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10.11.2008 US & Canada

Obama's victory bigger than one man

By The Statesman

In front of a crowd of 70,000 euphoric supporters gathered in Chicago, President-elect Barack Obama steps in front of the American flag and begins to make his victory speech after a gruelling election race - almost two years - to Americas and millions of people around the world.

He spoke to the masses about a woman named Ann Nixon Cooper, who in her 106 years on the planet had been witness to the events which had transpired to put him (Obama) on the stage.

"She was born just a generation past slavery; a time when there were no cars on the road or planes in the sky; when someone like her couldn't vote for two reasons - because she was a woman and because of the colour of her skin.

'And tonight, I think about all that she"s seen throughout her century in America - the heartache and the hope; the struggle and the progress; the times we were told that we can't, and the people who pressed on with that American creed: 'Yes we can'.

'I was never the most likely candidate for this office… if there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible…tonight is your answer.'

While I share in the glory of this extraordinarily historic moment, I cannot, as a white Canadian, begin to comprehend what his victory truly means to the many people whose struggles have allowed this day to transpire, so many generations after some of the worst abuses in America's history.

Yet I do not think that it is important to have experienced a people's suffering in order to appreciate the enormous victory that has been achieved.

I think about what it represents to people of all different races and faces who never gave credence to the idea that a non-white person could attain the highest office in the world of America.

Seeing the Reverend Jesse Jackson, tears overflowing in his eyes, listening to Mr. Obama give his victory speech on Tuesday night, brought me chills.

So did reading about the tremendous pride that former civil rights activists felt when they gathered on Tuesday near a bridge in Selma, Alabama, that marked the origin of Martin Luther King's march for equality, fifty years later congregating to celebrate the realization of his dream.

It is a shame that many of the people who made this possible could not be in Chicago to revel in the appreciation shown for their efforts by America and indeed, the world - Dr King, of course, who dared to inspire Black Americans to achieve great heights and whose family is surely rejoicing now.

But also Stanley Ann Dunham, Mr. Obama's mother, who died in 1995, and by all accounts instilled in her son the values that now endear him to the voting public.

Thank his father, Barack Hussein Obama Senior, whom the president-elect met only once but whose legend guided him throughout his upbringing.

And finally, Mr Obama's grandmother, Madelyn 'Toot' Dunham, who peacefully died last Monday at age 86, tragically not able to battle her cancer long enough to see her grandson claim all that his family had laid out for him.

She and her late husband must be thanked for bravely welcoming a black man as a partner for their white daughter at a time when racial tensions ran high on continental America (the Dunhams resided on the island of Hawaii) - raising their biracial grandson while Mrs. Dunham herself admitted to being frightened of black men.

It is because of these 'ordinary heroes' that Mr. Obama's daughters, who jubilantly joined their father on stage this momentous night, can hopefully mature in a society where they will truly feel that anything is achievable.

They are growing up in an age where citizens of their country have told them resoundingly that the colour of their skin or their gender is not a barrier to prevent them from reaching levels unimagined by their own grandparents.

Pundits are already declaring that an Obama presidency won't heal the racial divide that still exists in the country, and continues to permeate globally. Well, no, of course it won't. To expect that from one man, one election, is simply absurd.

In the ongoing excitement of Mr. Obama's win, we run the risk of over politicizing what it means to have a black man in the White House. This signals a new era for minorities but not necessarily for politics. He will still have incredible challenges to face when he assumes office in 2009.

The United States is mired in what is arguably the worst financial crisis of the century, and trapped in two unpopular wars of their own making.

How the new President plans to navigate these territories is anyone's guess, and an extremely unenviable struggle.

Let us not forget, too, that skin colour is less than one percent of what constitutes a person. Mr. Obama was not elected on the basis of his Blackness alone but because of his core beliefs and strength of character.

To insinuate otherwise is to detract from his personal efforts and those of his tireless campaign team, as well as the collective intelligence of the American people who are hungry for change.

Mr. Obama promises change, however slow it might come domestically. To the rest of the world, however, his being elected President of the United States of America is one of the most crucial changes we need to see.