The world changed on the day that Barack Obama and his family moved into the White House. A whole set of unchallenged assumptions suddenly turned out to be unfounded. Yes we could. We could elect a black president. Yes we could. We could accept a black first lady.
Looking back at my childhood in Colonial Jamaica, at my teenage sojourn in Britain during the early Fifties, at my experiences in North America during the past half century, I am filled with awe when I see how eagerly this surprising nation, this surprising world, has embraced a leader with the unlikely name of Barack Hussein Obama.
I sit in the doctor’s office, waiting for my checkup and I glance through magazines… And I am struck by a stark difference in tone… More of the models wearing designer clothes and promoting expensive perfume have black faces and brown faces as well as white faces. Of course, I noticed a similar change years ago in the golf magazines when a phenomenon named Tiger Woods changed the complexion of the game. But I notice it now even more strongly since a black family moved into the White House.
Not only do I see a change in the way others perceive African-Americans, but also I see a change in the way African-American perceive themselves. Now, it seems to me, African-Americans allow themselves to appear more suave and urbane, more groomed and glamorous… There is less of the in-your-face hip-hop culture, more of the sophisticated man and woman of the world. After all, is not Barack Obama an African-American man? And even more to the point, is not Michele Obama an African-American woman?
Musing on these observations, I dare to hope for a new order in which black Americans no longer feel obliged to rebel against mainstream culture, where they feel at ease and at home in it, and where people of different complexions mingle unselfconsciously… I see a new society emerging, where African-American homes have fathers as a matter of course, where financial responsibility prevails and where community involvement is encouraged… I see black youths being expected to graduate from high school and go on to college, where crime is only for losers, where “bling” is considered the vulgarity it is…
And then a chilling thought awakens me from my reverie… What if… What if this first African-American President fails? What if he doesn’t turn the economy around? What if his initiatives to reshape society in a temperate and just manner are sabotaged?
I will not… I cannot… go there. The disillusionment would be too devastating, the bitterness too enduring, the ripple effect too far-reaching. The answer is that Obama must not fail. This thing he has wrought is too big to fail.