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Obamania: A Jamaican Fan Testifies

 

By Francis Wade

 

I have become a fan of the junior senator from Illinois, Barack Obama.

I just finished reading his first book, Dreams of My Father, and was amazed at the life he has lived, and how much he has thought about it.

It also struck a chord with me because his first visit to Kenya, detailed in the book, resonated powerfully with me as a returnee to my own home country of Jamaica.


He first came to my awareness with a line that I think would apply to every Jamaican who has ever had the thought about returning:

“There is more to life than being rich, thin, young, famous, safe, and entertained.”

That one hit me between the eyeballs. The 20 years I spent living in the US was all about slipping in and out of values that promoted these peculiar ideals as an end in themselves. Now, when I travel back to the U.S it seems rather strange and the advertising seems bizarre. Here on the other side of the world (I am in South Africa at the moment) the American lifestyle looks even stranger.

I remember vividly that when I lived in New Jersey I began to think that I could live in America forever.

And this was in New Jersey - sometimes called “the armpit of America” - partly because of the smell that assaults the senses upon driving out from Newark Airport, or into New Jersey from Staten Island.

I slipped into this kind of thinking after I had achieved the “American dream” of owning a four-bedroom house on a third of an acre, two cars, comfortable job, house full of furniture, etc. Only a trip to Jamaica saved me from staying in the grasp of that thought for too long.

However, I think that Jamaicans who migrate to the U.S. are tempted, like I was, to slowly accept American values and become... well…. American… even while denying that they are.

This all came from his quote, and before reading the book. It is a quote that has the sound of someone who knows America, but knows more than just American ways.

Obama, I learned, has a black Kenyan father and has a white American mother. His father returned to Kenya when he was three years old, and he grew up in Hawaii, mostly, but also lived for a short time in Indonesia.

The highlight of Obama’s book, for me, was his first encounter in Kenya, at the airport on his first trip. When he arrived, his luggage was lost and he checked with the agent who recognized his name: and explained:

"Oh, you are so and so so's son"


He continued:
"My name belonged and so I belonged, drawn into a web of relationships, alliances and grudges that I did not yet understand"

This is a man who has gauged some of what it means to move back to Jamaica.

Of Kenya, he says: "Here the world was black, and so you were just you; you could discover all those things that were unique to your life without living a lie or committing betrayal."

Here is a Black man discovering what it means to be in his own country, a country in which there is a freedom to live that is just harder to grasp while living to in America.

He also adds in the following quote, from his uncle (or grand-uncle):

“"How can the African defeat the white man when he cannot even make his own bicycle?" And he would say the African could never win against the white man because the Black man only wanted to work with his own family or clan, while all white men worked to increase their own power. "The white man alone is like an ant" Onyango would say. "He can easily be crushed. But like an ant, the white man works together. His nation, his business -- these things are more important to him than himself. He will follow his leaders and not question orders. Black men are not like this. Even the most foolish black man thinks he knows better than the wise man. That is why the black man will always lose."”

Phew!

The book is brilliant, and speaks powerfully to everyone with a commitment to finding their roots – I recommend it.

 

Francis Wade is a management consultant based in Kingston, Jamaica. His passion is the transformation of Caribbean workplaces, economies and society. He blogs at Chronicles From a Caribbean Cubicle.

  

Please e-mail comments about this piece to comments@thenewblackmagazine.com

 

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