Posts Tagged ‘Obama’

The date is December 10, 2014, I am up late watching the Late Night Show with David Letterman, up to the stage comes, my now favourite rapper, J. Cole and he is performing an improvised verse as an introduction to one of his songs on the now critically acclaimed 2014 Forest Hills Drive Album. The entire verse was a hard hitting social commentary on the state of affairs in America, particularly amidst the uproar following the controversial police killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. It was powerful, but the part that stood out for me was his assessment of the Presidency of one Barack Hussein Obama aka number 44. His Obama report card read as follows:

“I’m so elated, we celebrated like Obama / waited until his last day in office / to tell the nation, brothers is getting their reparations, hey! / A man can dream, can he? / No disrespect, in terms of change / I haven’t seen any / Maybe he had good intentions / But was stifled by the system / and was sad to learn that he actually couldn’t bring any/ That’s what I get for thinking this world is fair, they let  a brother steer the ship and never told him that the ship was sinking…”

The sentiments in that performance echoed one of the many thoughts I too had about the impact of the Presidency of Barack Obama, which at its inception seemed (at least to some) to beckon a new day in America and perhaps the world, yet at the end or nearing it one can’t help feeling disappointment. Ever since that day and that performance I have been writing this blog post on the legacy of Obama on and off in my mind. A lot has happened since then and the nature of the mental essay has shifted back and forth many times, but seeing snippets of President Obama’s farewell speech and watching a video of him spending one of his last days in office serving a meal to his White House Staff alongside his family has reinforced how all over the place my feelings regarding his legacy are.

The mental essay on this day has stopped at a point where my mind sees many Obamas, in fact what I initially thought were three Obamas has now manifested as four in my mind:

  • Candidate Obama
  • Symbol Obama
  • President Obama
  • Barry O the person(a)

What will follow are my incoherent and summarized attempts at explaining what I mean by these Obamas and what each means for his legacy.

Candidate Obama

A politician is a politician is a politician and generally we don’t speak positively about politicians. In Jamaican vernacular – “dem a wicked” or so most people would like to believe. But something about this well-spoken young Senator representing Chicago seemed different not the least because when had what many considered a funny sounding name. Candidate Obama just seemed to resonate with everything that is positive and what one would want from a new breed of leadership. He was young and naïve enough to think differently from established norms even to a fault. He embraced young people and embraced them where they were through seemingly unprecedented use of social media. He created a message of hope for the future and the possibility of positive change all while sounding like the most engaging spokesman or dare I say preacher in the process. Put even simpler, Candidate Obama was a joy to see at work and to listen to. Also key to the appeal of Candidate Obama was the potential of him becoming a powerful symbol – the First Black President of the United States of America.

Symbol Obama

Election night November 4, 2008 is here, the ballots have been counted and the formerly unthinkable has indeed happened. Independent since 1776, the land of chattel slavery and Jim Crow elected a black man, a black man named Barack Hussein Obama to its highest office. A black family was to take residence in that big White House that was actually built by slaves. No wonder, that from Washington, to Kingston to the Motherland, black people all over the world were overcome with emotions. Along with the lifting of the US Embargo on Cuba or the granting of reparations as a result of the transatlantic slave trade, America having a black President is one of those things that “they” said would never happen in my lifetime. I am typing, but my words by no means can capture the genuine feeling of accomplishment, euphoria and pride many persons felt with the breaking of this impossible barrier.

But the pride and the symbolism did not end just with the victory for the past eight years, and especially in the wake of the nasty under belly of the 2016 election campaign, the luster of this lovely family residing in the White House, showcasing for the world to see that the impossible can be possible and all persons no matter who they are can aspire to be what they want to be. All while exuding class and elegance.

President Obama

Honeymoons don’t last forever though, and the luxury of being a hopeful candidate that is a monumental symbol had to give way to governance. Back to the J. Cole song. Many persons, particularly the African American community almost bestowed a messianic hope on the shoulders of Mr. Obama. Undoubtedly persons with such lofty expectations were bound to be disappointed as a man is just a man and even more a politician. Even more than that I have come to the conclusion that the Institution of the President of the United States is bigger than any one of its holders and like J. Cole I honestly feel Mr. Obama may have been constrained from being any revolutionary change agent by this reality.

So in his farewell speech he listed his achievements and they are clear, the ship was sinking in many respects not least the economy. Whatever measure may choose without getting into graphs and charts, under his watch the US emerged in a good position on the other side of the worst economic recession since the 1920s. In terms of domestic safety and security, the statistics suggest America is safer than it has ever been. “Obamacare” was passed and depending on who you ask that has been positive as well. For others “marriage equality” is also seen as a positive.

But serious shortcomings are there as well especially on the international front. The exponential use of unmanned drones as a war tool and the deaths of many innocents and non-innocents, the devastation of Syria and Libya are things that can be laid squarely at the feet of this administration. On the home front, whether his fault or not , it seems the killing or brutal treatment of persons of colour by members of law enforcement with almost impunity has skyrocketed, with many detractors feeling as though the president has lent his voice to other issues far more than the plight of primarily the black community.

On balance, as a non-citizen of the US that has to live in a world where the US is the major super power, I cannot in good conscience say I believe the Presidency of Barack Obama has significantly affected us in the developing world in  a positive manner. Many persons may see this as too kind an assessment as by many measures the world could be worse off.

Barry O the Person(a)

Unequivocally, I am not a fan of President Obama. Perhaps that is why, I have developed this Multiple Personality Disorder for him because I cannot shake the guilt of wishing I could hang out with him though. Barack Obama the person or at least the persona that we see publicly is so cool, so smooth on so many levels. He is seemingly down to earth, he is au fait with the latest Music, he is able to have meaningful conversation about the latest sporting event, he uses local slang when he travels and even more admirable he appears to not lord over the “small people” that he is “The Leader of the Free World.”

What is perhaps the cherry on top is the public relationship he has with his wife and children. The man never ever misses an opportunity to “big up” the love of his life and their children. He appears to be a serious family man that puts his family before even the stresses of Presidency.

As I said before, as a basketball fan and knowing his love for basketball as well, despite all my misgivings about Barack Obama I can’t shake the feeling that it would be an honour to play a game to 21 against Barry O and talk about life.

Legacy

A lot has been said above without being able to say all that was meant but ultimately in 8 days the White House will again revert to its more natural hue, though with a tinge of orange. Feels like the “Change We Can Believe In” days were just yesterday but alas time waits for no man and Mr. Obama’s fate is with the history writers now. I’m sure like Fidel Castro it is his hope that history will judge him fairly and positively. He has marks on both sides of the score card probably more on the failure side if I am totally honest. But his other manifestations, particularly Symbol Obama and Barry O the person(a) have left an indelible mark and I have no doubt in my mind that under the current political circumstances, even his harshest critics, myself guiltily included, will miss him and miss him sooner than we think… like within a week we will miss him BIGLY.

The part of this song quoted above can be seen at around the 2:35 mark. (No copyright infringement was intended and “Reasoning With The Cunning One” does not own or take responsibility for the content  of external links. – ALWAYS WANTED TO SAY THAT LOL)

April 8 and 9 2015 will go down in the annals of Jamaican history as the approximately 1313 minutes that the so called “Leader of the Free World”, the incomparable Barack Hussein Obama had the honour of visiting THE Rock. Personally, it was an ambivalent or “multivalent” experience. I sat in awe of the symbolism of the first black US President visiting my little but tallawah homeland whilst simultaneously being slightly annoyed at the dislocation the visit caused as well as contemplating the extent to which as US President some of the policies undertaken under his watch have not been music to the ears of the developing world. Rather than get into the debate on the significance of President Obama, what I will do is highlight the lessons I have learned from the visit and the reactions of us the inhabitants of the rock.

  1. Jamaica is crying out for inspirational and unifying leadership – from the days of candidate Senator Obama people the world over and Jamaica included have been drawn to the ability of this man to communicate messages of hope and possibility. This visit, and particularly the town hall session, solidified how awe inspiring a speaker Mr. Obama is and how just the aura that he possesses was able to draw persons together of disparate political inclinations and social classes in just a general excitement. It also made it patently clear that in our current political landscape there is not one peer or even a close resemblance of a peer that commands this level of excitement or at least across political and social lines. It is clear that we are dying for a visionary leader that alongside having a vision is able to galvanise wide support for this vision through an ability to properly communicate it to us. Let us just hope that our leaders, current and future were taking notes beyond his formal wear style and the specs of Air Force One and the Beast.
  2. We as Jamaicans love a smooth talker – this is a related point to the above so I won’t spend as much time on it. The charismatic orator who is able to wax lyrical is like king in our society. Maybe it is our disdain for parochial dialects I don’t know but when a (wo)man is able to fluently and passionately and skillfully communicate sometimes I feel like we could be led down the slippery slope to hades quite willingly. By no means suggesting that Sir Bama had any such intentions but I must confess, when someone has the gift of gab and this is tinged with grasp of subject matter I too sometimes become transfixed.
  3. Jamaican state agencies actually have the ability to be efficient if the right inspiration hits them – this was a BIG lesson as well. In a country where there are roads that HAVE never been fixed and we are steadily fed a diet of “resource constraints” as soon as THE BEAST ( not the one with long finger nails) needed good road to drive on like magic so was it done. And not only done, but done in quick time. Some have complained why it took abama for these things to be done and lateron I will address this too, the clear positive we can take from this is that “dem bwoy deh cyan tek wi fi fool agen” because we now know what they are capable of and now we should hold them feet to the fire when we and our cars suffer.
  4. Jamaica is card carrying member of the global TMZ-ation movement – President Obama came here for primarily for the purpose of a bilateral state discussion, a multilateral meeting with Caribbean Heads of Government and a more personal interface with young leaders. Hidden in plain sight were these monumental manouveres in geopolitics and potentially huge agreements and all that kind of thing. But many of us could not help falling into classic “fan girl” and “fan boy” mode. And we can be forgiven for that but when our major media players get caught up in fan mode too its funny as hell. At one point I became an expert on all the features of Air Force One and the now legendary Beast (still not the Jago man). One media house experiencing potential dead air actually re-read verbatim what was essentially an ode to how cool the vehicles are. What was less conspicuous was digging into the meat of the agenda but eventually sanity and balance returned.
  5. President Obama is probably the coolest guy on Planet earth – whether you are the president of the Obama fan club or you think he is a “wasteman” one thing we cannot deny is that di man jus cool. “Greetings Massive…Wah gwaan Jamaica…Big up UWI…” Mr Pres just delieverd these patois attempts so smoothly. Not just that, of all the things that he could have done essentially his first order of Business was to make a stop at the abode of the King of Reggae – The Bob Marley Museum. I don’t know about you but the man smooth, personable relatable style shatters the mould of what a very very VIP world leader should look like and act like and for that I think no matter your political stance, if it was just a hombre to lyme with, you probably would want to hol a reason with the Bama.
  6. We as Jamaicans have some really self-loathing and “inferiority complex” tendencies – back to the largescale spring cleaning done to welcome Uncle Barack. Like seriously, this metaphor that “if your family from farrin a come visit yuh nuh clean up too” must be a joke. Let me use it to debumk it. If your yard so chaka chaka dat you almost have to rebuild in order to accommodate a guest den yuh jus nasty and yuh nuh rate yourself. Why are eyesores muck, unpaved and unmarked roads filled with vagrants okay for us daily but as soon as “somebody important” is on their way its time to spruce up. Clearly we don’t rate ourselves.

On this theme of not rating ourselves, last night a very popular Jamaican entertainer, whilst making the primary (but vastly ignored point)  that maybe rather than rushing to touch the hem of Mr. Obama’s garment we should be focusing on the injustice of Mr Obama’s country’s still having our beloved Marcus Garvey on record as a common criminal, referred to Mr Obama as a wasteman. This entertainer was soon to find out who a large section of Jamaica sees as their daddy. The onslaught of people who leaped to Mr Obama’s defence was startling to say the least. Not only that the greatest part of the reaction were the prayers that the entertainer LOSES HIS VISA. YES VISA. And the truth finally comes about. We don’t really care about people being rude to local public figures. Clearly dem a nuh nuhbady. So we post derogatory messages about our leaders, we laugh at the most crass internet memes and oh yes Clovis is like a national hero BUT WHATEVER YOU DO DO NOT SAY A ILL WORD ABOUT THE VISA DON. We really don’t like ourselves and we wonder why people belittle us sometimes but the mirror holds hol heap a truth. I pray we look into ourselves and stop hating ourselves,

  1. Last but definitely not least Jamaicans are the kings of “tek serious ting mek joke” – and I love this about us. From the day it was announced that Mr Obama was going to visit Jamaica social media was awash with the most hilarious tweets, posts and memes to anticipate and commemorate the occasion. From Obama smoking weed, to him having Jamaica coloured socks, not to mention him looking out the window of Air Force One at the lovely Lisa Hanna. The LOLs would not end. Here is a sample of the genius that we are capable of:

Barack Hussein Obama, love him hate him he is and will forever be one of the biggest figures in world history and for a day and a half Jamaica had its moment to share with this monumental figure and that is a moment we won’t forget, doubt it will “define a generation” as one too excited journalist suggested but we kid ourselves if we pretend this wasn’t an important moment.

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