Friday, November 7, 2008

Prof Norman Girvan - American lesson for Caricom

If America can elect a Black President, why can't Caricom nations agree to pool their sovereignty? 

By Prof. Norman Girvan

If America can elect a Black President, why can't Caricom nations agree to pool their sovereignty? It is difficult to overstate the psycho-political impact of the Obama victory. When I was growing up in the 1950s, our dream was that we would live to see the end of apartheid and of the other vestiges of white rule in Africa . That a Black man could be elected to the White House was beyond dreaming—it belonged to the realm of fantasy, like time travel and other kinds of science fiction.
Jesse Jackson's face on election night said it all. It wasn't just emotional; it was the face of a man who had been transported to another world.
Bishop T.D. Jakes
CNN interviewed Bishop T.D. Jakes about his feelings. Bishop Jakes began his response by saying that his father had grown up in a world with 'coloured' drinking fountains, bathrooms, schools and other public facilities. His grandfather had been murdered by racists and his body dumped in a river. It impossible to put into words what Bishop Jakes felt on Tuesday night.
And Barack Obama is not just 'a Black man'. By any measure and in whatever ethnicity, he is obviously an extraordinary person. In addition to his manifest intelligence, brilliant oratory and political sophistication, he is possessed of a deep sense of history and an ennobling vision. Above all, he has the ability to inspire—that rare quality that challenges people to reach above and beyond themselves.
The hearts and minds of a good percentage of humanity came together in Grant Park on Tuesday night. The images on the TV screeen of the varied manifestations of the human species gathered in joyful celebration, with those of dancing Kenyans in Obama's  ancestral village cleverly spliced in, mirrored those of the wider world that vicariously participated in the celebration. We were all present at a virtual, global 'One Love' party.
Michelle Obama
In Michelle Obama we saw the Black woman, equal partner as First Lady, breaking the mould of the traditional, domesticated, stereotype; a confident, articulate professional. She provides hope and encouragement as a role model for young women all over the world, as does Barack for young men.
"a dramatic rearrangement of the customary ethnic pecking order"
 And when Joe Biden's blonde, blue-eyed family came onstage to join the Obamas in a series of emotional embraces—the white family content, for the first time in the history of US political theatre, to play the supporting role in a dramatic rearrangement of the customary ethnic pecking order--the symbolism could hardly have been more powerful. We saw, for the first time at last, the possibility of the United States becoming part of a human family 'where the colour of a man's skin is of no more significance than the colour of his eyes'.
I dislike the assumptions that underlie the question, "What can the Caribbean expect from an Obama Presidency?" It is not just that the expectations are unrealistic: they are misplaced. Barack Obama may have a global following, but his political constituency is domestic.
Within the United States , he must find the means to carry out his ambitious agenda in the midst of an economic crisis that is taking the federal deficit towards the one-trillion dollar mark. Overseas, he must obey the imperatives of America 's strategic interests. To attempt to do otherwise would be to court political suicide.
The main difference from the past will not be in ends, but in means, and in style. Obama understands—or seems to understand--that diplomacy, negotiation and winning hearts and minds are more effective means of pursuing American interests than the ready exercise of brute force. And such a willingness to see and understand the point of view of 'The Other' must be welcomed. The opportunities are to be grasped.
Only the naive would expect U.S. President Obama to put the interests of other countries above those of the United States ; whether in trade, security, or in the matter of offshore tax centers. The responsibility to define and defend our interests remains with us. The opportunities lie in the possibility of more constructive engagement.
Emperor Haile Selassie
 No, Obama cannot be our saviour; tempting as it may be for some among us, cynical and despondent about our current politics; to repose their hopes in a haloed foreign figure of undoubted power and charisma and of common ancestry. It was, after all, the coronation of Haile Selassie in a distant land just two generations ago that spawned the Rastafari.
For me, the true meaning of the Obama victory is that we can dare to think the unthinkable, to dream the impossible. For the unthinkable can be within our grasp; and the impossible of today can become the reality of tomorrow.
If America can elect a Black man as President, why can't Caricom nations agree to pool their sovereignty so that we can speak with one voice in world trade and politics; and our people walk taller in the world by virtue of their Caribbean identity, as did every person of colour on the morning of November 5, 2008?  
And if an African-American named Barack Hussein Obama can mobilise millions of his compatriots of all ethnicities to the cause of creating a more just, equitable and decent society in the United States, that most individualistic and materialistic of nations; why can't this be done in our small part of Planet Earth?
Barack Obama started as one person and created a movement that changed the world. In that sense he is following in the footsteps of Garvey, Mandela, King, and the founding fathers and mothers of the West Indian labour and nationalist movements.

They all dared to dream. Another world is possible. Yes, we can.

Norman Girvan
University of the West Indies

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