The world watches with heightened emotions as an African-American named Barack Hussein Obama enters the final round in his unlikely quest for the presidency of the United States of America. He has already made history by becoming the first non-white presidential candidate of a major political party in America. Can he close the deal and become the nation’s first non-white president?
He faces deep hostility. It is the kind of hostility that knows no boundaries, that respects no code of ethics, that will resort to any means to ensure his defeat. This poison is not new to American politics. John Kerry tasted some of it with those totally false Swiftboat ads. Obama’s opponent, John McCain, experienced it when supporters of George W. Bush started a (false) rumor in one of the Republican primaries that McCain had fathered an illegitimate black child. But you can expect the attacks against Obama to be even fiercer and more dastardly, rooted as they are in the most visceral type of racial hatred.
The lies about Obama are already circulating. You might have received some of them in your email. One video patched together by a right-wing zealot depicts Obama as a dangerous radical with underground connections intent on the destruction of American society.
But the main thrust of the whisper campaign is that nobody really knows Obama. Unspecified suspicions are hinted at. There are suggestions of sedition and conspiracy, questions about his patriotism and his loyalties, allusions to shadowy figures and alien associates.
The truth is that Obama is far less exotic than his opponents would have you believe. True, his father was from Kenya. True, his stepfather was an Indonesian. True, he lived overseas for a while as a child. But that’s a small part of his story. This brown-skin man with the engaging smile is no terrorist plant. This is plain ol’ Barry Obama, a kid who was born in Hawaii and lived with his grandparents in Kansas, who learned about life at his white mother’s knee and didn’t know a whole lot about black culture until he went to school.
His wife, Michelle is more authentically African-American. She knows first-hand how this country treats its non-white citizens. She has every right to harbor some resentment, and the forgiveness she has demonstrated is really quite remarkable.
But what would Barry Obama have to be bitter about? It was his black father who abandoned him when he was two years old. And it was his white grandparents who came to his rescue. He owes his education to an American system that seeks to redress some of the racial injustices of the past. He is, indeed, a product of a society that has come a long way since the civil rights struggles of the Sixties.
His name is the most exotic thing about him. But a lot of African men have names like his. Barack and Hussein are Semitic words. Barack means “blessed” and Hussein means “handsome.” Hussein is one of the most common names in the world. Sadam Hussein springs to mind, of course, but so does King Hussein of Jordan, whose queen was American.
So the next time you get one of those poison-pen emails trying to raise deep, dark fears about Obama, remember the kid from Kansas that his pals called Barry, the kid who loves basketball – a born-again Christian who now wears an American flag in his lapel.