Even more so this year. Even more so because of a young Senator from Illinois with a funny name – by American standards, with a father from the motherland, a mother from the winter-lands, and a family tree spanning continents – who dared to challenge the status-quo, and challenge the USA to live-up to the fullness of its noble and laudable proclaimed ideals: equality, freedom, and justice for ALL.
As I sat with my friends Jake, Remi and Jill, watching Barack Obama accepting the nomination of his party to run for the presidency of the USA, I couldn’t help but to shed a tear or two. Of joy, of course, but a joy that came as a healing balm for a series of pains. See, most of my fairer-skinned (I mean White) friends understand much of the Historic nature of Obama’s candidacy. What many do not get, it seems to me, is how profound the possibility of a President Obama touches my very being – and the very being of intellectual Black people around the world, Liberal or Conservative.
See, I was born at an American-missionary-run hospital in Kimpese, a laid-back town of Kongo-central province, DRCongo, Africa, to two loving parents, a loving family of 6 siblings, and in relative privilege (at least the last two thirds of my life) within my own society. I was never the stereotypical poor village-kid from Africa, although my parents were, and they are extremely proud of their rural roots. I was raised to recognize, acknowledge and respect the cultural background of the people I met, but never to hold it against them, when forming my opinion of them. I was taught to treat people as individuals first, not as mere representatives of a particular group (race, gender, ethnic group, religion, orientation, etc), and I try to do that in my daily life.
Yet, despite my international upbringing, despite all that my parents have painstakingly done to ensure that I experience a world where I am judged for the content of my character, the very high level of melanin in my skin is constantly – sometimes more directly than others – thrown back in my face like an indictment of my very soul, like a shameful disease that I should somehow be shameful and atone for, as long as I live.
Racism – whether overt, indirect, or internalized - is not simply about hatred, see. For the victims of racism, it is about the erosion of the foundations of our dignity. You know:
- when you are tailed and followed around the store at Dillards’ here in the United States,
- or when people switch sidewalks as you walk towards them,
- or when you are presumed dumber and less knowledgeable,
- or when you are repeatedly singled-out as a potential criminal through profiling,
- or when you enter a convenience store, and the White, or Arab, or South- Asian teller cannot help but to look towards his gun-rack to make sure the gun is easily accessible,
- or when people in Berlin, Germany refuse to believe that you are an American citizen,
- or when you are refused entrance into a plush restaurant in Harare, Zimbabwe,
- or when taxis refuse to stop for you in Casablanca, Morocco, or right here in New York City,
- or when you are seen as slave-material in Mauritania,
- or when you are called a monkey, a gorilla, or a savage in Chennai, India, or in Shanghai, China,
- or when you are vilified verbally and/or abused physically in front of your own children,
- or when, in my 99.9% Black Congo, you are barred access to a hotel by a security guard, who simply cannot conceive that a fellow high-melanined person could have any business in the 5-star hotel he guards, simply because that person is wearing flip-flops, jeans and a t-shirt, instead of the Western business attire which even Westerners don’t wear in Africa most of the time, because it makes no sense with the climate there,
Keeping strong, and staying proud of our Black roots, and learning to find and value the power, the dignity and the rich History of our African ancestry, and doing all that while staying civil to all others, and not holding the prejudices of some against all others, is a daily struggle for me, and I dare say for most Black people. We all have different ways to cope with it (blissful and willful ignorance, or outright anger, or intellectual research and response, or active struggle, or depression, or suicide, etc), but it is a constant struggle, all over the world.
And that, among many things (the fact that I have progressive convictions would be one of them), is why I shed a tear for Barack Obama’s nomination. Obama, a proudly self-identified Black man is poised to become arguably the most powerful person on the planet. And mind you, he is not just any Black man. No, he is an intelligent, knowledgeable, scholarly, charismatic, articulate, shrewd, methodical, worldly, Harvard Law man, who has masterfully and legitimately made his case for the presidency, to a people whose racial majority considered him and his "kind" subhuman only a century or so ago... I mean, wow!!! I mean Woooooooooow!!!!!
Barack Obama’s candidacy has dealt – and will continue to deal – so many mighty blows to harmful stereotypes about Black people the world over, that all of us Blacks, Whites, Hispanics, Asians, will end-up benefiting from it. Because aside from being “Black”, Barack is also Bi-racial. He not only embodies in him the pride of Blackness, but also the wonders that this world can produce when we all work together. And that is a lesson the entire world needs.
But, let us be clear. The “change we need”, the “change we can believe in”, is not just his DNA, and his worldwide family tree. It is definitely partly that, yes. But it is also, and maybe more importantly, the fact that attached to this wonderful biography, comes a philosophy that seeks to attempt to put into practice in the United States, and around the world, the principles that made his existence possible; the fullness of the noble ideals that those people in Philadelphia 200 years ago claimed to believe in, and put on paper: freedom, equality and justice for ALL.
I support Barack Obama because he is socially progressive, and economically common-sensical. I expect from Barack Obama a greater capacity for understanding cultural and regional nuances in Foreign policy. I admire Barack Obama, and Michelle Obama, because they had the temerity and the courage - and my friend Hillary M. added the "audacity of hope" - not to let society’s low expectations for their "kind", hinder their own high ambitions. I am proud of Barack Obama because, win or lose, he has ALREADY proven to the world, that I am neither more nor less able, neither more nor less intelligent, neither more nor less competent, neither more nor less human than others, because of my skin-color. And for that, I will be forever grateful to him. I was always proud to be who I am, despite the tribulations. But he made me that much prouder.
And so we are now, November 3rd, 2008, one day before a potential dramatic and everlasting change in the History of this country, and the History of the world. People, do you realize this? I mean, do you realize this? Don’t get me wrong, it’s not yet in the bag. Obama can still lose this election. As he says himself, “never underestimate the ability of Democrats to screw this up”. But people, we are that close!!! I am young, and I honestly never thought I would see the day in my lifetime where this is even this close!! Please call your friends who are citizens and tell them to go vote for this man. This country needs to do better. The world can do better. We can all work harder, work smarter, and do better.
YES WE CAN!!