Media regular Yasmin Alibhai-Brown was asked on radio 5 Live if she approved of black americans voting for Obama purely because of his colour. She apparently did. And why not? Nothing much else has worked for black americans since Reconstruction, so why shouldn’t voting to create the first black president be as valid a political reason as any other? Unspoken but implicit within the question was the phrase ‘whether democrat or republican’. As neither party has offered much to black americans, and what has been offered has often been clawed back in one way or another, voting to make history does at least offer a temporary thrill, and some hope. A lot of people in this election will have voted for Obama to be part of something big and important. And who would deny anyone that?
From the Afro-American viewpoint, demolishing the ancient race barriers could be seen as being just as important as tinkering with the economy. Historically, they are used to being betrayed by business and politics. But this is one achievement which simply cannot be denied. ‘They can’t take that away from me’ as the old song says. Black parents will have Obama to hold up to their teenage boys, which might just weave a slender bond, enough to change a few minds and alter a few lives.
Obama is a symptom of the rise of the black middle classes, which are a product in turn of the liberation struggle which has its own causes. No Dr King, no Oprah, no Condi, no Obama. He will therefore pursue a middle class agenda, as every other president. That is understood. But at least the decision taken by America has improved its image beyond all expectation. In that sense, the Vote Black campaign served its country as devotedly as any studious voter who’d trawled through all the policies with a slide-rule and made a decision based on the ‘facts’ supplied by the two party machines.
Those voting for a black president were voting for hope, not for a race. And the ultimate hope is that Obama can recreate some of the goodwill towards America that existed the day after 9/11, and were a similar opportunity for international co-operation to emerge, not to squander it, as George Bush did.
The malicious, nitpicking cleverness of this quibble over race doesn’t do justice to the American ideal. Race has been politicised in America for a long time, and has been used to lever vast amounts of privilege into American society. If it is now used to ‘unleverage’ some of that debt, that is merely a small historical payback from the political bank.
By the way, did anyone complain that people had voted for George Bush because of his idiocy, or for Kennedy because of his looks?
The viral poem for 11/4.
‘Rosa sat so Martin could walk.
Martin walked so Obama could run.
Obama ran so we could fly.’