9 November 2008
Barack Obama has become the first non-white president of the United States of America, the first president of African descent. This in itself is a historic event that carries profound implications. American democracy has proved that the ‘American dream’ is a reality, that the US is a land of full citizenship rights, that the country turns its back on none of its citizens, and that loyalty to the homeland is full fledged.
I stand on the other half of the globe contemplating, with admiration, the success of Obama. Not because Obama is the better choice for America; Americans are free to decide on that for themselves. Nor because Obama’s policy concerning our region is more auspicious than the current one; I have learnt that American policy is exclusively the function of strategic American interests. Rather, my admiration is because the event happily caps a two-centuries-old struggle for liberty, justice, and equality.
Before the elections, polling agencies had warned that, despite Obama’s lead in the opinion polls, voters might have a last-minute change of mind and cringe at electing a black president. Obama’s victory thus came to crown the struggle of generations of Americans against racial discrimination ever since slavery was abolished at the hands of Abraham Lincoln. Countless blacks in America dreamt of light at the end of the dark tunnel of oppression, injustice, inequality and indignity they had to endure for years on end. A long line of men and women, the last of whom was Martin Luther King who paid his life for the cause of liberating black Americans, fought for the American dream but never saw it materialise. Today their children are seeing that dream come true.
In 1968 President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act, putting thus into motion the process of ending all forms of racial discrimination in the US, and securing full citizenship rights to all Americans regardless of race, gender, colour or creed. The Civil Rights Act did not change America by the mere deed of its being signed, but by the memorable deeds of white men and women who took it upon themselves to have this act implemented. It was the whites of America who insisted that measures to end discrimination be implemented even if by force; those of us who lived during the 1960s and 1970s remember the busing of schoolchildren to schools where white and coloured children mingled, as well as [white] policemen forcing public venues which had never allowed blacks in to allow them then. Next came the positive discrimination regulations that allowed blacks to access fields of public life that had been so far closed to them. The years of oppression and inequality were being vindicated.
This is not to imply the US has become the Utopia of heavenly justice; poverty, discrimination, and injustice remain as in any other community in the world. But opportunity is open to all and, for anyone willing to seize it, the way is open all through, up to the topmost executive position in the biggest power in the world. That much is obvious by Obama’s victory.
No matter how Obama performs as president of the US, his victory in reaching the White House will remain an American dream come true, a lesson in democracy, and a defining moment in human history.
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