A famous passage from the scriptures of 13th century Buddhist teacher Nichiren Daishonin states: “If you want to understand the causes that existed in the past, look at the results as they are manifested in the present. And if you want to understand what results will be manifested in the future, look at the causes that exist in the present.”
I wish to share my perspective on the significance of the 44th Presidency of the United States under Barack Obama.
The president, well-known for his signature use of the phrase, “let me be clear”, inherited a massive economic crisis in a country whose identity is founded on immigrants and yet a portion of citizens and some powerful individuals considered the office holder an “other”.
I am someone whose early educational experience, some of it in the US and Kenya, was that of being the only African among Caucasians.
As this was later replicated in some of my undergraduate and graduate classes, I can relate to the identity issue.
I have family, and friends from my community of faith, living in the “land of the free and home of the brave”, being categorised by some as “less than other Americans and outsiders” and, therefore, not welcome, which concerns me.
The concept of race in America is a genetic, cultural and social prism.
The African-American history, in particular, is bound by a painful past of slavery and Jim Crow.
The Jim Crow laws enacted in the 1870s, until the mid-1960s, institutionalised discrimination, and became a way of life that still reverberates today.
Ironically, it contradicts the spirit of the US Declaration of Independence that says: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed…with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.”
It is clear that some influential Caucasian Americans did not and would not accept that an African-American family was in the White House.
A number of Republicans, had as the first inaugural celebrations were under way, vowed to instigate the removal of Obama by blocking, resisting and undermining his public policy and legislative initiatives.
The adversarial attitude continued throughout his tenure.
And, his opponents peddling conjecture or blatant falsehoods prevented some ordinary people from gaining the facts to understand the decisions he made.
An example is those who believe that climate change is a hoax, despite the best science available showing otherwise.
Obama acknowledged that “for too long, we have been blind to the way past injustices continue to shape the present. We now realise how racial bias can infect us even when we do not realise it”.
A case in point is the use of smartphones not to document the worsening relationship between the African-American community and law enforcement, but rather to record a longstanding, difficult and conflictual interaction.
JOB WELL DONE
So, let me be clear, Obama’s eloquence, intelligence and ability to build consensus among disparate views and ideologies, imbued with a cultural multiplicity combined with humility, real caring for the vulnerable and disadvantaged and his keen awareness of gender politics, will have an indelible footprint on the global political and socio-economic arena.
And, with all due respect, reversing the history and contribution of the first Kenyan-American President and Nobel Peace laureate will not be done without challenge.
Barack and Michelle made the job of President and First Lady of the United States shine.
Ms Wandera is the secretary to the board and climate change focal point at the Sustainable Environmental Development Watch (Suswatch) Kenya. [email protected]