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A moment in history: President elect Barack Obama

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For a while on Tuesday night, the world watched and waited and then erupted. Tears, cheers, dancing was the response not only in America but around the world, from the little village in Kenya where President elect Obama’s grandmother lives to the small village called Obama in Japan, to the school in Indonesia that he attended. In Barrouallie, the Church bell rang loudly, exuberantly. It was jubilation everywhere. Emotions became charged.{{more}} I even saw Jesse Jackson shedding a tear as did many others. The scene of Obama’s victory speech in Chicago was something else as young and old, black and white savoured the moment. The expression on the faces of blacks, young and old, told their own story. Many of them wished that their parents could have been alive to experience that historic moment. Who would have believed that that was possible ten months ago? In fact, when Barrack Obama announced his candidacy for the Presidency of America, many blacks were unimpressed. They didn’t think he had the ghost of a chance. One of the persons who held out possibilities was Oprah Winfrey. She embraced Barack when other black brothers and sisters failed to do so. At that Tuesday night moment which we would never forget, I even sipped a brandy and coconut water with friends who held a sort of watch night vigil, waiting for what we had hoped was going to be the moment it turned out to be.

At this point, I am not concerned about the challenges and the possibilities. I want to continue to treasure the moment. Many of us had become frustrated and fed up with the long drawn out election campaign with tales of Jeremiah Wright and Bill Ayers, and with the many lies and the language of fear that were fed to the American people. Obama was not like them. He had a strange name. He was supposed to have been a Muslim. He was a friend of terrorists. He was a Socialist. He was out to tax the people and redistribute the wealth. He was not patriotic and all the other silly things that were said. It was difficult to believe that big men and women, educated men and women, could indulge in such utter nonsense. We now realise that the bulk of the American people did not fall for a lot of what was peddled out to them.

Undoubtedly, the mess that Bush has brought to America and the rest of the world did make a difference. It did throw McCain on the defensive while he tried to figure out the distance he should keep from the big man. But George W was the President, representing the party for which McCain was running and he had supported many of the policies introduced and pushed by Bush. All of this is true, but then McCain bobbed and weaved uncertainly. He had no clear positive message, then he made a fundamental error by selecting the largely unknown Governor Sarah Palin of Alaska who seemed to know little about anything and what little she knew was far from real as she constructed an imaginary cocoon around it. McCain’s age became exaggerated when he was seen alongside Obama and they seemed to be living in different worlds, McCain in the twentieth century and Obama very much in the 21st.

Tuesday night’s victory, however, owed very much to the man of the moment, Barack, who ran probably one of the best organised and creative campaigns in the political history of the United States of America. Moreover, he preached a message of hope and change that inspired a people suffering from the mismanagement and idiocy of George Bush. It was what America needed, a chance for a new beginning, a chance to make them believe in themselves again. He kept it positive, withstood all the slander, responded to the Jeremiah Wright ‘scandal’ by starting a conversation on race with a brilliant presentation that helped him to regain ground that he appeared to have been losing. He took it all in, not by being angry and negative but staying positive and expressing a belief in the American people. He was disciplined and at the same time inspirational, cutting across religion, race, age, geography and to some extent traditional party politics. He refused to be limited by the accepted notions of blue and red states and sought to carry his message across the whole nation. True enough Tuesday night was a special moment for blacks in the United States, Africa and the Diaspora, but the celebration and the reaction were shared by people of all colours and nationalities. The victory meant something not only to blacks but also to young people, to Hispanics, to Native Americans, to ordinary people who heard his message about health care and about rebuilding the middle class and to people outside of the United States who want that country to regain the image they always had of it before Georgie destroyed it.

The whole racial issue in any event is an important one and maybe the opportunity is there to continue the conversation about race that Obama had started. When I saw black people dancing and crying in Alabama and other areas of the South I understood fully what it meant to them. The Blacks saw him as part of their history, as part of their being, while we at home started talking a lot of nonsense about him not being black as if most of us are ‘pure’. It will be interesting to see what this does to the residue of racism that remains in the United States of America. I am trying to imagine whites discriminating against blacks while they themselves are governed by a black president. Clearly, things can never be the same as before. Black Americans now know it is possible. Young black children now know that they can aspire to reach the very top. It is no longer an idle dream. Tuesday night has opened possibilities. Will they be grasped?

Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian.

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