A view of Obama from South Africa

Someone emailed me a link to this article in which a white South African gives his views on Obama.

A racial divide, once lived, dwells in the deepest parts of the psyche. This is what was captured by Barack Obama’s pitch-perfect speech on race. Slavery was indeed America’s “original sin.â€? Of course, “the brutal legacy of slavery and Jim Crowâ€? lives on in forms of African-American humiliation and anger that smolder in ways incommunicable to whites.

It takes bravery, and perhaps an unusual black-white vantage point, to navigate these places where hurt is profound, incomprehension the rule, just as it takes courage to say, as Obama did, that black “anger is real; it is powerful; and to simply wish it away, to condemn it without understanding its roots, only serves to widen the chasm of misunderstanding that exists between the races.â€?

Progress, since the Civil Rights Movement, or since apartheid, has assuaged the wounds of race but not closed them. To carry my part of shame is also to carry a clue to the vortexes of rancor for which Obama has uncovered words.

I understand the rage of his former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, however abhorrent its expression at times. I admire Obama for saying: “I can no more disown him than I can disown the black community.â€?

Honesty feels heady right now. For seven years, we have lived with the arid, us-against-them formulas of Bush’s menial mind, with the result that the nuanced exploration of America’s hardest subject is almost giddying. Can it be that a human being, like Wright, or like Obama’s grandmother, is actually inhabited by ambiguities? Can an inquiring mind actually explore the half-shades of truth?

Yes. It. Can.

The unimaginable South African transition that Nelson Mandela made possible is a reminder that leadership matters. Words matter. The clamoring now in the United States for a presidency that uplifts rather than demeans is a reflection of the intellectual desert of the Bush years.

Like countless others, I came to America because possibility is broader here than in Europe’s narrower confines. Perhaps it’s my African “original sin,â€? but when Obama says he “will never forget that in no other country on earth is my story even possible,â€? I feel fear slipping away, like a shadow receding before the still riveting idea that “out of many we are truly one.â€?

Leave a Comment