Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Jamaicans for Obama

Jamaicans love a good race and so it is no surprise that they are focused like crazy on what appears to be the biggest race of this decade occurring right now in the United States of America. I know many persons who spend their evenings switching from channel to channel in a bid to get the latest on the political hustings. They are keeping abreast of the Poll of polls, comparing AP, Zogby and CNN and even participating in mock online polls. McCain's utterances are analyzed to see whether his offerings amount to anything but slurs or attacks on Obama while Obama is embraced as the agent of change, the man who will restore America's image, the man who stands as an example that skin colour oughtn't be a determinant of abilities or character, the man who makes them proud. Oh if the world could vote, Obama would win by not just a landslide but a tsunami!

This was reinforced last week when I encountered a messenger at an office where I had some business. The man was so engrossed in the political discussion on CNN that I decided to engage him.

"Did you see the article in the Observer this morning stating that almost 95% of Jamaicans support Obama?"

"Of course Miss," he replied, "but I want to know who are the other 5%; must be some upper class people."
I had to smile. Firstly he seemed to be offended by the fact that some Jamaicans actually support McCain and secondly he assumed that those supporters are of a certain class.

This was not surprising. Historically Jamaicans have warmed to leaders who lobby for the cause of the poor. In the 1970's when Michael Manley burst on the scene in the early 70’s with his “better must come” theme wrapped around the principle of self reliance, the masses enveloped him. His eloquence and bold rhetoric stirred souls until economic woes (self reliance notwithstanding) and fears of communism stoked by the opposing party who latched on to Manley’s pursuit of democratic socialism helped to sweep him out of power in 1980. Nevertheless by 1989 he was back, no longer in the kariba suits of the socialist 70’s but suitably adorned in the suit and tie, the acceptable “get-up” of leaders. Manley blew away the more conservative Seaga, a friend of big business, who was born in the USA to parents of Arab and Scottish descent. Interestingly he too had succeeded in connecting with the working class. It was not enough however as he acknowledged that he needed to address social issues on a larger scale.

In Jamaica we have had white and black leaders and yes a woman too but somehow the issues that have always taken center stage are the economy, crime and social infrastructure and perhaps ideology but not race, not age, not gender.

Many say that Jamaicans’ support for Obama is influenced by his race and for sure that cannot be discounted after all this is a society that is 90% black, that gave birth to the black nationalist Marcus Garvey and the socially conscious Bob Marley. Hell yes race is an issue and we know that on the flip side there are white people including registered Democrats who just cannot stomach the idea of voting for Obama because he is black. But is it really that simple that black supporters are favouring Obama just because he is black? On some level yes, but Obama offers a redoubtable counter to a stubborn image presented of many young black men in society as shiftless, uneducated and unambitious. Further he has been able to convince the majority of the black populace that he has a grasp of and a clear plan of action to address the issues they care about.

To be sure, Obama had more opportunities than many but he has managed to navigate a path using his brains, skills and no doubt connections to get to this place and he beat the formidable Clintons in the process. That is no ordinary feat and no ordinary black man and it is that demonstration of brilliance and tactical dexterity executed while articulating liberal views that keeps people in awe. Professor Dyson touches on it in this video.

So this time around when issues of abortion, religion and gun control have taken a back seat, the television sets in Jamaica are blazing with American political news and views. Most of the people I speak with express admiration for Obama because he has found a way with the support of the white man to be within reach of a goal previously thought attainable only by a white man. To them he is the underdog and that is what makes it so compelling to watch.

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