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The year’s greatest moment

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The writing had been on the walls for some time, but there was a great deal of caution. A black man becoming president of the United States of America! For many blacks it was too good to be true. Despite the signs, many preferred to wait, especially after all those Strategists and Commentators that were usually assembled by the American networks, particularly CNN and MSNBC, began to focus their attention on a phenomenon which they called the ‘Bradley Effect.”{{more}} African American Tom Bradley had been leading in the opinion polls in the run up to the 1982 Governor’s race in California but went down to defeat. Was this likely to happen again? Would White America elect a member of a race that had for centuries suffered discrimination at their hands and whose members continued to be victims of racial slander? Would Americans in the secrecy of the ballot box not reveal their true inclination and vote on the basis of racist tendencies that had been built up over centuries?

In one of the defining moments of the campaign when Barrack Obama chose to confront the Jeremiah Wright issue with an address on race, he made the point that the problem with Jeremiah Wright was that he spoke as if America was stagnant and as though little had been accomplished over the years. The signs were there that change had come to America. In the openness of the Caucuses, millions of white Americans threw their support behind the African American candidate. The tremendous crowds that Obama attracted told their own story. On one particular night in Nevada, I believe, when McCain had to cancel his rally because of the rain, thousands remained in the rain waiting to hear Obama. All the signs were pointing to an Obama victory, but many hesitated. Not in America, they felt. Had he been white there would have been no hesitation in reading the signs.

Even on November 4th when Obama had chalked up victories in Ohio, Virginia and Pennsylvania, many still chose to wait, hardly believing what they were seeing. Then the networks CNN and MSNBC, based on exit polls in the western states, made their predictions- Barrack Obama was to be the 44th president of the United States of America. That was the moment! It had actually happened, another defining moment. It was a moment savoured not only by Americans but by people throughout the world. This they hoped and still hope will be a turning point after the disastrous eight years of George W Bush. One of the sights that captured my attention was that of a young black college student phoning her parents on her cell phone and shouting with absolute joy- “It has happened. Barrack has been elected”. Pictures of the reaction of people in Chicago, in Kenya, in Harlem, in Japan, Australia and Indonesia sent goose bumps through me.

There was hope that the new administration would begin to exercise the kind of leadership they expected or rather wanted the USA to do. A disastrous war in Iraq and Afghanistan, terror throughout the world, an economic crisis, and an American administration that could best be described as being mentally deranged were too much for a large part of the world. Were they about to have an administration that was going to act in concert with the rest of the world rather than resorting to unpopular unilateral actions? Raina Kelley’s “A Letter to My Son on Election Night” depicts part of the meaning of this precious moment to African Americans. “With Obama’s election, I can mean it when I tell you that the world is available to you…No election can wipe away racism, and bigotry will show itself to you in ways subtle and not. But it is easier today than it was yesterday to see that racism, once a barrier is now more like a hurdle…Son, I can… say to you, Barrack Obama faced hurdles but succeeded, and you can, too. You are only 4 months old, but already I dream of what a great rocket scientist you’d be. But if you want to be a cattle wrangler, that’s OK, too. And if you want to be president? Well, we’ll talk.” (Newsweek November 17, 2008)

That moment changed a lot of things. There appears to be a new opening, something different from the lunacy of the past eight years. As I write, Obama is still President Elect. He will be the 44th President on January 20. Some persons will be disappointed because he can never fulfil the hopes and expectations of everyone but something new is in the air and what it turns out to be will not only rest on the will of Barrack Obama. Progressive Americans will have to try to keep him on track. He has a heavy responsibility, but if he can give strong support to the United Nations and begin a dialogue with even those whom his predecessor called the ‘Axle of Evil’, he will begin to signal the new America for which the world has long been waiting. Would it not be something if the person who started making the difference was an African-American?!

Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian.

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