By Mazrui, Ali A.
Islamic Horizons , Vol. 38, No. 1
BARACK OBAMA SETS A PRECEDENT OF UPWARD BLACK POLITICAL MOBILITY NOT ONLY FOR THE UNITED STATES, BUT ALSO FOR OTHER WESTERN COUNTRIES WITH WHITE MAJORITIES.
Barack Hussein Obama, as president of the United States, becomes the most powerful Black man in the entire history of civilization up to this point in time. There is no point in trying to compare him to Ramses II of ancient Egypt, who controlled mainly Egypt, the Nile Valley, and the surrounding areas of imperial Misr. There is also no point in comparing him to the mighty Shaka Zulu and his empire in southern Africa, or to Menelik I or Menelik II of imperial Ethiopia. None of those emperors of ancient and medieval Africa can compare with the sheer global scale of governance or military reach possessed by the American president in the twenty-first century. Although Obama will be subject to democratic controls and constitutional checks and balances, to all intents and purposes he will be the most powerful Black man in the annals of the human race when he assumes office.
By becoming a Black head of state of the most influential western country, Obama sets a precedent of upward Black political mobility not only for the United States, but also for other western countries with White majorities. It is now conceivable that the world may one day witness a Black prime minister of Britain, a Black president of France, or a Black chancellor of Germany. By breaking the glass ceiling against Black ascendancy in the United States, Obama has increased the probability of Black heads of government in other western countries before the end of this century.
Nobody had anticipated that America's first Black president would be a first-generation African American, somebody whose parents were not African Americans. Given that his father was a Kenyan and his mother was a White American, it took other African Americans a while to accept him as "Black enough." At a conference held to mark the 200th anniversary of the slave trade's abolition, held at the National Museum in Washington, DC, in January 2008, an African-American woman spoke passionately against Obama's presidential candidacy on the ground that he was not descended from survivors of the Middle Passage (the Atlantic crossing by slave ships from West Africa to the Americas). The majority of attendees were African Americans.
In my presentation, I referred to the days when White Americans regarded descent from the passengers of the Mayflower in the seventeenth century as a mark of nobility, the ultimate the status. I expressed the hope that African Americans would not regard ancestry from a slave ship as the ultimate elite status for themselves. Rejecting Obama on the grounds that his father had not arrived in America on a slave ship would be unnecessarily divisive and risk conferring on slavery the quality of nobility. In her response, the scholar used the culture card rather than the ancestry card. Claiming that Obama was brought up primarily by a White mother and a White grandmother, she said that he had not been endowed with African-American culture. He was Black in color, but not in culture. The lady and I agreed to disagree, but I wondered at the time if her position on Obama was typical of African Americans.
This concern of mine was deepened when I learned that Ambassador Andrew Young, a distinguished African American who served as U.S. Representative to the United Nations under President Jimmy Carter, had been heard to say at a party that former President Bill Clinton was "at least as Black as Barack Obama." The Clintons were very popular with African Americans. Indeed, Toni Morrison, the African-American Nobel Laureate in Literature, had once described Bill Clinton as "the first Black president of the United States." Genealogically, Bill Clinton was not Black; Morrison was referring mainly to his underprivileged family background and gift of empathy with Black folks.
But those two qualities are abundandy shared by Obama, who was raised by a single parent and grew up in relatively underprivileged circumstances. …