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11/05/2008

Voting For Blackness

Media regular Yasmin Alibhai-Brown was asked on radio 5 Live if she approved of black americans voting for Obama purely because of his colour. She apparently did. And why not? Nothing much else has worked for black americans since Reconstruction, so why shouldn't voting to create the first black president be as valid a political reason as any other? Unspoken but implicit within the question was the phrase 'whether democrat or republican'. As neither party has offered much to black americans, and what has been offered has often been clawed back in one way or another, voting to make history does at least offer a temporary thrill, and some hope. A lot of people in this election will have voted for Obama to be part of something big and important. And who would deny anyone that?

From the Afro-American viewpoint, demolishing the ancient race barriers could be seen as being just as important as tinkering with the economy. Historically, they are used to being betrayed by business and politics. But this is one achievement which simply cannot be denied. 'They can't take that away from me' as the old song says. Black parents will have Obama to hold up to their teenage boys, which might just weave a slender bond, enough to change a few minds and alter a few lives.
Obama is a symptom of the rise of the black middle classes, which are a product in turn of the liberation struggle which has its own causes. No Dr King, no Oprah, no Condi, no Obama. He will therefore pursue a middle class agenda, as every other president. That is understood. But at least the decision taken by America has improved its image beyond all expectation. In that sense, the Vote Black campaign served its country as devotedly as any studious voter who'd trawled through all the policies with a slide-rule and made a decision based on the 'facts' supplied by the two party machines.
Those voting for a black president were voting for hope, not for a race. And the ultimate hope is that Obama can recreate some of the goodwill towards America that existed the day after 9/11, and were a similar opportunity for international co-operation to emerge, not to squander it, as George Bush did.
The malicious, nitpicking cleverness of this quibble over race doesn't do justice to the American ideal. Race has been politicised in America for a long time, and has been used to lever vast amounts of privilege into American society. If it is now used to 'unleverage' some of that debt, that is merely a small historical payback from the political bank.
By the way, did anyone complain that people had voted for George Bush because of his idiocy, or for Kennedy because of his looks?
The viral poem for 11/4.


'Rosa sat so Martin could walk.
Martin walked so Obama could run.
Obama ran so we could fly.'

5 comments:

  1. When JFK met with my grandfather (a DNC Delegate for the State of New Jersey) There was no doubt in the mind of any of my Irish family that we were voting for an Irish Catholic Boy first, and a democrat second. Feeling that intense validation that "one of ours" could succeed where others were held back was (I imagine) an amazing feeling. If African Americans voted purely on race, who would say they would not do the same under certain circumstances?

    It is moments like these that break the barriers and make all things possible, with true equality for all we may finally realize the true american dream, a land of the free and home of the brave for all mankind.

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  2. Did you grow up in NJ?

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  3. No, my Father left New Jersey following WWII. I was raised in CA. The stories of my father, grandfather etc. in regards to the opportunities and adversities they encountered have always inspired me.

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  4. amjamjazz,

    Thanks for your comment on my post.

    I like your use of "un-leverage". No, no one did mention Bush's attributes. I find that those who tend to heap racial bias on others are rarely aware of their own shortcomings and even if in a moment of clarity were to acknowledge their own, they are quick to dismiss any culpability by saying "That's different!"

    I think that is incumbent upon those of us who can see past differences or at least "try" and place ourselves in another’s shoes maintain the wave of unity that we have been graced to ride.

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  5. I've got to admit to being more nervous than hopeful at the moment.
    Once bitten, twice shy. And I live in a little part of the world where 'unity' is taken for granted more than most.

    But leaving the hard politics aside, the cultural, psychological effects of flying a black face into the White House are at least as great as those of 9/11. And possibly longer lasting.

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