Thursday, January 22, 2009

We need to talk about Barack.

History would probably say that Martin Luther King was the first Black man to capture the hearts and minds of a generation, to inspire men and women of all races to recognise the justice of equality and to have a profound and long lasting effect on modern society.

But what about the other Black man ?

The other Black man is, of course, Barack Obama.

On Tuesday, January 20th Barack Obama took the Oath of Office of the American Presidency and for that alone whatever follows, be it good, bad or indifferent, his name will always be remembered for the being the first African-American President of the United States.

It was truly a significant moment for the world, the United States and for Barack Obama; a moment that perhaps only those who have shared a similar struggle can truly appreciate. In Britain, this personal triumph was matched by the election of Margaret Thatcher, the daughter of a green grocer who rose from obscurity to become the first British female Prime Minister in 1979.

Barack Obama's achievement as an African-American is no less great but no doubt many women will be pleased that he has found a place for Hillary Clinton in his government. Like Margaret Thatcher, she has made great in-roads for female emancipation in the United States and in her own way her journey has been equally as tough and demanding as Obama's. Living out the greater part of your life in the public domain and having your privacy stripped away is no mean feat for any man or woman but to keep on battling as she has done is a remarkable achievement.

In all likelihood, it could have been easy for Obama to spurn the woman who could have destroyed his dream but it says much of his demeanour that he has not done so. It's possible he believes it is better to have the enemy within but it is unlikely. His motives, his beliefs and ideals appear fundamentally sound. His desire to restore America's reputation and to promote justice, equality and morality both within the United States and abroad is highly commendable; it is the source of much renewed and positive thinking around the world about the role of the United States as a defender of democracy and as a peacemaker.

Whether or not, Obama's ambitions are deliverable are another matter. Dreams come at a price and that price may not, eventually, be one he can bear; it may even cost him his life. But the truth is, it is not a dream he can fulfil without the assistance of women like Hilliary Clinton, of his Black and White supporters, or indeed every man, woman and child, whatever their origin, who believes in equality. Not just the equality of race, religion and politics but the equality of health, happiness and personal freedom.

It is only the outset of the 21st century but already the world faces enormous challenges. Global economic ruin and continuing climate change are uppermost in the minds of people all over the world. There is no doubt that many believe that this a period of transition, of change. The election of Obama has come to signify more than just the acceptance of Black freedoms but to represent hope; a hope that throughout the world we can learn to be tolerant, forgiving and accepting -so not only can man live with bread and water upon his table but also be free from the horrors of war, terrorism and persecution.

But change is difficult. Many people, institutions and nations are inherently afraid of change, especially when it means finding alternative solutions, giving up privileges and accepting new ideas. The process of change too can be just as bloody, cruel and intolerant as the old ways and only history decides whether actions performed in the name of change are justified.

As the leader of arguably the world's most powerful nation Obama's path will be strewn with obstacles from those who resist change. Stones will be hurled from all sides; they will strike and he will stumble. Obama will have to tread carefully; he may choose to walk the path of platitude and diplomacy or he may confront the challenges head on. Will it be possible for him to pick his way through the debris of the 20th century without incurring wrath? Only time will tell.

It was perhaps disappointing to learn that the inauguration speech was the work of a 27 year old writer, although undoubtedly Obama's contribution was significant. But on reflection, maybe it is indicative of Obama's sincerity; it would have been easy for him to have written a speech doused in rhetoric and hyperbole, or to have adapted Martin Luther King's I Have A Dream, or stir the masses up into a fever. But the speech didn't generate goosebumps, or make hairs stand on end or queues for his memoirs but it was well structured, solid and substantial. It was considered and that made it strong. And believable.

But words are just words. We write them down, record them and we even act them. But they cannot replace actions. So while Obama has spoken the words of a man who desires change and progress only his actions will be his real voice. His actions will be his legacy.

Martin Luther King's words, actions, and ultimately his tragic death made his place in history and now we must wait and see what the future holds for his protege. There's no doubt the task ahead of Obama is beyond that of one man but whatever the outcome, whatever the future, maybe finally Martin Luther King can rest in peace.

Because the other Black man is here and he has friends.

Copyright Jane Turley 2009


  1. Quite the thought provoking and informative post Miss Jane. Well Done! I enjoy reading interesting commentary from another perspective i.e., outside the U.S. For sure.... "Actions speak louder than words>"

  2. Why thank you Mr I, I thought for once I'd write something serious - bearing in mind the significence of the occasion - I don't want people to think I'm a silly billy all the time! Although, admitedly, it might be a rather large percentage of the time....:)

  3. Nice post.

    But we shall see in the coming months what kind of actions he will do.

    Will he do the actions of what he said on the campaign trail?

    Or will he do the actions of what he truly feels?

  4. Thanks Georgie,

    Yep, your right; interesting times lie ahead.

    It will be election time for us next year. I can't see much change happening here, no matter who is elected. But it always interesting to see what or who comes out of the woodwork.

  5. Isn't it so refreshing to know that the head of the US is now somebody with brains?
    Great post Mrs. T. I loved the whole ceremony--pre-recorded music notwhithstanding.

  6. Nice!! Jane......

    I'm just so happy to finally have a cooler and more rational head at the helm. I think many of us feel that we can sink the shoulders a bit. ;o))

  7. I've already decided that you have to be really smart to write funny stuff. That puts you in genius territory! But I enjoy reading your serious side just as much.

  8. Hi Sue,

    I agree! I was on my way to tennis practice with the boys and we listened on the radio; I wanted to be sure that they remembered the importance of this occasion. (Still reeling over Aretha's hat though.)

    Hi Tamera, Lovely to see you! You're right - a collective sigh of relef!

    I've been reading Dreams From My Father and I like Obama's writing and intelligence but in this media centered world it is very important to look and sound the part - which he does. The respect that alone will earn him will certainly help his kudos as a world leader.

    Mr I,

    Oh you charmer, just after a piece of my chocolate eh?! No can do! It's mine, all mine!

    Well okay, just a little piece, just cos it's you...

  9. I take your post as a cautious vote of confidence. Obama has a high bar to clear. Some are expecting much from him. Some hope he fails. I think he would tell us it is us, the people who need to clear this high bar.

    Certainly less serious but worth discussing - did you notice
    missing miss america

  10. Welcome Lisleman to My Witty Ways,

    Yes cautiously optimistic - of course there was a similar feeling of "change" here back when Tony Blair became PM ... and it led ultimately to very little. Indeed, many would argue that many changes that have taken place have not been beneficial at all.

    It was a vastly different set of circumstances in the run up to the US election so I believe the desire for change runs deeper. But you are right, while it is pretty essential to have a figurehead who can lead from the front any kind of real change has been to be endorsed by the masses. So the people of the US must not rest on their laurels if they want to see change implemented and likewise Obama must not rest on his - that's when situations implode.

    Ahhh... Miss America! A most entertaining subject and now that you have set me thinking methinks it is a suitable subject to have a rant about! (Only cos I'm jealous of all those skinny butts...but hey that seems a pretty justifable reason to me!)

  11. Jane ,

    it always nice to know that someone from 'across the pond' has
    cares enough to reflect on the state of our 'union'.

    Nicely said!


  12. Good to see you Eddie!

    Well I've always been interested in history/politics but over the years its taken a back seat but blogging and reading the thoughts of my new American friends has rekindled my interest... and well these are pretty interesting times.

    There has been huge interest over here; on Wednesday 21st The Times devoted the first 10 pages to Obama and also had a 20 page souvenir supplement - That's indicative of just how important this election has been over here.


I am always delighted to receive comments!

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