Election of Barack Obama:  Only in America

Hasan Zillur Rahim

Posted Nov 6, 2008      •Permalink      • Printer-Friendly Version
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Election of Barack Obama:  Only in America

By Hasan Zillur Rahim

The improbable candidate achieved the unimaginable and overnight, the world became a better place.

Four years ago, the president-elect said at the Democratic National Convention, “I stand here knowing that my story is part of the larger American story, that I owe a debt to all of those who came before me, and that, in no other country on earth, is my story even possible.”

Last night, it all came together for Barack (“blessing” in Swahili) Hussein Obama in a way that even he could not have dreamed in 2004.

Obama stirred hope in the hearts of people, not just in America but around the globe, but let us not forget that he matched his hope with hard work, undaunted by setbacks and by those who said, “No you can’t.”

“Yes we can” is now a part of the American vocabulary.

By electing an African-American as the 44th president of the United States, America has finally crossed the race Rubicon.

Martin Luther King’s dream that we should be judged not by the color of our skins but by the content of our character is now a reality, even if tempered by memories of hidden wounds too painful for some to shed.

African-Americans voted overwhelmingly for Obama but he could not have been elected president if whites did not vote for him in such unprecedented numbers also, from idealistic students and blue collar workers to liberal intellectuals, pensioners and Hollywood moguls.

America has become colorblind.

While this holds profound lessons for all, it is particularly meaningful for European nations where immigrants are often treated as second-class citizens even after decades of invaluable contributions to their respective societies. Perhaps Obama’s victory will convince France, England, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Holland, Spain and other countries to also become colorblind and inclusive. There really is no other way.

Until now, (excluding perhaps eight years of George Bush), when the world looked up to America, it was because of its science and technology and medicine. But now the world will also look at America with awe and wonder because of its socially enlightened citizenry. Who could have ever imagined that?

Reversing the “either you are with us or against us” threat that defined Bush’s belligerent foreign policy is a priority for Barack Obama. He has promised to meet unconditionally with any leader to discuss and negotiate peace. The international temperature seems to have already cooled by a few degrees, and even though securing agreements with nations alienated by American arrogance may take time, the prospects are promising.

The danger posed by global warming is another priority for Obama. Throughout his campaign, he spoke passionately about the earth’s dwindling resources, its relentless exploitation by Western countries in particular, the urgency of clean fuel, and legislating sane policies based on scientific evidences to protect us and our children from rising seas and diminishing landmass.

But the sheer wonder of an African-American making the White House his home for at least the next four years is so astonishing that it blocks out other thoughts.

It was on New Year’s Day in 1863 that Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. A hundred years later, in 1963, Martin Luther King informed Americans and the world that he had a dream. A year later, Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act, outlawing racial segregation in schools, public places, and employment. Johnson followed it up with the National Voting Rights Act in 1965 to empower African-Americans to cast ballots without fear.

But the laws were only theories and it took many more years before they became reality for those they were meant to protect and honor. A movie currently playing in theatres –The Secret Life of Bees – based on the best-selling novel of the same title by Sue Monk Kidd – gives viewers an idea of how many lives were lost and shattered before African-Americans could actually vote.

While many commentators have reflected on these milestones in the wake of Barack Hussein Obama’s victory, one name has gone unmentioned. It is that of Muhammad Ali. Obama inspired us with his audacity of hope but in the ‘60s, Ali lifted our spirits with his raw audacity alone. From “I have seen the light and I am crowing” to “I ain’t got no quarrel with them Viet Cong,” Ali spoke to truth to power, opening raw wounds in the psyche of America that provoked anger and revulsion but in the end proved cathartic for the nation. The change that he brought about through his audacity and moral courage surely played a role in the historic election that transfixed us on November 4th and transformed the world.