Monday, July 13, 2009

Obamarama - the mania is over but the message persists.



With Obama’s visit come and gone – been there, bought the t-shirt (two actually) – Accra has returned to normal.

Definitely the Obama family had a profound effect on the country. Firstly, the cities of Accra and Cape Coast were literally brought to a halt on Saturday, and the circling helicopters made us feel their presence.

Apart from that, there was a buzz in the air, and all radio and TV stations were focused on the historic visit, following Obama on his few planned and strictly controlled visits. The streets were lined with supporters - with flags, scarves, t-shirts...

Everyone wanted some little part of Obama – of the fame, the hope, the power that has now come to signify his name. This was a visit that topped any of the other foriegn dignitaries or prior American presidents. Ghana and Africa felt a deeper sense of connection, they claimed to welcome Obama HOME. There was a wild pride in the air...

But Obama did more than shake hands and smile and feed the politicians of Ghana and Africa what they wanted to hear. He was firm in his speeches, asking the African leadership to take responsibility for the future of Africa. He focused on the US supporting Africa’s independent development and made some giant steps away from the typical western leader’s promise of never-ending aid. At his farewell address at the airport he pointed out the Peace Corps volunteers and asked that if these youngsters had come so far to work in the communities, there was no reason that the youth in Ghana and in Africa could not do the same. And he was right.

In a way, I believe that only Obama could have gotten this message across without any repercussions of being labelled racist. After all, he is considered ‘one of us’ among Africans.

This is a point that has annoyed me during the presidential campaign last year and the ramp up to his recent visit.

How is it that a man who had an absentee father (who happened to hail from Kenya), but was raised completely by his white mother and grandparents and Indonesian step-father, far from Africa, can be called an African man?



Surely we cannot forget the woman that raised him single-handedly, with the support of her own family, while his father lived out his life continents away with other wives, other children. Where is the acknowledgement for those that played the key role in his biological and cultural upbringing, when Africans proudly exclaim Obama’s blackness and African heritage?

It all seems a bit hypocritical, if not deceptive.To put it in perspective for Ghanaians - it would be like Scottish people taking credit for the accomplishments of J.J. Rawlings. It would be like other Europeans welcoming Jerry 'home' back in his heyday, for being the first 'European' leader in Africa. But we all know that despite Jerry having a Scottish father, he is culturally a Ghanaian and there is not much of a connection between him and Scotland. This is because his father did not play much of a role in his life, and he was raised in Africa as an African. The same is true in reverse for Obama...

I agree that Barack Obama has the X Factor, that he is extremely intelligent and an excellent motivational speaker. He is one of the only politicians that I honestly believe has positive motives for genuine change.

Whether Africa or Africans or black America can take the credit for a man with his history and upbringing is quite another story altogether.

I think it’s fair that we ALL take pride in such a leader, globally, and stop harping on a simple biological fact that did not entirely shape Obama’s character.

He is a global citizen, an American, and a figure for positive change. He is not technically a BLACK man nor culturally an African – and it doesn’t matter in the least!
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Pilgrimage to Self said...

I too am mixed race and the older I get the more I bulk at the fact that for most of my life I have been almost..... forced to dis-engage myself from my 'white' side. I am expected to say I am black first (although I do not look it) before almost shamefully adding that I have a white mother. Why should I be made to feel this way? Granted I grew up in an African country but that's no reason why I should have to give up my white heritage, is it? I am proud of both sides of me and that's what I want my life to reflect.

I love the attitude Tiger Woods takes - not allowing himself to be put in a box labelled 'Black Man' and rightly so. And since moving to England I too have made up a race for myself as well - Afro - European.

The pale observer said...

Great comments Self! Thanks for reading and contributing this perspective. My son is also mixed race and now that he is 16 I'm sure he will be faced with these issues. To date, he luckily does not allow anyone to label him or stick him into some racial box. I think Obama is the same, but for the sake of pride and the struggle of blacks historically, the world and especially Africa will not allow him to be anything other than a BLACK MAN!

AB said...

I'm not sure that the number of white people who see Barack as "culturally white" outnumbers those who see him as a black man first and foremost, especially in America. The politics of that country is such that were Obama to ignore his black heritage - or even to put it on as even a keel as his white heritage - he would instantly be denounced for it. Even today there are those who still choose to believe that he was not born in the States (the "birthers"), that he is secretly a radical black Muslim (indoctrinated by his father, no less, and I suppose also the Indonesians he lived amongst), etc etc. But you know all that already. I wish the Scottish would hurry and claim Rawlings already... although perhaps he's mellowed somewhat in his old age. One can always hope.

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