Friday, October 31, 2008

Obama's election

Written by George Graham -

I have to confess that I never dreamed a person of color would become the President of the world’s most powerful nation in my lifetime. Yet it looks as if that is about to happen. When I was a boy, Jamaica was still a British colony. At Munro College, the teachers (whom we called “masters”) were all British, and they made no secret of the fact that the best we Jamaican students could hope to become was second-class Englishmen.

True, to those of us who were light-skinned (Jamaica white), our complexion was an asset. To be darker was to be even more disadvantaged. Belonging (like most Jamaicans) to a multiracial extended family, where some of us were blonde and blue-eyed and others were coffee-colored or darker, I regarded this prejudice with resentment.

My resentment grew when I immigrated to Canada during the 1950s to find that there, too, the English and their descendants were put on a pedestal.

I suppose this perception was a legacy of the colonial era when aggressive white races - with their slave ships, their merchant ships and their warships – roamed the earth and dominated the people they encountered. Whatever the reason, the presumption of European ethnic superiority has stuck in my craw all my life.

Despite all this, I won’t vote for Barack Obama just because he is African-American. I will also vote for him because he is incredibly gifted. He is poised, intelligent, humane and reasonable. A voracious reader, he has learned from many and diverse sources. His ability to listen, absorb, evaluate and select makes him an exceptional leader. And his ability to inspire presents a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to transform an increasingly ugly world.

Around the globe, people are killing each other over racial, philosophical and religious differences. The message today is, “Be like me and agree with me or I’ll blow you up!” That’s why Obama’s reasonable approach is so important. That’s why crowds of idealistic young people flock to his side, daring to hope for change.

Make no mistake; the fact that Obama is African-American is of very great importance – not just to Americans but to people around the world.

For one thing, I believe his election as President of the United States of America would enhance the credibility of all non-white people. Television commentator Dan Rather compared Obama to Tiger Woods. And I would compare him to Jackie Robinson, who broke the color barrier in baseball, and Jack Johnson, the first black heavyweight champion of the world.

But this is so much more important. Golf, baseball and boxing are sports. The leadership of the free world is a matter of life or death. Elect John McCain and Americans can look forward to wars and the horror of wars, the retreat of compassion and the rule of the law of the jungle, revered by financial bandits as “the free market.” (That kind of freedom could be translated as, “The powerful are free to plunder and ravage; the weak are free to go hungry and, if they get sick, to die.”)

I cannot conceive of a Jamaican expatriate voting for a Republican. When I listen to McCain and his running mate, Sarah Palin, I hear the echo of hooves at midnight and see the shadows of sheet-shrouded horsemen. I recall the indignities and injustices of Apartheid and the horrors of European colonization. And I cringe at the memory of terrifying tales I was told as a child about the slave ships and the slave masters.

Could the election of a person of color as the head of a predominantly white nation sweep away the memory of such atrocities? Maybe not. But it could pave the way for other historic breakthroughs. There would be hope for a dark-skinned Prime Minister in Canada, Britain or Australia, for example.

Martin Luther King’s dream might yet be realized, not only in America, but also around the world. People might actually be judged by their character and achievements, and not by the color of their skin or the birthplace of an ancient ancestor. Bob Marley’s evocative refrain might yet prove prophetic.

“One love, one heart. Let’s get together and feel all right.”

George Graham is a Jamaican-born journalist and author who has worked as a reporter in the Caribbean and North America for more than half a century. He lives in Lakeland, Florida. For information, see his web site at

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

In choosing a presidential candidate, keen discernment, not giddy longing is required. This is extremely difficult given the pied piper atmosphere that engulfs us. The backdrop of war and recession just adds to the drama, tension, runaway panic and thus limited objective thinking.

In addition, we are indeed in the super bowl season of trash talking. It is the season of the herd mentality, where quiet, reason reflection is swept away by the tsunami of change and hope. Remember, a dead fish can float downstream, but it takes a live one to swim upstream. It takes more courage to express a personal conviction that runs counter to the stream, and this is what I hope to deliver.

Here we are a mosaic of people under the stress of political polemic peak-ness. It is not only the difference in political outlook that is causing these gale force winds, it is also the forced homogeneity that promises to strip one of individual choice. Permit me to inject the rule of reason in the hope of informing one's objective sensibilities. Discernment requires critical thinking. Critical thinking is not afraid to be wrong. It works with fairness, and respect.

It is not hooked on the consensus idea. It is not an undisciplined emotion that will give sway to the current popularity wave, like a teenager at a jamming concert, but it does careful analysis and evaluation for one's self. We come to this significant debate with the upfront acknowledgement that we are shaped by our upbringing and conditioning, and thus monolithic conformitydisadvantage the group's synergistic potential.

There is no doubt that the historical nature of the race has an enormous tug on the heart. Who wants to be on the wrong side of history? I however, write this piece with a future grandchild in mind. Should I be so privileged, I want to share the thinking and decisions that guided my vote at this most historical moment. I would share that I used the timetested principle of paying more attention to the "marriage rather than the courtship and wedding".

So, let's deal with the issue of race. If Dr. King could return, he would smile at the progress that has been made. Yes, indeed America has made great strides in living up to its constitutional creed. The enormous progress this country has made in becoming a more perfect union should be trumpeted. Statements by congressional leaders Murtha and Lewis discount this progress and attempt to link the present with the dark past for political gain.

Yes, there has been a surge of racial harmony whose momentum is unstoppable. The major discrimination initiatives have been to principally address race, gender, disability, and age. This political season have provided us with candidates emphasizing all three attributes. Surprisingly, the race element has received a significantly favorable and very biased treatment, while vicious comments against Palin and McCain go on without coverage and requisite outrage.

The media that give us a information window into these candidates have been most blatantly biased in this regard. Given what folks have been through lately, the meltdown of the market driven by government engineered failure, there is a reactive hunger for leadership. The mantra of change and hope resonates within many hearts.

The real question needs to be what type of change is truly needed. Great leadership is not a casual commodity, not an element endowed by a reaction to stress and fear. Personally, I am looking for a leader with solid intellect, sound judgments, past experience, and personal testing. That is my description of a transformational leader. Nelson Mandela embodied the gold standard of a transformational leader.

Reverend Desmond Tutu is a recent book; "God has a Dream" shared his insights regarding the recent political transformation of South Africa. One key gem was his declaration that Mandela's time in prison provided him with the needed chiseling to convert his anger into purposeful political power. In addition, folks have equated political power with socioeconomic progress. A careful study of this history shows that that political power has not been a major engine to move folks from poverty to prosperity. I invite you to examine the contrastinghistory of the Irish and the Chinese for instance.

The Saddle Brook forum was a defining moment for me in discerning these candidates against the definition supplied above. This was the only setting where we gained insight into the candidates' reflective maturity, and presidential temperament. On the core issue of life, the response of this being above my pay grade was an astounding quote to me. This is an internal value that cannot be outsourced to an advisor.

Writing two books, being rhetorically-gifted, and having an enviable marketing game plan make for a promising draft choice, not the next leader of the free world. We are faced with huge challenges that will take seasoned leadership to shepherd us through these tough times. Can someone inform me of another time when a major leader was elected with such a lack of requisite seasoning?

Finally, when I construct a matrix of the compelling policy issues of the day that drives my decision; positions on the economy, taxes, security, healthcare, entitlement, energy, and education, finds me aligned with the McCain positions. It supports the market-oriented, entrepreneurial spirit that fosters innovation, and manage risk, which has been the under girding that has propelled the American dream. McCain's bipartisan's record on major challenges is also telling as it givesinsight in how he will embrace differences.

I do agree it is time we practice the principle of Dr. King Jr. Let's judge all candidates by the content of their character, not the color of their skin, even if that pigmentation is white. Then we will truly practice our motto of out of many,one people.