Do You See?
Now that the appointment of a Black President is becoming an imminent reality for the United States of America, I’m really excited. Initially, to be very honest, my money lay with Hillary Clinton. Not just because she was a woman, but also because she, to use her opponents’ words, bore the burden of experience, experience nonetheless. But gradually, I warmed up to Barack Obama, or lovingly as I call him Yo-Mama, who swayed all the votes. I don’t think Obama will cause a miracle to happen. Or that race relations in the US will straighten out overnight and henceforth black and white Americans will dance and sing hand in hand. I don’t think he has a unique foreign policy to implement; he has already pledged to stand beside Israel in all of the latter’s projects (some of which could be, in my opinion, pretty damaging not only to the political settings in the Middle East but also to the rest of the clueless world). But on the sunnier side, Obama can begin a chain of thinking — that all Americans can be presidents, commanders-in-chiefs, top bosses and practically anyone and everyone that seems to generate shock and awe in their minds.
So if it’s gonna be an Obama nation, so be it.
This brings me to an interesting fact that somehow, the notion of a Black President has never been alien to Hollywood, so what if the ‘people’ were not ready for one. CNN reports (http://www.cnn.com/2008/SHOWBIZ/TV/06/05/black.presidents/index.html) that on television and in film, black actors as acclaimed as James Earl Jones and as obscure as Tommy Lister have played commanders-in-chief. Apparently, if you fast forward a few decades, “the notion of a black man in the Oval Office provides ample joke fodder for comics such as Richard Pryor and Chris Rock.” I don;t know all that. I never have been an avid cable-watcher. But I kind of like this silly joke: On one episode of “The Richard Pryor Show,” the comedian’s short-lived ’70s variety hour, he played a president hosting a press conference. During the sketch, he tells a corps of reporters that he’d seriously consider Black Panther Huey Newton for the job of FBI director — and nearly decks one journalist who inadvertently insults his momma. And when he’s asked about his fetish for white women, he jokes, “They don’t call it the White House for nothing.”
Some of it continued in this way being a total caricature. I haven’t watched the 2003 film “Head of State,” where Chris Rock’s president, Mays Gilliam, is said to blabber a populist lingo “glazed with hip-hop slang.” Gilliam’s running mate, played by Bernie Mac (hey, I know him although I’m cable-free), thinks NATO is a person and not an acronym.
Let me share a secret. I’ve watched on DVD, the hit series “24”. That’s where a black president is palpably respectable. Dennis Haysbert’s David Palmer is as ‘normal’ as any white dude. No one reminds him of his race, nor does he evoke it because there are apparently greater issues like terrorism and bomb scares staring him in the face. CNN asks: “Will these depictions make any difference to Barack Obama’s candidacy? Who knows? But what was once the stuff of joke and fantasy could be months away from being the real thing.”
I’m sure the real thing will be a good thing.
All this musing brings me to another aspect regarding India. This is because like the US, India is a pluralistic, multicultural society. We have caste relations, maybe a more stinging problem that dogs our lives in India even in the 21st century. A journalist in India has raised the question: Who will be our Obama? He slams Dalit and non mainstream politicians for not being able to achieve much. Quite rightly.
Here’s what I think: We had an Obama long back. Long long back in fact. We don’t see this person anymore in that generous light any more. Perhaps we do. Some of us. This was Babasaheb Bhimrao Ambedkar, the architect of India’s Constitution. To my mind, given that period of time when India was a new-born nation, Ambedkar’s contribution is above par. Maybe it is even not wise to compare him to Obama.
As for Indian leaders today from SP, BSP and other political parties, no one has that stature. And it seems we are still in a caricature mode. Lalu Yadav evokes laughter far and wide with his ultra-folksy-ness while Mayawati evokes banter and ‘women’ jokes. The south Indian leaders are too remote for the so-called ‘national’ media but even they dwell in the realms of the absurd.