Sunday, November 9, 2008
Obama in Ghana
Well, it happened! The American public voted him in. Meanwhile, two so-called white supremacist, would-be assassins were caught by police, Palin suggested that Africa was a country, not a continent and Berlusconi, that obnoxious manipulator of Italian politics, congratulated Barack on his tan. These are merely connected filaments in the mycelium which exists beneath the surface of white, western societies. They join up to the millions of historical dots that are/have been the expressions of racism. They leak into the itineraries of the media in various forms; some as terrifyingly real threats and some as ‘amusingly’ ignorant gaffes, but all are based on a singular premise – that the colour of skin defines differences between peoples. And that white is superior to any other shade. The absolute indicator of the end of racism will be the day that skin is not used as a primary descriptor of a person, in every day life. We probably will always rely upon it in the criminal field, in profiling a suspect but, come that day, it won’t add one atom of antipathy, deprecation or prejudice. All that will matter is the simple fact that the sought-after individual is Chinese, Asian, Caucasian or whatever. It won’t infer, in any way, that this is a lesser being and that there may be a causal connection between skin and act.
For the moment, it’s great he won. Ghanaians, I have met, even those who have as much knowledge of American politics as Palin has of this continent, know and love one thing. Obama is black. He may prove to be a great President. He may fall from grace. But now he enjoys the right to do so, just like any white human being.
Saturday, November 1, 2008
Swear words in The United States: socialist and liberal
During the heavy crawl through the toxic fumes that can suddenly envelop me in Accra gridlocks, I am able to be the perfect social anthropologist, taking notes on the human traffic that weaves its way between the vehicles. These fit young men and women are, as has been noted, models of grace and tolerance. Whatever they are selling, they must endure a hundred rejections to each sale. And the combination of goods is sometimes surreal. Bath plugs and chewing gum. Road maps and T shirts. Electrical adaptors and death masques. There are also some who sell books. What must be the biggest seller among them, is a book entitled Barack Obama which contains some of that presidential candidate’s political views. His name is also on the back window of many cars as though the election is taking place here. Which, of course, in real terms, it is!
You have to live in Africa to understand the degree to which folks here are (literally) praying for an Obama presidency. The hundreds of years of appalling inhumanity towards skin and race, from the early days of slavery to the present, insidious, institutional denigration of black people’s capabilities, give a black person a sense of injustice, frustration and (sadly, sometimes) a lack of self-confidence, whatever his or her remarkable achievements. The white man has ruled supreme and still does so. The money he spends on the home, war, nuclear defence, oil-imperialism and the promulgation of dubious versions of democracy so dwarfs the funding needed to feed and water the millions who are climatically, economically and politically destitute, that it has become an obscenity. Yet it has also become a way of life, a way of thinking that has never recently been challenged by a US President. Instead, the virtues of free-market capitalism are expounded by politicians, as though there can be no alternative. This, despite the latest Wall Street crash and the violent convulsions of a deregulated market that allowed capital full rein and, as a consequence, has enabled its uber rich beneficiaries to screw the American Dream: a dream that is now being shored up by billions of dollars of joe-public’s money.
McCain’s rhetoric shows little deviation from the standard hypocrisy that has dogged campaign after campaign in the last and current centuries. In order to raise his invective against Obama he has begun to pillory him as a ‘liberal’ and a ‘socialist’. As such he is obviously a threat to the American Way. He will redistribute wealth from the middle classes to the poor. What crime can be more heinous than that? The fact that Christ allegedly extolled it, is conveniently forgotten. In the US, Christ, after all, is believed to support the American President, whatever his course of action – and the redistribution of wealth can never be a Christian option. The Bible is gutted for supporting evidence of the American mind-set and anything remotely looking like a virtue of socialism, is deselected. (In much the same way that the Koran is ransacked for quotations by extremists, to defend the treatment of Muslim women, when the Koran clearly extols the basic human value of equality).
Obama could never be a socialist. It is hard-wired in him to be what most Americans are: devotees of competition wherein the best rises to the top. His success (one hopes) in becoming President, will actually prove the capitalist case. But he carries a calling card that, though often forced by acts of denial into the deepest pocket of American consciousness, emerging now and again like a spiteful Djinn to raise images of the ‘strange fruit’ of their history, tells them that a black man might assume the most powerful office on Earth.
If it happens and he becomes President, it is enough, however well or otherwise his time in office goes.
It is why he is revered by all shades of black people here in Africa and elsewhere. It is why, just to hold the book among the exhaust fumes, feels so great. Finally, in global terms, a black man will have transcended every barrier white folks have erected against him.