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THE HOPE THAT CHANGE WILL COME

By Lawna Elayn Tapper

Saturday/Sunday, December 27-28, 2008

It brought with it a sensation that felt very like a foregone conclusion. Any lingering doubts stemmed only from the fact that it might just be too good to be true – the top job in the world going to a black man! But it is true! Barack Obama's aura of clarity and level-headed intelligence got the liberals behind him; the economic and military mess created by the Bush Administration got Republicans swinging behind him; his careful humour and fresh-faced charm had young people all over the world rallying behind him; and of course, dare I mention it - his kinky hair, and other marks of his African ancestry, secured him a lot of black votes!

The significance of Obama's election cannot be overestimated as an important point of reference, particularly at a time when black underachievement in Britain's schools dominates the news. In addition to this 'fact,' the British nation, at times, seems beside itself with fear because black youth are said to be joining gangs – robbing and killing because of the scarcity of role models in the black community.

I don't know how many racist teachers still exist, but many British blacks, aged about 40 and above, can tell stories of their childhood ambitions being killed off, like Malcolm X, whose teacher suggested he pursue a career as a carpenter (like Jesus), instead of his choice to become a lawyer. And as they sought to substantiate their viewpoint they could ask, well, have you ever seen a black doctor? Poor black children were made to drop their heads and mumble no – crushed beneath the disempowering blow of having their hope snatched away.

An optimistic internet posting stated: "A white man asked his black friend: 'are you voting for Obama just because he's black?' 'Why not? In this country men are pulled over everyday just 'cause they're black; passed over for promotions just 'cause they're black: considered to be criminals just 'cause they're black; and there are going to be thousands of YOU who won't be voting for him just because he's black!... So, yes! I'm going to vote for him. But it's not just because he's black, but because he is hope, he is change, and now he allows me to understand when my grandson says that he wants to be president, it's not a fairytale."'

Many may think Obama's victory has had the biggest impact on blacks, but I urge them to remember the white supremacists! They'll be watching his every move. Some will be tormented by the thought of it being 'payback time' for slavery, lynchings, Mississippi drownings and modern-day institutional racism. Others will simply be worried about having to show deference to a 'nigger,' his 'negress' and his two 'pickinninies.' Can you imagine some red-neck senator being keen to say, Whatever you say, Mr. President! No, me neither!

Reports state that since his election, the Secret Service has seen more threats against Obama than they have had against any previous President Elect. Enforcement officials were recently called to investigate an incident in Idaho where a sign on a tree, bearing Obama's name, advertised a 'free public hanging.' In an effort to appease concerns, the Secret Service has issued a statement warning the public 'not to assume that any threats against Obama are due to racism.' Are you consoled? No, me neither!

Despite this victory's obvious agitation of white supremacists, we just cannot get away from the fact that hopes abound; I wonder whether Obama's election will work to enhance the process that will rid our world of racism. If we're honest, we'll say that other nations generally have an extremely low opinion of black people, particularly black men. They'll admit that they're stylish, possibly the best at running, dancing, singing, and perhaps even oratory. They're also happy to give them the status of sexual icons and concede that they have that je ne c'est quoi factor.

But they're still often considered aggressive, and their intellectual prowess isn't widely acknowledged. Time will show the extent to which Obama's election will work to broaden the global perception of blacks.

One hopes that Obama will be an ambassador that leads blacks in the direction of achieving what was long established by the white race. It is that quality that guarantees their respect even whilst they are despised: the world knows there are white yobs, white thieves, white murderers, white paedophiles... Yet the entire race isn't tarred with the same brush because they have an equal amount of doctors, politicians, and artists to ensure a balanced perception. May Obama teach the world that the same collage of good and bad exists within black communities, and all others.

In many ways, Obama seems the perfect person for this role. However, there are some very serious concerns! His speech on race revealed his determination not to become preoccupied with racial issues. His vision is of a dream America that sees beyond race, religion, and partisan affiliations. As honourable as this objective may sound, he is accused of being in danger of diluting the strength of the African American narrative.

 In an article entitled "Losing the Narrative," Glen Loury warns Obama against "abandoning the critical, sceptical, dissident voice which is the truest political expression of the lessons learned by black people over the long centuries of being American 'niggers.'" This point highlights a glaring inconsistency in Obama's stance: on the one hand, he was made to renounce and disassociate himself from his minister, Reverend Dr. Jeremiah Wright – his assessment of America's continuing mistreatment of non-white people was too pained and frank.

On the other hand, Obama is happy to embrace rap artists charged with glorifying violence, sexism, racism and drugs. His defence: "I am troubled sometimes by the misogyny and materialism of a lot of rap lyrics, but I think the genius of the art form has shifted the culture and helped to desegregate music."

Strange! The ruling elite and the media appear mysteriously comfortable with this latter association. So, it seems when black men are engaged in self-demonization, there is no real threat: well, only for black people themselves. But when white America is required to participate in discussions to address racial inequalities, defences go up and terms cannot be agreed. Check it, Obama, is that what it is to transcend race?

It's this sort of issue that fuels the cynics. To all blacks whose reactions suggest their long-awaited messiah has arrived, the reminder is that if Obama had had any semblance of a 'Black Agenda,' it would have narrowed his appeal and he would not have been elected. Just as many women were disappointed when Margaret Thatcher became prime minister and behaved like a 'man,' many will be disappointed if Obama does not behave like a 'black man.' And the cynics are sure disappointment is heading their way.

Like women who expected their interests to be served during Thatcher's premiership, blacks will expect Obama, as a black man in a position of great power, to 'look out for them,' as it were. But the question is, is Obama a politician before he is a black man, or a black man before he is a politician? White liberals may well be satisfied with a first grade job at pretending to be genuine and sincere, but blacks will soon see straight through that political facade!

So we'll see, when in discussions about 'intransigent African dignitaries,' is Obama bold enough to draw honest comparisons between Mugabe's deeds and those of racist imperialists? Or is the best he can offer just to keep the European heads of state on their toes when hurling disparaging comments behind the closed doors of presidential conferences?

Can you imagine what the all-white contingents were saying when getting personal about President Mugabe? I'm not being cynical, it happens; let's remember Britain's own embarrassment when the BBC broadcaster, Alan Green, was caught being racially abusive "off air"! Or was that football's Ron Atkinson? I forget!

Poor Mr. Obama! I can just see him despairing, clasping his head with his long, elegant fingers. I hear his inner torment as he screams, Can anyone look beyond my skin colour and just forget about the black thang? I feel his pain, but sadly, the answer to that is, no! Humanity hasn't yet evolved to the stage where race is insignificant, not on a global stage anyway. And be honest, Obama; black people are accustomed to being spectacles, and there has never been one as curious as this – a black man in the White House! So try hard to find peace in your very important new role.

A text message celebrating his victory came to my mobile: 'They didn't want to give us 40 acres and a mule, but dammit, we took 50 states and the White House instead!' Put the cynics aside, and the white supremacists, and there is no doubt whatsoever that Obama's election will remain one of the most significant events of the 21st century, for us now and for posterity.

If we cannot be happy for our own benefit, we should be for African Americans who have fought, bled, sweat, died, prayed and waited a long time for this! And on whatever level, most of the world welcomes Obama's victory. Perhaps then they'll pray that he will forgive them for having placed this great the burden of hope upon him, and that he'll not forget the cries of his ancestors.

Lawna Elayn Tapper is with Rice’n’Peas Magazine where this piece first appeared. She can be reached at info@ricenpeas.com

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