The Pan-African Meaning Of Barack Obama

With his intellect and with his ability to attract millions of voters and excel in the world‘s biggest political arena, Obama is seen as an affirmation of all the latent positive attributes that African people harbor. At the same time, he’s seen as a repudiation of all the negative attributes that have historically been assigned to Africans.

[International: Pan-African Essay]

Everywhere, Black women and Black men, and even the young, are walking around today with their chest puffed out and their head held up high because of Barack Obama, the U.S. Presidential candidate whose mantra is “Yes, We Can.”

“Yes, We Can,” resonates with African people everywhere.

Barack Obama has shown the world what African people everywhere–in the United States, in Europe, in Latin America, in Asia, in Australia and on the African continent itself–have always known: that given the opportunity to excel, African people are second to nobody.

The history of African engagement with the rest of the world is written in bloodshed and humiliation: The capture of Africans into Slavery; the exploitation and genocide committed against Africans during the era of plantation Slavery; during European colonial conquest and rule; the tyranny and massacres during South Africa’s Apartheid regime; the terror and lynchings of African people during “Reconstruction” in the United States, after slaves were “freed” into the streets with nothing; and, the era of official segregation in the United States. All these crimes have resulted in debilitating and destructive damage on the African psyche globally.

Africans know that they are regarded as second class citizens, no matter their level of education or individual achievements. They are regarded as inferior by many Europeans, Asians, and Latinos. This is because, in conjunction with the exploitation and enslavement of African peoples, European media –dating to the books of the 17th, 18th, 19th and 20th Century explorers, newspapers, magazines and cinema– created, disseminated and perpetuated the racist and stereotypical image of Africans that became pervasive all over the world. So effective was the demonization that many Africans now despise their own heritage.

Historically, Africans were portrayed as “lazy”, even when they were imported to create the great surplus wealth that has today made the United States the premier global power. Africans were portrayed as unintelligent, even when European archeological and paleoanthropological discoveries proved that Africans had the most ancient civilizations; and, Africans were portrayed as “sub humans,” or primates, even though archeological findings, and the works of Cheik Anta Diop, confirmed that all humanity –and the civilizations of Egypt, including the construction of the pyramids– sprung from the loins of Africa.

So, many Africans have lived with humiliation and inferiority complexes. They have been in need of liberation.

Africans such as Marcus Garvey and Kwame Nkrumah are still revered today because these men, throughout their lifetime, challenged the racist representations of African people, in their writings and pronouncements.

These men always invoked pride in Africa’s history and culture. They knew that often the racist depictions had specific goals. It wasn’t so much that the powers that be believed in the mischaracterizations of African peoples, rather, the stereotypical images had two principle purposes; to demonize and dehumanize Africans so that Europeans everywhere would be conditioned into accepting genocide perpetuated against Africans during slavery and colonial conquest, in pursuit of commercial profits; and, to create inferiority complexes against Africans by making them believe that, indeed, they are an inferior species, thereby diminishing their will and capacity to resist exploitation.

That’s why African people everywhere have always looked for positive affirmations from whatever sources that they could gravitate towards.

Muhammad Ali was regarded as more than a boxer by most Africans. With every punch that Ali threw against his opponents, many Africans actually saw them as blows against the history of Slavery; against the history of colonization; against the history of U.S. segregation; against South African apartheid; and, against the continued exploitation of Africa in the global economy. Even today, although weakened by illness, the sight of Ali still brings tears of joy and pride to many Africans.

Other icons that African peoples gravitated towards, and still do, include politicians such as Andrew Young and Jesse Jackson, both of whom were revered by Africans in the Diaspora and on the continent itself. Likewise, athletes such as Michael Jordan, and entertainers like Michael Jackson, and in the recent era, great business executives such as Oprah Winfrey, have been embraced as affirmations of Black positive attributes.

The psychological and real damage against Africans have by no means been caused exclusively by Europeans. Many African regimes, since the era of independence in the 1960s, have destroyed countless African lives, while ruining economies and imposing hunger and starvation on Africans.

Idi Amin Dada in Uganda, Macias Nguema in Equatorial Guinea, Mengistu Haille Mariam in Ethiopia, Mobutu Sese Seku in the former Zaire; the destruction and bloodshed caused by these despots hold up well when compared to those of the European slavers and colonizers.

Mayhem and genocide continues: In Uganda, a dictator, Yoweri Museveni, has confined a whole ethnic group, nearly 2 million Acholis, in squalid concentration camps where men, women and children die of hunger, thirst and diseases, some spread by targeted rapes by known HIV-positive soldiers, because these Acholis have not supported him in the last few elections, nor have they submitted to his tyranny. Estimates of civilians that have died in these death camps in the last 20 years range from 500,000 to more than a million. Ironically, only an African leader can today perpetuate such a genocide.

In Kenya, media reports suggest that the incumbent, President Mwai Kibaki, stole the December 2007 elections, which has unleashed violence and mayhem, causing much destruction and more than 1,000 deaths and still counting.

In Chad, innocent Africans recently died on the streets, following an attempt to oust the country’s dictator; the so-called guerrillas who seek to overthrow him, most likely would impose their own tyranny and destruction.

In the Sudan, people continue to die from the continued conflict in the Darfur region, while the Khartoum government and the Southern Sudan government, everyone knows, are stockpiling arms, for the future battle to separate the country into South Sudan and North Sudan.

So, who can blame African peoples everywhere from wanting relief from all these woes by seeking positive affirmations?

To the extent that the Amins, Nguemas, Mobutus, Mengistus, and Musevenis represent the worst of Africa; Barack Obama embodies the best of Africa and the possibilities. Hence the celebration of, and the adulation of the U.S. senator.

To many African peoples, here in the United States, in the Diaspora, and on the African continent, Obama is not merely a candidate for the Presidency of the United States.

With his intellect and with his ability to attract millions of voters and excel in the world‘s biggest political arena, Obama is seen as an affirmation of all the latent positive attributes that African people harbor. At the same time, he’s seen as a repudiation of all the negative attributes that have historically been assigned to Africans.


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