When hope is gone then all is lost. However, if the flames of hope are continuously kindled, then all things remain possible.
Obama’s triumph in the United States of America’s presidential elections on Tuesday testifies of the veracity of this. His victory renews hope for people across the globe and especially those who are oppressed, disadvantaged or otherwise treated as second class citizens for whatever reason(s): racial, ethnic, cultural, geographic, economic or otherwise.
This victory speaks volumes for people of African descent and especially those of us living in the Americas. For, centuries ago, our forebears were uprooted and taken to all corners of the world where we were chained and treated like animal, simple because our skin is of a different tone. Obama’s victory tells of the progress that we have made since then. It also speaks volumes for minority groups the world over.
My “overseas Chinese” Indonesian roommate Michael Wijaya once asked my thoughts on the possibility of him becoming president of his country. I hope that Obama’s victory will be a tangible inspiration to Michael that, like I said to him long before Obama’s victory, he can in fact become president of Indonesia even though his ethnic group does not enjoy much love and admiration there.
For while something is and has been for a long time that is no reason to believe that it must, should, or always will be.
Personally, Obama’s victory renews in me confidence that with hard work, perseverance and determination I can achieve just about every goal that I have set for myself, including those that others might think are overambitious or unattainable. And while I do not wish to appear to be stealing the limelight, my accomplishments, like many from my geographic and economic context, have come amidst immense challenges, having been gestated in the bowels of poverty (no just economic) and raised in the bosoms of economic paucity. (Lest I be accused of bandwagonism, I believe that every life has a story and that every story should be told. This, however, is not the time for mine).
Earlier this year, I had a discussion with a friend of mine who was then convinced that Obama “can’t win”. He was convinced that some unidentifiable, abstract entity he called “they”, somehow “wont let him “win”. I had then, and even on the day of the elections, entertained the possibility that he “might not win”. I was however convinced that there was a strong possibility that Obama “can win”. For in the world of elections anything is possible. I was happy to see my friend believing that what Barack ended up achieving was in fact possible. We celebrated together.
And, it is the belief in what can be that has kept many hopes alive although many, like Martin Luther King, come to the end of their mortal existence without realizing what they knew was very much a possibility. However, when our time is done, we should look back knowing that we have laid cobblestone on what will become the highway on which our successors will travel.
Forty years ago, Martin Luther King Jr. spoke of his dream “…that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character”.
To a large extent, that day has come.
Many of the successes we enjoy today are the results of the sacrifices of others. Those that come after us should be able to say the same of us.
Like my friend, my outlook on life is informed not only by my experiences but also by the cultural, historic, economic context in which I exist and from which I come. I think that my optimism was fueled by the knowledge that people of African descent in the Americas had gone through slavery and had risen to great heights since then.
However, as we celebrate let us not lose sight of reality. Obama’s victory demonstrates that much has changed over the past centuries. However much remains the same. I do not share the sentiments of a friend living in the USA that “the world is ours now”. And we must caution against such thinking. The USA is still very much the USA with its philosophies and beliefs. It will be foolish to think that those will or should change simply because a person of another ethnic group now occupies that nation’s highest office.
Our history has shown through experience what it is like to be oppressed by others. We must now use this opportunity to inspire hope in others. As we wallow in our freedom and celebrate our accomplishments as a people, let us use it as an occasion also to continue to fight injustices the world over.
Nelson Mandela inspired that hope to the people of South Africa and the world.
As he said in a congratulatory message to Obama:
“Your victory has demonstrated that no person anywhere in the world should not dare to dream of wanting to change the world for a better place.”
Yes, We Can!