Barack Obama Does Some ‘Weightlifting’ and Condi Rice Finds her Voice

by Sheyi Oriade

Looking across the vast spectrum of mainstream American politics, but through the perspective of African American representation in the upper echelons of the United States government; one would be hard pressed to find two more notable figures than Dr. Condoleezza Rice and Senator Barack Obama. Both share the distinction for being the most prominent black public servants in America today. But beyond the similarity of their high political status, not much else binds them in common. And this lack of commonality is perhaps best highlighted by the stark difference in perception and the level of esteem in which they are held by their people; the African American community.

Within the African American community, Dr. Rice is largely looked upon with an attitude which ranges between ambivalence and indifference. Rarely ever, if at all, is she known to speak up in support, or in the defence, of issues affecting their interests. And because of this apparent disinterest in their affairs, she is widely viewed as a distant person with superior airs, who acts as though she is embarrassed by them; such that she purposely cultivates a deliberate distance between them and herself.

It may be argued in her defence, that her politics and political association(s) necessitate, if not, justify her behaviour. For seeing as she is, a high ranking republican politician with loyalties tied to a political group; that has never in its actions demonstrated its affection nor hidden its contempt for her people. But I disagree. Her attitude towards her ‘kith and kin’ cannot be justified on the basis of her political affiliations. For after all, General Colin Powell, her predecessor in office, is also a senior republican, and he never seems to convey the impression, that he would like to be have little or nothing to do with his community.

Senator Obama on the other hand, in stark contrast to Dr. Rice, is widely seen as a champion of their community. This in itself is remarkable, when one considers the fact, that as recently as last year, many African Americans appeared uncertain about him and his presidential ambitions. The reason for this being, that he, as the son of an African Father and a Caucasian Mother, coupled with his comparatively privileged upbringing; was not considered to have roots that were sufficiently entrenched in the community. In other words, he lacked the required pedigree to be a natural champion of their interests. But perceptions change.

In life and in politics, the twin dynamics of time and the occurrence of events, ensure that nothing ever stays the same: perceptions; reputations; and ambitions; may be altered, bolstered, damaged, or even destroyed in short order; spare a thought for Governor Eliot Spitzer in this regard. One such event that occurred in recent weeks that had the capacity to either strengthen or damage Senator Obama’s reputation and ambition was the controversy engendered by the provocative comments of his erstwhile pastor; Dr. Jeremiah Wright.

At the height of the controversy, it was difficult to see how things were going to pan out for Senator Obama’s vis-à-vis his political ambition. And in fact, up till now, it remains unclear, whether or not; there will be further ramifications in this regard. But further ramifications or not, the ‘Wright’ controversy turned out to be a revealing affair in so far as some of the leading lights of the African American community are concerned.

The first revelation to come to light was the soundness of Senator Obama’s judgment. His decision to elevate the ‘Wright’ controversy to a debate about race in America; and his refusal to walk the path of least resistance, which would have involved the sacrificing of Dr. Wright on the altar of political expediency; he demonstrated his independent mindedness and the depth of his character. His deft handling of the situation showed that he was not one to duck away from tough issues. But more importantly, in acting as he did, he energised a community of people, by giving expression to their collective voice which had been ignored for too long by the dominant powers in America.

Ordinarily, one would have thought that the chief beneficiaries of Senator Obama’s ‘Philadelphia Declaration’ would be the ‘army’ of downtrodden black men and women, who more than most have had to bear the burden of the intolerable weight of racial discrimination on their shoulders for generations. But judging from some of the reactions to his speech, it is clear that even some highly positioned black people derived great cathartic benefit from it.

Most surprisingly of all, to be found in this category, was Dr. Rice; someone notorious for not airing or sharing her views on matters affecting her community. So seeing her intervene in the aftermath of the debate was as surprising as it was refreshing. Seeing and hearing her bare her soul as she rediscovered her voice took some adjusting to. She spoke freely about the birth defect of Americas’ founding and of the inequities meted out to her people. One could almost feel the pain in her words as she spoke about the humiliation and indignities suffered by members of her family at the hands of racist thugs. Perhaps, her most revealing comment came, when she described the racist thugs who lynched black people in time past as terrorists. Such an approximation coming from one of the architects of the current ‘War on Terror’ ensured that her words had greater resonance.

It was clear from Dr. Rice’s comments that she had been liberated by Senator Obama’s ‘Philadelphia Declaration.’ It certainly came across that she, like some others of her race in high places in America, had for too long internalised their pain and concealed their true feelings on the issue. And this may explain and perhaps mitigate her apparent distant nature towards her people. It is interesting too, to note, that General Powell also saw the need weigh in on the debate; praising Senator Obama for his handling of the ‘Wright’ issue. He too, it seems, was ‘set free’ by Senator Obama.

Even those in high places, it seems, had also been carrying ‘weights’ of their own upon their shoulders. But their ‘weights’ were of a different order to those borne by their downtrodden kin. In their case, the ‘weights’ had more to do with the ‘dilution’ of their achievements. By this I mean, that no matter how impressive their array of accomplishments; they were always subject to being discounted as nothing more than the fruits of affirmative action.

To buttress this point, shortly after Dr. Rice made her comments, I watched a clip of a reaction to them by Lou Dobbs on CNN. In it, he could barely restrain himself from referring to Dr. Rice as a ‘Cotton Picker’; a term redolent of slavery. Such was his impudence. Referring, in those terms, to the Secretary of State of the United States of America, was disrespectful in the extreme. But his attitude underscores the importance of Senator Obama’s speech and the scale of the problem that African Americans still have to contend with. In Lou Dobbs’ view, Dr. Rice, regardless of her accomplishments, as a black person, was not deserving of the office she holds. How pathetic.

Against the above background, I hope that Dr. Rice was being sincere in her reaction to Senator Obama’s speech. I also hope that they were not given on the basis of a calculated ploy to win over black support, prior to her joining Senator McCain as his running mate on the Republican Party’s presidential ticket. If this is her aim, then she will have destroyed for good, whatever credibility she may have left in her community.

But back to Senator Obama the ‘weightlifter.’ Judging from his lean physique, it is unlikely that anyone would ordinarily mistake him for a ‘weightlifter’ in the literal sense of the term. But, perhaps, in a different setting and in less formal attire, he could be mistaken for a long distance athlete. After the manner of some of his paternal compatriots; those dignified Kenyans of extraordinary endurance and ability; who every so often showcase their tremendous skill on world sporting platforms, to the delight and glory of Mother Africa. It is a talent which Senator Obama himself will have to exhibit in his ‘long distance’ race to become the president of the United States. Nonetheless, in spite of his lean musculature, and, particularly, against the background of his ‘Philadelphia Declaration’; he will always be to me a political ‘weightlifter’ – one who helped to ease the burden of his people in his generation.

Going forward and beyond Senator Obama’s ‘Philadelphia Declaration’ on race it is my hope that he, Dr. Rice, and General Powell and others of their stature in public life and office, will learn to speak with one voice on matters affecting their community; regardless of their ideological differences; learning as they do from the following paraphrase of the great Galilean’s injunction – to wit – that ‘ideologies were made for man; and not man for ideologies.’

All praise, however, to Senator Obama for helping to lift some of the weight of oppression from off the shoulders of his people; and congratulations too to Dr. Rice for finding her voice at long last; better late, than never at all, I suppose. But she will do well to remember Malcolm X’s wise injunction below:

‘(In life) it is important to stand for something; otherwise you will fall for anything’

You may also like

1 comment

saburi April 22, 2008 - 10:25 am

quite a good article that expresses the truth


Leave a Comment