We need to quickly get over the significance of the “The First Black President”

Promoted by roxy - originally posted 2008-11-05 13:26:10 -1000. Our friend from across the pond makes some excellent points. Discussion?

To many, many Americans, the meaning and deeply powerful significance of Barack Obama becoming President elect lies so completely in the history of their families and their communities and their nation that any comment from Wales is little more than an impertinence.

Of course, it is not such a remote thing I am not tremendously moved.

I can talk about my thoughts and despair from a long distance away as I read and saw the pictures of the struggle for civil rights and felt the deep pain and shock of the worst of the events.

When someone like Martin Luther King talked of the future for the black citizen of the United States he was talking also about the aspirations of everyone, regardless of race and colour. His inspiration was our inspiration, although the interpretation may have been personal to the individual.

Today in the UK our television screens are full of pictures of celebrations across the world. Not least it is seen in the less developed countries, and particularly in Africa. The same celebrations - although less demonstrative - are being seen across a very wide spectrum of many people in many countries. I would say “all countries” and all peoples where there are those who are looking for change in their own societies and the wider world.

I admit to a tear in my eye last night. What was happening hit on a small but very real and still heavily felt experience that I had in in the States four years ago. It is a story of no great incidence and I am told is just an every day event that deserves to draw no special comment. Protected as I am from exposure to questions of race, it is only my own lack of awareness of discrimination that made it upsetting to me.

My next door neighbours here in Wales had befriended me. I am not sure why, I am in my sixties, she was in her twenties and he in the early thirties. Despite this, close friends we became. With their medical training complete, Yolanda, an Afro-American, returned home to her small town in Ohio. Dele, who had emigrated to England at the age of nine, followed soon after for the marriage.

Delighted by my invitation, I went over for the celebrations. The wedding was outstanding. Dele’s family had come over from Africa and Yolanda’s family took me into their fold. It was a fabulous day, colourful and full of unusual aspects that allowed the pleasure of encountering cultural differences.

The day after, I went as planned to the home of the family. I had difficulty in finding it. I stopped the car and got out to make enquiries of a man about my age who was in the garden of his small neat house.

He was as helpful as he was able and said he was pleased to meet an Englishman ( I felt no need to correct him over my Welsh nationality). We talked at length and it was very friendly. He didn’t know the address, although the road was clearly that on which is his own house stood.

I handed to him the piece of paper on which I had the address and the name of Yolanda’s family.

When he read it he stiffened. “Are they black?” he asked. I confirmed it. His face expressed a hateful disgust. He abruptly turned his back and walked off, saying he wouldn’t know but that, if they were black they would be on the other side of the tracks, pointing dismissively with a wave of the arm at a bridge that crossed the road about a mile away.

In fact, I found the house. It was behind some trees with a short twenty yard dirt track leading to it. The home of Yolanda’s charming family was immediately opposite the front garden of the man.

When I talked to Yolanda about it three months later, she was puzzled that such a small every day occurrence had affected me so much. Her family had far, far worse said and done to them.

Ridiculous I know, but that is why I was personally so deeply affected by Obama winning the election. It was simply an expression of my love for Dele and Yolanda.

All day, I have had British TV showing and discussing the significance of the election of the first black man to the presidency of the United States.

I would be denying all that I know of the civil rights movement if I did not understand why it has captured the imagination of everyone across the world,

Now, however, I am just impatient for the emotional reaction to come to an end. TV in the UK has reached saturation level about the race issue. Of course it deserves celebration and has important lessons for our own country. I want Barack Obama’s colour to be put aside. I want to show the majority of white males who did not vote for him that their time is past and the fact that there is a new black President Elect is now only of historical significance. His interest to us is that he is simply a new president elect. As such, I have some critical questions to ask of him during this time of transition and they have nothing to do with race.

No votes yet


Welshman, I'm afraid that, no matter how sensibile and sensitive and impassioned your fellow ePluribeans anticipate will be the read we know true of any Welshman-labelled commentary, and despite my intellectual agreement with your goal, my heart just wants to savor this moment forever.

We will never plumb the depths nor breadth of this issue, for sure.  One, nor, even many, can ever undo the wrong that make Obama's easy stride across that stage such a beautiful thing. It's impossible to put so many pieces of so many centuries back together again, they're woven into the fabric of the world, not just these few United States.

Heck, I'm now checking myself to halt attempting the impossible I just described. 

I wanted to do a commentary titled with the subject line I've designated this response.  That's for two essential reasons. 

One is for the fact of having thrown back the curtain of Bush Administration darkness even symbolically by rejecting a McCain whose campaign organization substantially recycled more than a decade of corrupt Bush black-ops to direct his strategy.  The people who put together Sarah Palin's warddrobe were the same who robocalled Obama so nastily, the same responsible for having lobbied to the netherworld the 2005 legislation that might have put a check on the financial disaster now ruling Obama's agenda, and one of whose former employees was just indicted for lying about his role interfering with the election in 2002.  McCain's reconstruction of this Bush team was so cynical that it pulled together the same people who destroyed him in February of 2000, down in South Carolina. 

That regime was responsible for the "Southern strategy" of the GOP which has used race-hatred to advance their cause. It would have continued under McCain with these people behind the curtain.

So what I hope is starting a New World re-Order negated these people having the run of the next admnistration's dark back alleys (thought they'll stilll be there if nothing changes).

The second reason is the complement that Barack Obama both embodies and advocates.  I actually questioned his early appearance on the slate of candidates because, although I knew that just his person and his being is a symbol of the progressive ideal that can do as you intend, to ignore that skin-color has any bearing on who and what a person is, and get directly to what he says and does, I thought too many people might be marrying themselves to an ideal and potentially ignoring a reality (ie., what was his record?  What has he done?  I was not informed enough to know at the time).

But BHO seems to look the look, talk the talk, and walk the walk.

What last night meant to me was not just that a black, half-African man had been able to push so far.  It's that a substantial enough portioin of my fellow majority (by skin color) has removed itself far enough from the ignorance and fear that we're no longer the barrier to such a man who is able to push so far. 

We helped and I am, as a result, proud to be able to call myself an American once again.  Just that sense alone is something I want to relish but that Barack Hussein Obama is a black, half-African man who has done this thing is exquisite and needs to be savored in its own right.

I hope you understand if we wallow in this feeling a little whlile!


"I hope we shall crush in its birth the aristocracy of our moneyed corporations which dare already to challenge our government in a trial of strength, and bid defiance to the laws of our country." - Thomas Jefferson

You really expressed a lot for me. What I would add is just this. To me an important part of the victory for us all, not only Barack Obama, was the vote states such as Michigan, Ohio and Indiana and Delaware... Sure the urban vote was critical in carrying these states but so many Americans overcame their inheritance of sour prejudice in the voting booth.


Some commentary I heard or saw pointed out that the Bradley effect may well have been working in an unexpected way in some small communities where racial and anti-immigrant prejudice was being fuelled by the McCain/Palin campaign. One instance perhaps were the small communities in Mississippi and Pennsylvania where NPR's intrepid interviewers were sent to talk to people about whether they would vote for Obama and many said they would never vote for THAT MAN, etc. while there friends and neighbhors stood around murmering agreement. I listened to the shows and shuddered. But maybe yes, some of those folks were saying what seemed"appropriate" in the circumstances under the circumstances but when they got into the voting booth they voted for The Man.

So yes, I too felt proud of my fellow countrymen and America on Tuesday, for the first time in a long, long while.

I would never have predicted that this could happen. I for one am not going to make the mistake again of my own narrow-minded pessimism. I intend to welcome Obama's presidency wth an open mind as well as enthusiasm. I fear that too many "progressives" will make the mistake I made when I underestimated our next president.


This morning on TV news, the cameras went into a predominantly black school in London and talked to the pupils. You would both be deeply touched by their comments on the inspiration that they had drawn from Barack Obama's acceptance speech. It is a life changing experience for so many across the world.

It also talked to some bright young people in Syria. The symbolism of his election also affected their perception of the change that they felt had occurred in the United States and what it might mean to peace in the Middle East,

You have every reason to be proud as a country. I understand why, after these years of Bush, you just want to spend some time considering the momentous change that this represents for your country.

There is another part of me though that says, fine, but to respond differently to Barack Obama disrespects his and all your achievement.

Oh heck. I probably agree that it is too early to try and deconstruct what has happened and to question the blindness that the over-riding emotion may bring to our need to challenge the reality of what continues to be done to our world.

We are reveling in it - because it means so much to us in so many ways (African American, Latino, American Indian, White -- we are a rainbow of races and its time our government reflected this!)  But there is so much broken in our nation and around the world, that we simply don't have time to stay in this emotional spot.  I am already moving on after only a day... wondering if it is really possible to overhaul our health care system while so many conservatives are dead set against it (and still in office.) 

I also wonder if it is really possible for President-Elect Obama to have a truly bipartisan cabinet and administration... because it takes two sides to form a partnership.  We have yet to see if anyone will grasp the hand of friendship that he is already extending across the aisle.  I was saddened to hear a report (if it is even true) that my own Senator Lugar (R-IN) turned down an offer for a position in Mr. Obama's government.  He may have had many reasons for his decision, but I hope that one of them wasn't 'loyalty to the losing party.'  That kind of thinking will sink any hopes of a bipartisan government.

Much, much work to be done.  We are ready to roll up our sleeves. 

Immediately after writing my last comment, I read Andrew Sullivan who, in turn, directed me to a piece written by Will Wilkinson.

An extract is worth repeating here, although from a person with a different political perspective than my own:

"The government of the state is profoundly important. And I think American voters picked a competent, decent, and sober executive officer. But this is not, headline writers, Barack Obama’s America. He is not your leader, any more than the mayor of your town is your leader. We are free people. We lead ourselves. He is set to be a high-ranking public administrator. Sure, there is romance in fame. But romance in politics is dangerous, misplaced, and beneath intelligent people. Were we more fully civilized, we would tolerate the yearnings projected on our leaders. Our tribal nature is not so easily escaped, after all. But we would try to escape it. We would discourage and condemn as irresponsible a romantic politics that tells us that if we all come together and want it hard enough, we’ll get it. We would spot the dangerous fallacy in condemning as “cynicism” all serious attempts to critically evaluate the content of political hopes."

The American Chief Executive has enormous POWER. Our constitution created the office of the president as third branch of government. The US is not a parliamentary democracy. That was the terrible danger we faced in Bush's half-way successful (well more than half way) to become a dictator, as exemplified by the "signing statents" by which he signalled he would not accept the role of the congress, and his flouting of congressional oversight not only of himself, but of anyone over whom he spread his mantle.