Thu | Jun 21, 2018

Barack to Barack, but they don't like black

Published:Sunday | November 11, 2012 | 12:00 AM
Silhouettes of people's heads are seen in front of an electoral US map at the US Embassy in Skopje, Macedonia, early last Wednesday. - AP

Orville Taylor, Contributor

Black lightning struck twice in the same place in the same country almost exactly four years to the date. One can be forgiven for now calling him the Barack-to-Barack winner.

Whatever might be the religious orientation of the reader, the name must have been prophetic. His name, Obama, means 'sent by God' in Swahili, the language of his father. In Arabic, the Muslim tongue, its meaning is 'eagle'. Barack means 'the blessed one' in Swahili and Arabic. In Hebrew, it means 'lightning and thunder'. Perhaps more important to females and gays who supported him over Mitt Romney, he has an infamous Sunni Muslim middle name, 'Hussein', which however, means the good and handsome man.

Inspired by our own Usain Bolt as he marched along his campaign trail, he flashed brilliant before, during and after the thunderstorms. This is the blessed American eagle sent by God, who created a storm.

Obama had recognised months ago that his campaign did not have the leg speed of Bolt and, thus, had to put in extra work. Interestingly, as with the Jamaican iconic superstar, in his first trial leading up to the big race, he faltered, floundered and was decisively beaten. In the second contest, he was more competitive, but in the finals, he thundered out of the blocks, and although Romney had an early lead, he burned him.

By the time the racist voters and remnants of the Ku Klux Klan could shout, "Nig-", it was all over by the shout. The black man was once again president of the country where thousands were lynched simply for being of obvious African descent.

More ironic and to the chagrin of the persons in the Bible Belt South where the Klan flourished, he is heading the party whose history had a deep history of racism and which had senior members who doubled as Klansmen.

More intriguingly, Romney represented the Republican Party, one formed in 1854 in Wisconsin, in the Northeast, by a group of anti-slavery advocates. Indeed, it was Republican Abraham Lincoln who headed the country during the Civil War in the 1860s. Pathetically, Lincoln's Democratic vice-president Andrew Johnson, who succeeded him upon his assassination, ushered in an era of unmitigated racism, which for almost a century reversed many of the gains.

It is poetic justice of sorts, because the Democrats had vehemently but eventually unsuccessfully opposed the seating of Hiram Revels, who had won a Mississippi Senate seat by a margin of 81 to 15 in 1870.

Revels became the first black member of the Senate and member of Congress on the whole, and later opened the door for Blanche K. Bruce (a man), also in Mississippi, who served from 1875-1881. The systemic racism, which was perpetuated by the Democrats, kept blacks out of the Senate for almost a century. It was not until five years after Jamaica got Independence that Edward Brooke continued the black lineage in the Senate. Believe it or not, Obama is only the fifth African American to be elected to the Senate in the entire history of the US.

Paradigm shift

Lincoln, who is suspected of having black ancestry himself, must be throwing cartwheels and 'puppalicks' (somersaults) that less than 60 years after the Democrats had a paradigm shift and finally started embracing blacks, Obama has turned it bottoms up and made the racists kiss their hopes goodbye.

Nevertheless, the same Lincoln who, according to Westmoreland-born 'Jamerican scholar' J.A. Rogers, was the progeny of a black man, must be crying beneath his monument over the retrograde steps his party has made over the last 100 years. The man whose law partner, William Hendon, declared, in The Hidden Lincoln, that Honest Abe was a 'jacket' must be dying all over again on seeing how divided his nation still is, 147 years after the last town of Galveston, Texas, was freed in 1865.

Almost invariably, the white male vote supported Romney. More than 60 per cent of white males marked their Xs and, perhaps their equivalent of the inverted cross, against Obama. On the other hand, Latinos voted overwhelmingly for Obama, with 71 per cent, and a similar percentage of Asians did. Doubtless, the brothers and sisters represented, and with the exception of Michael Jordan and a few token 'coloured folks', black and Barack were virtual synonyms, as much as they are almost homophones.

And, his reversal of the 'don't ask, don't tell' policy, which discriminated against homosexuals in the military, must have given him a boost. And his more tolerant opinion on gay marriages must have helped him immensely in California, the state where the Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger was governor. Despite Sacramento being the seat of political power, the real capitals are Hollywood, the 'home' of the Lakers, and San Francisco, the home of the legendary 49ers. Most important, though, California is the place where the diverse is the normal, and gays are very comfortable there. More critically, California has 55 Electoral College votes, 20 per cent of the total needed to blacken the White House.


Still, the states were almost split along the Mason-Dixon, which symbolically divides the South from the Northeast, very similar to the schism during the Civil War. Country western states, of Arizona, Louisiana, Texas, Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas, Kansas, Tennessee, Nebraska, the Dakotas, the Carolinas, Georgia, Kentucky, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, West Virginia and Utah, all sounding like the backdrops for movies on the Western Channel and Snuffy Smith cartoons, are among the Romney-philes. The voting was so 1860s, one would almost expect Romney to concede by saying, "Gol' dang, it don't make me no never mind!"

On the other hand, the more liberal and diverse states of New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania and Illinois, with larger urban populations, sided with the president. And as the strategists noted, the victory is in the number of Electoral College votes and not the popular vote. Notwithstanding this, Obama did win the popular vote, with 60,782,354 to Romney's 57,884,882.

In my view, contrary to history in the Caribbean, the hurricane did not blow Obama out of power because he acted decisively. So impressive was his stewardship that his opposition governor in New Jersey gave him full kudos. Hurricane Sandy was a Godsend for the man whose name means 'lightning'. She is female, so she represented 55 per cent of American women.

Indeed, the states which were seriously affected have larger numbers of Electoral College votes: New York, Delaware, New Jersey, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Connecticut and New England. They all account for more than 100 Electoral College votes. You might call it luck, but insurance companies call it an act of God.

However, despite the celebration, he has merely two percentage points more supporting him than Romney. Obama is facing the same dilemma as Lincoln did. Half of the country is against him.

To compound matters, the House of Representatives is still held by the Republicans, and the Senate by the Democrats. In past few years, the Republicans have used this majority to stymie many of his progressive, people-oriented initiatives. They could very well continue to do so, and America will suffer if they do. A weak and unstable American economy is a death knell to Jamaicans.

Nevertheless, Obama's victory might not directly benefit us overly. But, in a world bereft of positive black male role models, this should give us a push. Hopefully, we might see more policies that are pro-Jamaican. But let us just savour this victory for all it's worth.

Dr Orville Taylor is senior lecturer in sociology at the UWI and a radio talk-show host. Email feedback to and