World Leadership and Global Diplomacy:
Barack, Michelle and the People in a Collective Mission
. . . Leadership and diplomacy—are the cornerstones for the Presidential Plan of the incoming regime, headed by the Nation’s first African American U. S. President, Barack Obama. With the support of his female counterpart, Michelle--his wife, his rock, the love of his life, and fountain of inspiration, and the people--this plan could conceivably come into fruition, as their lives together epitomize both ideals.
Everybody, everything, and everywhere reflect the overwhelming love and respect for this man, President Barack Obama. A genuine spirit, his decisions, though sometimes questionable, almost always receive a stamp of approval or at the very least, a level of guarded acceptance, the benefit of doubt. The question is what makes this response to President Obama the norm, no matter the size of the audience, its racial, cultural or otherwise makeup? When posed to Kamau Khalfani, Executive Producer for WBAI FM, “The Learning Tree,” he says that there is a spiritual realm of existence surrounding this subject, a Christ-like figure who interestingly can do no wrong. Indeed, his acts and decisions go virtually uncontested, which brings us the real issue for Khalfan, which is, in the words of God, and later Adam Clayton Powell decades ago, speaking to the congregation, “What’s in your hand?” The question remains relevant today, especially for Obama, which is what’s the substance of the president’s acts? Khalfani questions if the president is operating on the tools of a “Water Walker” or a Statesman. Of course, the ultimate question is which one do we really need?
President Obama, a spirit being functioning in a practical realm, evidences deep emotional sentiments and the question remains whether or not he has both elements needed for him to effectively navigate the practical paradigm or terrain. A “Water Walker” or a Statesman? Kalfani insists that obviously, we need both, but the real question for him is whether there is the proper balance in this charismatic leader, who has, at lease for now, made us abandon our vow to emphasize people power over individual power. Khalfani continues that what we have is the life force driven by the friction of the contradiction, the energy produced by two opposing schools of thought. To be sure, contradictions have always been problematic to human society, which could be better handled if it were simply a matter of right or wrong. However, contending that President Obama’s presence stimulates the contradiction, Khalfani holds that the contradiction is elevated to the highest level, producing a sentiment that might be best illustrated by Michael Jackson’s famous moonwalk, which is the appearance of two counter activities occurring at the same time. While it appears that he is moving forward, in actuality, he is moving backward. Anyone who has seen Michael Jackson doing the moonwalk is instantly emotionally charged. Likewise, President Obama has created this same type of excitement on the political front--two apparent actions within one emotional paradigm. The “Water Walker” versus the Statesman? Khalfani’s penultimate question is whether President Obama is an illusion or a magician, heretofore, never witnessed in the political arena. He ends with three critical questions: Will Obama be able to resolve the issues in the Middle East--Iraq and Afghanistan? Will his high character and moral code be enough to affect the African paradigm? And finally, will this angel-like persona be able to quell the advent of war on our planet, or is he simply a soft-spoken guy who makes people comfortable? My sense is that unless the spiritual and or religious component of the war is confronted--its origins dating back to Abraham, Sarah, Hagar and their opposing offsprings (Isaac and Ishmael)--any and all hopes for resolving the on-going war are ultimately futile.
That said; let us now examine Obama’s personal/private reality, which clearly gives him the strength to keep moving forward. What we have in the public persona is a supportive and loving wife, Michelle, who proves to be a very real part of that equation, and thus, the following is a 4-line poem I have written in dedication of this ideal couple:
Michelle and Barack Obama is a model for respect for us all,
Who dare to dream and dare to commit to each other and to the world.
A loving twosome, they’re bent on changing the wrongs that erect a wall:
Culture, race, class and gender, too, their task to end the peril.
(Hudson-Weems, “Dare to Dream,” 2009)
The quatrain encapsulates the power of a blessed union between a man and a woman who stand as a testimony of the boundless possibilities emerging from a collective world mission. What follows is a quotation supporting the notion that the world both loves and awaits the kind of leadership this president proposes, no matter the ethnicity of the leader himself, which is currently absent from the scene:
“Obama represents something different,” says Klas Bergman, director of communications for the Parliamentary Assembly of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. “He seems ready to listen rather than dictate. That he’s African American only adds to the mystique.” (Reader’s Digest, November 2008, 107)
Indeed, the world both respects and longs for genuine diplomacy, too, which could inevitably bring cohesion in the world at large today. These two great ideals—leadership and diplomacy—are the cornerstones for the Presidential Plan of the incoming regime, headed by the Nation’s first African American U. S. President, Barack Obama. With the support of his female counterpart, Michelle--his wife, his rock (as Barack himself calls her), the love of his life, and fountain of inspiration--this plan could conceivably come into fruition, as their lives together epitomize both ideals.
Each of us has a role to play in the collective mission to improve the world to bring about global justice as envisioned by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. about four and a half decades ago. As head of state, Obama has been charged with overseeing the duties, but we must remember that he is not out there alone. The world has overwhelmingly cast its vote of confidence in support of him:
“It’s Obama by a landslide—except in the country in which he’s actually running for president,” says John Fredricks, director of polling & research for Reader’s Digest. “What is most striking is the margin of his support.”
In the Netherlands, Obamamania surpasses 90 percent. In Germany, it’s at 85 percent—numbers not usually seen in political polling. Indeed, Obama plays well in every country we surveyed. (Reader’s Digest, November 2008, 106)
At the center of it all is the family, which for this couple is pen-ultimate in their lives. Their children, representing the future and the continuation of order in the universe, are a very significant part of that core. By extension, the global family is seminal, as it serves as the key to the basic elements in life—Success, Security and Spirituality. Only if we realize and aspire to the powerful and all-inclusive three “S es” can we truly expect to live life to its fullest, bearing and bringing forth all that has been promised us in our pursuit of happiness. The Obamas represent that quest.
But long before this poll and occasion took place, Michelle, who has the responsibility of upholding the proper image and supporting her husband, had cast her vote of confidence in Barack. Becoming his wife nearly 17 years ago, staying with him and mothering his children, she has offered him her most valuable opinions and advice on both private and public/political affairs. Of course, she knows that he, like all human beings, is not privy to knowing everything; only God himself is omniscient. Obama neither has all the answers, nor does he have the power as a human being to make all that he envisions come to fruition. What we hope is that President Obama has the objectivity, good sense, and wise and judgment to continue seeking out those who can and will protect and assist him and his mission in large numbers, thus, augmenting his information and responsibilities with their varied expertise. No matter what apprehension we may have, we must remember that Obama, as president, is in charge; his appointees are there at his service to help to execute his plan/agenda.
President Obama strategically selected running mate, Senator Joe Biden of Delaware as his Vice President, probably because of his many years of experience in the area of foreign affairs/relations. Hopefully for other strategic reasons, he chose New York Senator Hillary Clinton (a white woman) as Secretary of State; Eric Holder (a West Indian) for Attorney General and Bill Richardson (a Latino who later withdrew) as Secretary of Commerce, indeed, a culturally diverse team. As for his choice for the Secretary of Defense, he opted to re-appoint Bush’s Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, a Republican. Clearly, in Obama’s current selection of his Cabinet Members, he is emulating the bi-partisan practice of not only President Franklin D. Roosevelt of the 20th century, but that of 19th century President Abraham Lincoln as well, his kindred spirit from Illinois, the same state that he represented as Senator, thus, bridging the past, present and future in three centuries of bi-partisan practice. In a recent article in TIMESONLINE,
Barack Obama said today he would appoint at least one Republican to the cabinet as he praised the wisdom of Abraham Lincoln – a president who gave top posts to several of his bitterest political enemies. . . . even if it means choosing former rivals and Republicans. Mr. Obama said he had spent “a lot of time” reading the writings of President Lincoln since the election because “there is wisdom there and humility about his approach to government.”. . . He and Mrs. Clinton have both read and admired “Team of Rivals,” Doris Kearns Goodwin’s book about how President Lincoln brought old foes into government after winning the 1860 election (TIMEONLINE, “Baraka Chooses,”1).
This is not to say that a bi-partisan approach is not a positive position to take. Indeed, it could be, but we will just have to guardedly wait to see what will happen, for example, in the case of the president’s particular reappointment here.
We must know by now that the presidents have the power to direct the trends of the times. We can only hope that their decisions will show favor to us all, including those who have been at the bottom via race, class, etc. Whatever the case, there is still room for us all to fair well, with the need for atonement and redemption on the part of the privileged, and the need for forgiveness on the part of the victim in order that ultimate reconciliation may occur. Let us begin with a focus and review of the three (3) centuries on the question of slavery and/or race--the 1863 Emancipation Proclamation, the 1955 infamous Emmett Till Lynching, and the 2008 Presidential Election of Baraka Obama.
The 19th, 20th and 21st centuries have witnessed defining moments relative to American Slavery and Racism, from its beginning to its continuum, with 20th and 21st Centuries pivotal events. Key U. S. presidents or presidential candidates have played seminal roles in setting the stage and tone for the American people regarding how they respond to historical facts, which have and continue to inform current race, class and gender issues in this country today. As historian Robert E. Weems, Jr. discusses in his book, Business in Black and White: American Presidents and Black Entrepreneurs in the Twentieth Century (2009), U.S. Presidents have used their hyper-visibility to promote a variety of economic agendas. He contends that President Richard M. Nixon’s promotion of “Black Capitalism” during his presidency stimulated an unprecedented national discussion related to African American economic empowerment. Considering that African American communities remain areas of economic stagnation, an Obama Administration’s interest in this issue could re-create another national dialogue related to inner-city economic development, which could help stimulate the national economy.
During the 19th Century, the 1863 Emancipation Proclamation was set forth by President Abraham Lincoln (1861-65). However, in 1876, President Rutherford B. Hayes (1877-81) won the election by one electoral vote, persuaded by his 1877 infamous Compromise, “a laissez faire policy on the matter of the laws and practices of the southern conservative states,” thus, restoring their right to determine what was legal or illegal despite freedom (Till 41). This sets Blacks back, as the federal troops were pulled from the polls within two weeks, denying Blacks protection, followed by an escalation of lynchings, which went uncontested in the courts until years later on a primary level.
This climate reigned for years, culminating during the mid 20th century, with the August 28, 1955 brutal lynching of the 14-year-old Black Chicago youth, Emmett Till, for whistling at a 21-year-old white woman, Carolyn Bryant, in Money, MS, thereby evoking the age-old race-gender American taboo. A mock trial ensued, which was set by the 1857 Dred Scott decision, deeming that “Blacks have no rights that whites were bound to respect.” Setting the stage for the 1956 Montgomery Bus boycott, having occurred 3 months and 3 days prior to Rosa Parks’ December 1, 1955 refusal to relinquish her bus seat to a White man, this cause célèbre ignited countless national rallies and demonstrations, thereby becoming the true catalyst of the Modern Civil Rights movement of the 50s and the 60s., which was first established in my 1988 Ford Foundation Doctoral Dissertation (U. of Iowa), entitled “Emmett Till: The Impetus of the Modern Civil Rights Movement,” later published as Emmett Till: The Sacrificial Lamb of the Civil Rights Movement (1994). During that particular time, President Dwight D. Eisenhower (1953-61) proved to be dismissive in this case, not surprising, as he was the Attorney General for the U.S Army who authorized the Italian officials to execute Emmett’s 25-year-old father, Private Louis Till, 10 years earlier, 1945 when he was falsely accused of raping two white women and killing another during his assignment in the U.S. Army in Italy (Till). Ironically, on the same day of Emmett’s lynching, but 8 years later, August 28, 1963, during which time, President John F. Kennedy reigned (1961-63), the historic March on Washington took place, highlighted by Dr. Martin Luther King’s famous I Have a Dream speech in which he calls for an end to segregation, evoking the 1954 Brown versus Topeka Board of Education Supreme Court Decision establishing the unconstitutionality of this practice. The following year, President Lyndon B. Johnson (1963-69) signed the 1964 Civil Rights Bill, over 100 years after the Emancipation Proclamation, which legally concluded the Hayes Compromise some 78 years later with the legal removal of the shackles from African Americans. During his reign, President Richard Nixon (1969-73) moved from promoting Civil Rights to promoting “Black Capitalism,” shortly thereafter shifting to “minority” business; and President Gerald Ford (1973-77) continued his program. President Jimmy Carter (1977-81) reestablished emphasis on Civil Rights; however, President Ronald Reagan (1981-89) reverted to conservatism with his Reaganomics, and President George H. W. Bush (1989-93) continued that agenda. President Bill Clinton (1993-2001) brought about an economic paradigm shift. Reflecting on the immediate past president, we have President George W. Bush (2001-09), who presided over the deterioration of America’s infrastructure, which negatively affected the Middle Class, thus, symbolizing the economic plight of all Americans. He will be most remembered for his response to Katrina in August 2005 and its aftermath, evoking the genocide of Blacks in the Middle Passage. This incident marked the 50th anniversary of Till’s lynching, “evidencing the victimization of the oppressed as a Till continuum . . . a picture ugly as the bloated face of Emmett symbolizing the true ugliness of American racism 50 [plus] years ago.” The prophetic question I raised in the opening plenary during the Emmett Till Forum at the Center for Black Studies at Northern Illinois University (Dr. LaVern Gyant, Director) October, 2005, commemorating the anniversary of Till’s lynching, leads us to today’s presidential dilemma: “Will the current disastrous events that have taken a toll on Bush’s approval ratings be the catalyst for the birth of a new social change movement?” (The Definitive Till, 197).
Be that as it may, today we are witnessing history at its peak with the ascendance of the first U. S. Black President, hailing from the home state of President Lincoln, thereby, bringing this issue of slavery and racism in modern day politics to full circle. “Change,” a much needed goal for our reclamation of world leadership, global diplomacy, race, gender and economic parity is the motto for Obama’s campaign/program, which, he promised in his acceptance speech on August 28, 2008, interestingly exactly 53 years to the day after Till’s 1955 horrific lynching, and 45 years after Dr. King’s 1963 I Have a Dream speech, after which he evolved from Civil Rights to Human Rights, as presented in his collection of orations, The Canadian Massey Lecture Series (1967). Ironically, these events share a commonality with President Obama, which should focus on the plight or concerns of the masses. To be sure, these icons/events converge, bringing together the past, present and future via the obvious thread that connects them--the August 28 date. But it was on April 3, 1968, the night before King was assassinated in Memphis, TN that he delivered his Swan-Song Mountain Top Speech, in which he outlined an economic plan and predicted that though he as an individual may not get to the Promise Land, we as a collective body, will, via our collective efforts.
Make no mistake. President Obama is a young man, 47, and so was President John F. Kennedy before him, who was, at the time of his presidential victory, in fact, some 4 to 5 years Obama’s junior. Nonetheless, he, as Obama will do, made some solid decisions and some very powerfully strategic moves for the betterment of this country at that time. This is not to say that he was perfect; clearly there were some things that he did not do. However, the best illustration of his leadership and strength was the 1962 Cuban Missile crisis, when President Kennedy confronted the Soviet Union about their missile, which was positioned in Cuba and aimed at American. The Soviets succumbed and quickly removed it. Conversely, President Reagan, an elder, was more successful in bringing us down to economic devastation. His leadership in our economic decline was continued by Senior George Bush, with a continuum executed by Junior George Bush. So here we are today with a near trillion dollar deficit, the largest deficit in history, including our financial state during the historic Great Depression. That said, it is amazing that people don’t usually think of the positive young man of leadership, such as President Kennedy, a foil to the precedents set by their elders, President Reagan and Senior Bush, when they criticize Obama’s youth and his so-called inexperience. Perhaps he, like his positive youthful predecessors, can rescue us from doom and financial devastation. But we must know that he has inherited a monster and that monster can not expect to be crushed overnight. It can, however, be done, but it will take time and a collective effort on all our parts. It can and will be done, so that we can at last say, “We did it!” echoing the theme and motto of Obama’s campaign, “Yes, we can!” And President Barack Obama has taken the first step in seizing the opportunity to do just that via winning presidency in this most historic election, truly a milestone.
It is virtually impossible at this early stage to fathom the magnitude of the impact of Obama’s winning on the masses of people, Blacks in particular, but we must know that it has the potential of being humongous. Despite the fact that today we are at a point of devastation--losing our jobs, our homes, our families, our sanity and our lives--there is still hope, as we have not yet reached the 30s Great Depression level, when many banks failed. For starts, we have the possibilities in Obama’s Stimulus Plan, which is the priming of the pump via targeting the lower and middle class for incentives in order to bring forth more. Hopefully this plan and its promises will stop the economy from again reaching the point of absolute depression.
The fact that he won alone speaks volumes to the historical implications of the erroneous notion of Black inferiority and thus, the alleged incapability of Blacks to exhibit true leadership relative to world issues has now at last been dispelled. The worldviews on this long-existing debated issue of Black inferiority/white superiority have been changed for the better forever. For example, never again will it be necessary for Black parents to remind their children, as says comedian Chris Rock, “You can be what ever you want to be,” as President Obama now stands as the supreme paradigm of that reality, thanks to what he refers to in his victory speech as “the power of democracy.”
Michelle, too, has dispelled many myths, particularly about Black women and Black womanhood. For instance, she names and defines her reality and her place with her husband and two daughters, strongly standing by her husband in a collective effort to improve life for all. An authentic, flexible role-player who adapts to the needs and concerns of her family, she is unapologetically mothering and nurturing when it comes to her children, as she stands resolute in insisting on being the hands-on-mom. Thus, her Africana Womanist features expel all myths about Black women not being true women according to the concept of “The Cult of True Womanhood,” thereby deeming only white women with such distinction. Moreover, realizing that she is no “Super Mom,” she has asked her mother to accompany her to the White House to assist her in the rearing of the children, a testimony of her respect for her mother (Marian Robinson), the elder, and her ideals relative to family values, which she, along with her husband (Fraser Robinson), first bestowed upon Michelle during her childhood. Thus, Michelle stands as a symbol for the woman in support of her family, including her male counterpart, whom she loves and respects, indeed, a salient mission for the true Africana womanist. Together they represent true love and true familihood in a very positive, productive and meaningful way, one to which the world at large could aspire. To be sure, this is the beginning of something truly great for all of us, no matter one’s race, class, gender, culture, etc. What follows is yet to be known, but what is most definitely known is that there are at last great possibilities--Dare to dream the impossible! Without question those possibilities emerge from great empathy on the part of the world community, steaming from the ability of the people to help propel Obama into keeping the drive to be fair, giving everyone the chance to participate in solutions for worldwide harmony. We are hoping that. Mr. Obama keeps his promise, that he keeps the dialogue open, and that he keeps inviting all of us to participate in the solution with an equal voice.
(NOTE) This chapter was inspired by commentaries I made as guest panelist at The Franklin Institute of Philadelphia on “The Politics of Slavery and Race in America,” 9/17/2008.
Cannon, Carl M. “How the World Sees Us.” Reader’s Digest, November 2008, 106-113.
Hudson-Weems, Clenora. The Definitive Emmett Till: Passion and Battle of a Woman
for Truth and Intellectual Justice. Bloomington, IN and Milton, Keynes,UK: AuthorHouse, 2006.
____________________. Emmett Till: The Sacrificial Lamb of the Civil Rights
Movement. Troy, MI: Bedford, 1994, and Bloomington, IN and Milton,
Keynes,UK: AuthorHouse, 2006.
Timesonline. “Barack Obama will follow Lincoln’s lead” November17, 2008, 1-2.
Weems, Jr., Robert E. Business in Black and White: American Presidents and Black
Entrepreneurs in the Twentieth Century. New York: New York University Press, January 2009.