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Mainstream, Vol XLVI, No 49

Obama, The World Rejoices, But What Will You Do?

Tuesday 25 November 2008, by Badri Raina


Dear, dear Obama,
- You are a bright man,
- An upright man,
- A man above hate and recrimination,
- A just man whom suffering makes wince,
- Having suffered much—
- A man who means well by his people,
- Black, White and others,
- And by the world.

Your people did not give you victory
- Only because you are Black,
- But because they long for the return
- Of decency, peace, and prosperity.

Yet, you are to be now
- The executive head of a conglomerate
- That has inflicted much suffering
- Upon all parts of the world,
- Even when it did what looked like the
“right thing”.

You will preside over a powerhouse
- That never tires of justifying all its deeds
- Now in the name of freedom,
- Now in the name of god.
- And the power-structures your predecessors
- Built, often over the world’s blood,
- Surround you,
- And assasins lurk and abound,
- Having drawn high blood before.

What will you do?
- Make intelligent compromise?
- Go down with subtlety the trodden road,
- Putting your best intent on hold?

Or, will you make bold,
- Embrace the world, and walk in its step,
- Giving with selfless grace,
- And taking with gratitude in required measure?
- Silence the dogs of war,
- And let peace and mankind smile?

Everywhere, people wait and watch—
- In the sands of Iraq,
- In the mountains of Afghanistan,
- In the usurped lands of Palestine;
- In the streets and factories of the world,
- Among enslaved states,
- And “sanctioned” swathes of territories
- Where children die in the millions of denial,
- As their elders trudge from land to land
- Looking for some momentary home,
- Till they trudge again.

And in your own country
- Memory seeks to transcend
- Her founding genocide,
- And the animal sweat of slavery
- That furnished the White House
- That you shall adorn.
- Those that made history
- To put you on high
- Wish to be a people like any other,
- Trusted, loved, wanted.

In your victory speech you said
- How after “some two centuries, America
- Will have a democracy by the people,
- Of the people, for the people”.
- Do you remember?
- Therein you said everything, remembering
- As you must have that even as
- Jefferson was writing the Declaration
- He owned a hundred slaves,
- Remembering Rosa Parks, and Doctor King,
- Remembering that not until
- A hundred and ninety years after independence
- Did Black people get their right to vote,
- Although it had been written
- That all men are created equal
- And have unalienable rights.

Not wishing to be seen as only Black,
- You did not say all that,
- But also not wishing to be another Uncle Tom
- You knew and said that democracy
- Had arrived only some two centuries after
- The Declaration.
- Which is why you also said
- That America’s strength is not war-making
- Or the scale of her wealth, but the ideals
- Of that First Covenant
- Which now has found fruition.

Obama, how can you then not see
- That the world awaits the very same message?
- If “exceptionalism” there must be,
- Let it not be thrust like a dagger
- Into the world’s breast,
- But like the light that once issued
- From those ideals of equality
- And unalienable rights.

Could you be seen to be
- That beacon,
- The world would gladly join with you
- When you were seen to be righting
- Those that oppressed the world.
- Something you cannot do with success
- If seen as chief oppressor.

Let, therefore, from the Bush
- Rise the fire that warms all mankind
- Without fear, or greed, and favour
- Only for those who need justice the most.
- So we may with Christopher Marlowe say:
- “Black is the beauty of the brightest day.”

Failing, you risk everything,
- Most of all the faith of those who,
- In electing you, thought
- An alternate America is possible,
- And an alternate world as well.
- And many then will say, perfidiously,
- Never trust a Black man to run the country.
- Unthinkable would then be the regression
- Into bestial war and bigotry.

Take then the blessings of the world,
- And, use your clout
- To work not for the fat-cats
- In America and the nations,
- But everywhere for those
- Who for centuries have been left out.

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