Most of us, with our US, but also Kenyan sisters and brothers are celebrating the change in US politics. Whilst many celebrate the fact that this is the first black US president, I would hope for a deeper look at what's happened over the last few months.
My hunch is that we see a new generation of world leaders, who are making their mark. But also, I am challenge by the reality that a new generation of voters are making their mark. They are younger, they defy old school 'skiet, skop en dônner' politics and most importantly, they connect with what John Stremlau calls, a fresh cosmopolitanism, which Barack Obama embodies, new identifications that transcend old racial categories. He like, Tiger Woods, would not allow themselves to be boxed simply as 'black', or African-American. Tiger calls himself, bi-racial- a term that, in my view, speaks of his multiple heritage and connective-ness, which include, rather then exclude.
What does Obama say ? I read his now famous speech on race and identity again and noticed, how he did not shrink back from seeing himself as standing, with others before him, in the history and legacy of slavery, but also the struggle in the quest for liberty and justice for all. He stated,
Of course, the answer to the slavery question was already embedded within our Constitution – a Constitution that had at is very core the ideal of equal citizenship under the law; a Constitution that promised its people liberty, and justice, and a union that could be and should be perfected over time. And yet words on a parchment would not be enough to deliver slaves from bondage, or provide men and women of every color and creed their full rights and obligations as citizens of the United States. What would be needed were Americans in successive generations who were willing to do their part – through protests and struggle, on the streets and in the courts, through a civil war and civil disobedience and always at great risk – to narrow that gap between the promise of our ideals and the reality of their time.
He also describes himself, his wife and children in terms of an complexity of heritage and identity markers, but also conscious choices, which affirms the reality of our common identity as mixed, as open, but also the reality of the US as a fluid cosmopolitan society. His candidature, he then sees in line with a rich multi-varied tradition of constitutionalism, but also struggle and protest, in the streets but also in the courts for equality and justice. He states of his campaign,
This was one of the tasks we set forth at the beginning of this campaign – to continue the long march of those who came before us, a march for a more just, more equal, more free, more caring and more prosperous America. I chose to run for the presidency at this moment in history because I believe deeply that we cannot solve the challenges of our time unless we solve them together – unless we perfect our union by understanding that we may have different stories, but we hold common hopes; that we may not look the same and we may not have come from the same place, but we all want to move in the same direction – towards a better future for of children and our grandchildren.
Of course, there might be a heavy burden of expectation for him to get in there and shake things up, to make things happen, especially in dealing with reconciliation of a nation divided. This kind of expectation could backfire, as he still have to deal with other pressing matters like the economic woes of the US financial institutions, but also their hideous foreign policy, pushed by Condoleezza Rice, which alienated the US from the rest of the world and still present the US as the embodiment of Empire, a military and economic hegemony of severe humanitarian and ecological destruction. He has to deal with this decisively as soon as possible.
More-so, internally, racism has been entrenched in inequality and social degradation, draconian migration law enforcement and deep resentment amongst minority communities. It relates to economic policy. Yet, it seems as if Obama is aware of the magnitude of this challenge. He said,
I have never been so naive as to believe that we can get beyond our racial divisions in a single election cycle, or with a single candidacy – particularly a candidacy as imperfect as my own.
He then throws it back and challenge all to take responsibility, by stating,
For the African-American community, that path means embracing the burdens of our past without becoming victims of our past. It means continuing to insist on a full measure of justice in every aspect of American life. But it also means binding our particular grievances – for better health care, and better schools, and better jobs - to the larger aspirations of all Americans -- the white woman struggling to break the glass ceiling, the white man whose been laid off, the immigrant trying to feed his family. And it means taking full responsibility for own lives – by demanding more from our fathers, and spending more time with our children, and reading to them, and teaching them that while they may face challenges and discrimination in their own lives, they must never succumb to despair or cynicism; they must always believe that they can write their own destiny.
In a sense he himself (his achievement, today) embodies this vision, this hope, which become in my view, what this election give back to the world and which are captured vividly in some of his closing remarks, where he affirms, 'What we have already achieved gives us hope – the audacity to hope – for what we can and must achieve tomorrow'. and '...what gives me the most hope is the next generation – the young people whose attitudes and beliefs and openness to change have already made history in this election.'
Of course, one could go on and on and enjoy the moment, but it remains always critical, to also remind ourselves that, at the end of the day, he also remains a human being, in all the glory and in all the frailties and vulnerabilities to sin. Hence the prayer of Annemie Bosch, wife of the late David Bosch, I received this morning, articulates also my prayers.
My prayer is that God will protect Barack Obama from all sides -
May he be granted the courage and the strength to stand by the high morals and strong convictions and the promises of positive change he has propounded during his campaign, so that he will not be swayed by the self-seeking powerful who always gravitate towards those in authority.
Above all, may Obama be protected against the pursuit (even secretly) of personal popularity and power! -- It is so true that "power corrupts" - and so does vanity..... May God keep him humble and wise and intrepid, and grant him and his supporters, the insight to seek the advice and co-operation of their opponents in all important matters of state, so together they will be able to truly work for the good of the whole American Nation - and by so doing, also, as far as possible, for the good of all the nations.
May I end off by congratulating our US friends on what you've achieved.
God bless !