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Savouring a new day

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In my life time there has never been a day like this, like the 20th January when we recognised that not only was history being made, but we were conscious about and filled with hope that something new was happening. Something had happened not only in America but in the whole world and people all over celebrated the occasion. The occasion was the inauguration of America’s new President, a black man.{{more}} America held centre stage but it was a world event that embraced all of us and the new President was about to embark on a new path of sturdy alliances and to recognise the limitations of power, to seek a new path, too, in his dealing with the Muslim world, one based on mutual respect and mutual interest. He reminded America of its responsibility to the rest of the world. The occasion, to my mind was reminiscent of the time when Nelson Mandela was released from prison. That was an occasion, too, that the whole world looked at and embraced. But today’s meaning was probably much more significant because of the role America plays and is expected to play in the future. One got the impression that gone are the days of Bush’s unilateralism, of reckless adventure and political insanity. Even more pleasing the central figure was a Blackman, an Afro-American who reminded us, that less than sixty years ago his father ‘might not have been served at a local restaurant.’

I was moved particularly by the joy, the expression, the glory in the faces of African Americans and black people from the rest of the world who had gone to Washington to savour this new day. But the same feelings and expressions existed everywhere black people viewed the occasion, from the small village in Africa in which the President’s father was born to the communities in St.Vincent and the Grenadines where our eyes were glued to the television screens scrolling between CNN, MSNBC and for some ‘BBC World’. Not only was there pride in our eyes to see a Black Man assume centre stage in the most powerful nation in the world but many of us echoed the words and now genuinely believe them “Yes, We Can”. The young man, who said that Michael Jordan used to be his hero but that he now had a new hero, was expressing something that was profound and very real. Black Americans realising the limitations and the obstacles in the past embraced what they believed was possible. Their children could become other Michael Jordans but now the possibilities were endless. Any of them can now become a President.

A new chapter was opened up for African American children and for blacks the world over. If it can happen in America it can happen anywhere, perhaps! But America demonstrated to the rest of the world what it is capable of doing, for two years ago, indeed six months ago; many did not believe that the day they were experiencing and savouring would have been possible. Did you see the number of black people who made it their duty and right to be in Washington!? Black people not only residents of America but perhaps from every corner of the world where black people live! A friend phoned me and told me that even the colour on his television screen was different. Yes that is how it was. That was the occasion. There were so many symbols and new points of references for African American people. As the President and family graced the stage once again the world was reminded that African American families were not necessarily or only what was painted of them-dysfunctional. The ‘first family’ sent a powerful signal and portrayed an image that attracted and carried meaning not only to African American people but to people everywhere. But let us be clear that it was a time to be savoured not only by Blacks. What is powerful about this new ‘kid’ is that he was able to energize and to bring hope to people of all colours, ages and nationalities. Latinos were there. American Indians were there, people of every colour and creed embraced the occasion because they had expectations and were seeing hope in this man who made it known that he was more than the colour of his skin, that he was representing people, not only black people. He did not become President because of the 95 percent support he had from African Americans but because of the support, commitment and hope of those of ‘every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth’ who shaped the America that elected him.

Silence reigned in Washington and elsewhere as Obama began his inaugural address that was clothed in all its history. People listened. He had become President not only when he took the oath of office, but it was said, from the time the clock struck 12 o’ clock, a constitutional mandate. So many missed the signal moment when America had its first black president. The analysts and critics were seemingly unimpressed by the new President’s inaugural address. They claimed that there were no memorable words and phrases that could be repeated, endlessly, perhaps. Barrack had done enough of this before. It was the content that now mattered. The Speech was what in our context would be called a ‘throne speech’, a signalling of the new direction that America was taking. It was a repudiation of everything the former President stood for. It was a speech which obviously lacked the details (and how could it be otherwise) but signalled the intent to remake America and the new path that America was about to take. It was this that the world wanted to hear. He rejected ‘as false the choice between our safety and our ideals”. Security did not only or necessarily come from power but from ‘the justness of our cause, the force of our example, the tempering qualities of humanity and restraint.’ What powerful words of hope and intent after eight years of George W. The market was not everything. There has to be ‘a watchful eye’, in order words some measure of control. The idea of ‘small government’ was rejected. The issue was not whether government was big or small but if it worked. Accountability was to be held by those who managed the nation’s purse. The President was prepared to work with old friends and former foes. He pledged to work with poor nations to make their ‘farms flourish’ and ‘clean waters flow’. America, he warned, like others, could ‘no longer consume the world’s resources without regard to effect.’ Science was to be restored to its rightful place. He made a special appeal to the rest of the world; “And so to all other peoples and governments who are watching today, from the grandest capitals to the small village where my father was born: know that America is a friend of each nation and every man, woman and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity, and that we are ready to lead once more”.

There was no ‘axel of evil’ but instead a branch of friendship was being thrown out. America was about to be remade according to what he believed were the ideals of the founding fathers. What a send off for George W. Imagine having to listen to a speech that at first thanked him for his service to the nation, whatever that might have been, then set a tone that repudiated virtually everything he was about. The hard work now begins, how to implement those ideals, how to satisfy expectations and begin the work that would remake America, clothing it in a new image. It is a difficult task. Remember, it is America!

Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian.

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