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The best of America : Obama's refreshing perspective on Xenophobia

Posted by paa.kwesi on Thu, 03/20/2008 - 18:20

Mr Obama did a great job explaining America's ills and pointing to a pragmatic way to move beyond it (see speech here: http://youtube.com/watch?v=zrp-v2tHaDo . Read transcript here: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/03/18/us/politics/18text-obama.html). I've been in a few 'black' churches in the US and have been shocked by some of the controversial statements made from pulpits. But then again I've also witnessed some downright disrespectful behavior towards American 'blacks' which makes those statements understandable. It is early yet but my instinct is to believe that this was a timely address whose ramifications will be far-ranging. It continues a fine tradition of American ideas inspiring non-Americans too. Xenophobia (the fear of those not like 'us'), is still a huge mental block against progressive ideas in a place like Ghana.

Xenophobia blocks meaningful progress on issues like education. The educated elite in Ghana have known for the longest time what the right solutions to our challenging problems are. We refuse to communicate the best ideas we have learnt in classrooms and societies all over the world to our fellow citizens because we are afraid of speaking Twi to reach the widest audience possible. For years, we have wincingly ignored our local languages because we fear cries of favoritism/ethnocentrism while witnessing the rapid decline in educational achievement by the average citizen. Of course, while we lament, our own children are succeeding brilliantly with English and French and soon enough, Chinese because we can afford to give them the exposure that will ensure their success despite the high hurdles they naturally face in acquiring these languages sufficiently well to be productive in them. Meanwhile if every educated Ewe, Dagbani, Nzema wrote a primer on mathematics for their grandparents' villages, Ghana would have a much higher caliber of schooled talent. Xenophobia, and the fear of being accused of xenophobia, has driven many passionate and capable people into inaction. Instead of "I'll write a children's story for Ga children in Ga and encourage the Akans to copy and adapt my story for Akan children", we think "I'll write a children's story for Ga children in English that most of their parents cannot read because I'm afraid the Akans will come after me for excluding their children".

Xenophobia blocks meaningful progress on integration. We have been talking about political unity and economic integration ever since independence yet to this day crossing borders from Togo to Ghana remains a harrowing experience. We know that the arbitrary identities of being "Ghanaian" or "Togolese" are not based on our own realities but historical inaccuracies. Yet though we have had the political power to make progressive changes, we have stalled and maintained the status quo for at least 2 generations since the 50s. Again, progressive ideas such as restoring the ability to move goods and people freely across borders under the security arrangements of local chiefs and ruling elders have been shelved in favor of stuttering platitudes for years on end. Even though the evidence is on the table that ideas such as a "national" ID card system is unenforceable because of the very fluid identities of people in our part of the world, we enthusiastically champion them because we are afraid of saying: "Enough is enough! These ideas are motivated by false stereotypes: that the increase in armed robberies is caused by the Nigerians and Togolese and Liberian refugees. Let us solve the economic and social disparities that are making it more attractive for our young people to risk violence for gain". We do not have to look far for bad examples. What did xenophobia do for Ivory Coast? Rwanda? Burundi? Kenya?

Xenophobia is what we call variously "ethnic tension", "tribalism", "racism" and a whole host of other labels. Let us move out from behind our fears and tackle the problems with the best ideas that we know will work instead of repeating the same old failed attempts over and over again in the hopes that they will somehow produce a different outcome. If your family runs a business in Ghana, take it over and improve it and your people with your new found knowledge instead of wasting your chances chasing opportunities that you can't pass on to your home community. If you are the daughter of prominent people in the motherland, use your influence and opportunities to take a headstart changing lives in the motherland instead of working that library/lab job and silently regretting to yourself when you're not taken as seriously as your own people would take you. If you are a first timer--the first in your family to have seen the goodness of life--finish that residency in New York, make a killing in that investment banking job, and figure out how to make your entire city/town/village wish there was more of you born every minute.

In Mr Obama's words: be fired up and ready to make lasting change, because yes, you can.

NB: And HRC has done her bit on the inspiration side too. I remember our very pro-women&children Nana Konadu returning from the Beijing Conference citing HRC's presence as inspiration for her own work (see HRC's speech from the conference here: http://www.feminist.com/resources/artspeech/inter/hill.htm). But so far this US Democratic party nomination cycle has done a great job of unearthing yet another example of America's great knack for taking a refreshing look at a cankerous social problem.


Comments

There is such a thing as bad

There is such a thing as bad timing in politics and a saying that bad things happen to good people and on this occasion Obama's Pastor should have kept his gob shut and maintained some neutrality which is what his member of the flock (Obama) is representing. He could easily have made that sermon without incorporating Obama and that would have been fine, but the way he said it made it become a political statement as if he was expressing Obama's prior coversation or chin-wag with him and that am afraid may cost his friend dearly...talk about 'okumfo-dumfo'

The current stride by Obama towards the white house crosses racial boundaries and that has been the beauty and spirit of his campaign, and it would balance the scales worldwide where racism is concerned if he was to win. It will herald the true meaning of land of the free and possibly a trend of equalities and opportunities around the globe.

Racial wars and tensions are bad...granted. But no one ever won that fight by being confrontational and apocalyptic about it. Raging fires are best put out with anti-inflamatories, a bit of tact, diplomacy and common sense.

THE CRINGE FACTOR! WHAT MAKES YOU THINK THAT GOD MADE THREE WORLDS AND THAT I COME FROM THE THIRD WORLD. THE ISSUE OF RACE IS GEOGRAPHICAL AND NOT A STATUS SYMBOL AND NEITHER IS MY SKIN BLACK NOR YOURS WHITE.


keeping your mouth shut

Indeed that is the correct advice for those more 'radical' supporters of Mr Obama. I think there are now in more serious danger of losing the nomination (let alone the real prize, the presidency). First Mrs Obama's talk about "pride", now Mr Wright. Seems that political in-experience is systemic in 'black' america as well as the motherland. :(

Anyway the real radical scenario would be for a native american to be president.


The Best of America?

...The entire American nation is nothing but a grand contradiction.Founded by Puritans and Pilgrims it became a model of secular democracy.As the land of the free it was the home of the slave.As the beacon of democracy and human rights it has spread more wars and injustices around the globe than any nation or empire in modern history.And today, today,it must face its contradictions in the mirror called Obama.

Obama's pastor spoke the truth as he knew it,as over 300 years of American contradictions and failed promises especially to blacks, had taught him.He spoke the truth as he has lived it and as the victims of Katrina will testify to.But of course the truth is sometimes discomforting,especially when the first potential black presidency is at stake.Whether he had spoke as he did or not is irrelevant, the more important point is that millions of socially and economically marginalized blacks in America still share his sentiments.That was precisely Senator Obama's point.

Even with Mr.Obama's conciliatory,objective and moderate speech on race some still managed to fault him for being bitter and unresolved about the race issue.Xenophobia is indeed sad,but it takes more than speeches to right history or change the collective psyche of generations.Hopefully we can sow the seeds that will bear fruit in our children and grandchildren once our idiotic and parochial generation is dead and gone.Humans are all humans and discriminatory categorization is and will remain senseless.

RESPECT THE AUTHORITY OF THE IDEA AND NOT THE IDEA OF AUTHORITY

www.ghanaunite.blogspot.com

www.ghanaunite.com


Good take on the subject

Good take on the subject Mandock, i felt myself nodding in agreement to the deep sentiments you expressed but here is the catch...
When two lovers are courting and only one is very keen, that is half the battle won. The other person might not be overly keen but as long as they are willing to continue with the courtship that is a good sign. The keener one can turn things round eventually with a bit of charm, patience and love. It is not over yet.

What would we rather have? A chance for Obama to make it to the White house and finally break the mould or for him to be stopped dead in his tracks because of a poisonous dart?
Would we rather see him up the podium peacefully so he can put his visions for his nations across and implement them or would we rather cloud his way and drag him down through the mudslinging frenzy of scandal, electoral uneasiness and almighty xenophobic statements that given at wrong times are enough to cause a change of hearts and minds in the caucasian community who hitherto have supported him unreservedly and revived the very reason why this beacon of hope and change for the future rose to the fore-front and garnered respect in the first place.

Now is not the time to open up old wounds, rake up dying fires, point accusing fingers and spit out blood and fire.
Now is the time for holding hands, giving hugs, burying the hatchet and walking and working together towards a future of concerted efforts to right the wrongs of history, lest the hungry vultures, the puritans and the bloody plain biased opportunists use it as fodder and chew upon it and render the work in progress useless!
There will come the right time to address the injustices of society but not before the mouth piece of the oppressed and the flag bearer of unity has had the chance to stand in front of his people and ask them to rally round. Until then, i join those moderates who want a peaceful transition in saying to the Radicals: ''hold your peace''

THE CRINGE FACTOR! WHAT MAKES YOU THINK THAT GOD MADE THREE WORLDS AND THAT I COME FROM THE THIRD WORLD. THE ISSUE OF RACE IS GEOGRAPHICAL AND NOT A STATUS SYMBOL AND NEITHER IS MY SKIN BLACK NOR YOURS WHITE.