We worked for Obama our hearts full of enthusiasm and hope. We were a small group of the large Obama army; we were well aware that many more people were toiling all around us for the same cause. What was somewhat different about us was that we were Africans -- immigrants to America hailing from a good number of countries: Ghana, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Kenya, Rwanda, Sudan and Congo and other African spots. And we worked hand in hand with a number of members of Denver's long established black community.
Our job was to recruit every naturalized African who had not as yet registered to vote in the November elections. It is from the post-election vantage point that I look back at that time, at what transpired, now that Obama is the president-elect. It is also wonderful to look at today's landscape after the elections. For instance, how whites and blacks look at each other differently; with less suspicion, more warmth and trust, in this new post-Election Day. I believe this election has ushered in a new understanding among Americans -- of all races and colors.
But this is about the past campaign, before these new realities could be appreciated; before the new day's dawn. It is also about black folks, people who for many decades had looked at each other across the barrier of ignorance and mutual misunderstanding.
During our campaign, there was a coming together between my own African-born countrymen, and African Americans -- children of African slaves, who for decades viewed African immigrants with suspicion. To them we were a strange sounding lot; weird-looking people. And indeed, before they embraced Obama they wondered out loud if he was "black enough," because of his African roots. (Their opinion about this issue changed quite quickly after large numbers of Iowa's white caucus-goers defied the winter cold to prove that his blackness wasn't the most important thing. Rather, it was all about his message, about him and the content of his character.)
Obama's run for the presidency helped us to sit in the same place and talk about what is common between and among us: our histories and what the future holds for us. Barack Obama acted as a bridge that served to reintroduce the two black communities -- Africans to black Americans. Because of his presidential adventure, my African brothers began talking to and with black Americans, some of whom begun seeing their Africanness reflected in Obama's story, Obama's message.
I have been an observer of this unbridged chasm for two decades, flying across the open space to each community, trying to entice a dialogue between them. Neither drum calls nor smoke signals have been able to bridge the chasm. Black Africans have lived on the rim of their valley looking across at black Americans with suspicion and mistrust -- a result of miscomprehension. To many Africans, black Americans are mysterious; given to laziness, criminality, excessive materialism and irresponsibility -- all of it a product of Hollywood's portrayal.
It saddened me to hear of how a Somali father would not allow his kids to associate with other black American kids, even though he had escaped the violence and terror of Mogadishu and spent years in refugee camps in Kenya. He described black Americans as lawless and criminal -- Hollywood's brainwash had succeeded so completely.
There is an enlightened black American minority that thinks of Africa as the motherland; a place where one needs to return to to find their Roots. There is the other, the majority, for whom Africans are a breed apart: a strange agglomeration of weird and complex folks who are best left alone. These Africans have strange customs; speak weird tribal languages; and they are from Africa, a strange and dark place where starvation, violence and wars seem to be the common currency. To most, Africa is a place of endless famines and endless death. It is a detestable place where the HIV/AIDS pandemic, malaria and TB have killed millions. Many blacks think of Africa as a bad place, a place best forgotten.
Indeed Africa is all that; but it is much more. It has its moments of beauty; places of placidity. For the most part, Africans are a friendly lot and many wait patiently to know their American brothers better. I thus have lamented my American counterparts' shallowness of thought and who have never appreciated their own reluctance to dig deeper, to understand more. To understand that Africa is not a place of bad dreams, but a place that should remind them of their home generations ago. And here again, Hollywood's interpretation of the Dark Continent has mitigated to alienate the two Trans-Atlantic black communities.
For a brief moment, we came together, unified in our desire to see this enormously gifted and eminently qualified son of America and Africa succeed in ascending to the highest office on this land. Not because we would gain anything personally but because it would mean so much to all of us as a black world community.
Those bridges we built during those few months have grown sturdier; the seeds we sowed have begun to sprout roots. We are talking to each other more frequently; wanting to follow Obama's activities: naming his cabinet, criticizing or applauding his foreign policy overtures. I am sure he had no idea of what a forest fire of community building, creation of friendships across color lines and oceans he was about to set when he announced he'd run for the presidency. It has been dizzying and enormously fulfilling to watch as all of us have changed, just as the landscape of our nation has changed: all because a Barack Obama decided to run for the presidency.
We are like the majority of Americans -- proud we witnessed this moment of history. Proud to be alive at this moment of the nation's and the world's history. Our efforts were richly rewarded; we like to believe we helped Obama carry Colorado.
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