black man.
The shift that has occurred is due to what would be defined in law as a precedent. A precedent in law is a case serving as an example to be followed. In this case it is something that has never happened before, the election of a black president in the United States of America. The precedent means one thing for America in general but often something different for black America and for black/African people around the world. It means that something deemed impossible for generations (including many youth today) is in fact a possibility. This belief in what is possible might seem a small thing to some who might say “ya, he’s black, so what” but essentially knowing that it was impossible for the majority of my life and then a few days ago seeing happen was amazing to me. I walked different the next day, I felt proud that someone who looked like me could do what generations had hoped for but most still believed would never happen.
The anger and fear that many have expressed has also been interesting to watch, people showing their true colours (so to speak). One woman on who was interviewed on BBC simply said “Obama scares me” after explaining why she voted for John McCain. The shift has occurred in all kinds of people who believed it couldn’t, wouldn’t or shouldn’t happen simultaneously.
The moment that I thought was the most beautiful was not when the major news networks began to announce that he would be the next president but rather when the announcer at the stadium in Chicago said “ladies and gentlemen, the next first family of the United States of America” and Barack Hussein Obama, his wife and his two little girls walked out on the stage in front of tens of thousands of people. To think that the next family that occupies the White House will be a family that looks not unlike mine.
Maybe then that means that the decision makers in the most powerful nations of the world and the seats that they occupy might begin to look like, well, the actual world. Maybe then it is possible for the power to actually be balanced. Maybe the leaders of the most diverse nations on the face of the planet will actually be, well, diverse. Where the colour of you skin or your religious (or non-religious associations) or your gender or your sexual orientation will not be a block to certain parts of the society as they presently are. Maybe we can stop talking about “reverse racism” and start talking about Eurocentrism and contemporary white supremacy, or maybe that’s too radical.
The bottom line is a lot of minds changed, a lot of minds opened up, a lot of people believed in things that they never believed in before after the night of November 4th, 2008. Regardless of whether we recognize that change or not, a whole lot changed instantly that night. Now what Barack Obama does is another story but the fact that he as a chance to do it is the most beautiful part of this whole thing for me (so far).
As a friend of mine said to me on the night of the election “all things in due time.”