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The Black Messiah


Election Campaigns are nothing more than glorified popularity contests.

Xenocrates

Barack Obama

Barack Obama

arack Obama is probably the most glorified political candidate since Bill Clinton. Not since John F. Kennedy inspired America with magical and profound rhetoric, has any politician captured the minds and imaginations of the American public as he. Barack Obama reminds me of the most spirit churning black preachers, like Bishop T.D. Jakes, who could rouse any congregation with powerful words and awe inspiring rhetoric that would make your spine tingle – whether or not you believed in God. Barack Obama iconifies all the reasons people love super stars and super heroes and Jesus Christ. Wait… now I’m comparing a politician to Jesus Christ? Clearly I’ve gone too far! (Or have I?) I see Barack Obama as a trendsetter and a profound spokesman – and little more. However, most black people (not just black Americans) like him for a wholly different reason. While I love this guy, I fear that their expectations of a relatively young African-American senator from Illinois are too high. He’s become something of a Black Messiah – the iconification of all the hopes of Black America brought to bear on one man. I’m afraid of this expectation because of what happened to the last Messiah. If you’re an Obama supporter and you’re not worried, you should be.

Another Famous Black Dude

Barack Obama is the latest in a long line of inscrutable black fame. I wish it wasn’t true but it is. Black people have always had a talent for gaining the attention of everyone around them – usually for all the wrong reasons. However, when they get it done for all the right ones, man do they shine. Most of the famous black folks in America were famous because of show business. Rarely ever does the black man become educated enough (or develops enough smarts) to become successful in something other than a role that requires him to make a fool of himself on TV. Then along comes Obama with the right set of permutations that skyrockets him to fame. You have to understand that the reason why Barack is so loved is not because of any of the individual qualities that he possesses. It’s all of them. If you examine all of the famous, well liked black men in history, you will note several discerning qualities:

  1. Assertive – It takes a great deal of balls to do those things which differentiate famous people from ordinary ones, like relentlessly pursuing an objective (like ousting Illinois senate candidates or running for President).
  2. Intelligent – Obama is probably smarter than most black men (or rather, most men, period – given his intellectual propensities) and history has shown that white America loves educated black people. This is especially true when one has been educated at schools like Colombia (NY) and Harvard (ILL).
  3. Inspiring – Black men have a long history of having an uncanny capacity to use language creatively. Given the pervasive nature of this capacity, I’m inclined to think it’s genetic. Maybe that’s why black preachers command such large audiences and why black churches are so much more exciting. Barack Obama’s “Change we can Believe in” speech is an epic example of that trait. There hasn’t been an American president that has inspired people like that since John F. Kennedy and not a black man who could do it on such a large scale since Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
  4. Talented – His writing, speaking and organising skills are profound – almost savant like. It has caused Obama to become editor of the Harvard Law Review, champion community organiser in Illinois, the most sought after senator in Illinois, (winning by the widest margin in that state’s history) and the most widely covered presidential candidate.
  5. Charismatic – How many presidential candidates can rouse THAT many people to a cause, rallying up a support of a paltry 16 million dollars for his campaign, with no support from lobbyists, none of his own money, and taking the Democratic presidential nomination by storm? That’s right: None.
  6. Young – People care more about you when you’re young. That’s why an old fogie like McCain was quite literally undercovered by the media. Young people (especially young politicians) are always more exciting for all the same reasons why an older man craves a younger wife. That’s what made John F. Kennedy famous, that’s what made Bill Clinton famous and it’s also why Barack is famous. Youth does have its privileges.
  7. Black – This is the quintessential trump card. Many people fail to realise it, but this is the key reason why Obama is as famous as he is. Combine all the other factors and assume him to be white, and he will still be widely regarded – but not as. JFK and BC were white – and they were suitable for a time when America was still largely pro-white. Bill Clinton was considered the first black president, but largely because he was more liberal and like most democrats, seemed to show more favour to black folks. However, in a post civil rights America, where younger white people have now become adults, effectively replacing their racist parents, having a black man sitting in a position traditionally held by white men triggers an orgasmic flair of excitement that is seconded only by being at a rap concert being headlined by a white rapper from Detroit. America loves when the status quo is defeated and that’s history making business that most people cheer for.

There have been many famous black men before Obama. However, they always had only a subset of a permutation of these seven qualities – never all of them. Barack Obama has exactly the right portions of all seven qualities and thus possesses the right personality permutation (of all the possible permutations) to rise to the top of this game of politics. Furthermore, that Barack Obama is the first successful African American candidate is the novelty selling card of the Democratic party.

The Messiah Complex

Jesus Christ, speaking to the masses

Jesus Christ, speaking to the masses

What better way to champion a political campaign for change by the dems than having a black man blaze the trail? It’s almost poetic justice in a way and a magnificent achievement if he wins the presidency. That’s unfortunately the crux of this issue. I feel that many white folks who support Obama also hope he becomes the iconic representation of the maturity of America. I also feel that many black folks support him simply because he is black and represents the historic end of racial inequality in America. It’s like everyone hopes that this one guy will come along, and because he’s an inspirational black man, he’ll magically fix everything. But where do people get these aspirations? Are they even reasonable?

What do people expect from a Messiah? In a word? Everything. When Jesus started his ministry among the Jewish folk, they were not terribly impressed. He was a carpenter boy who came to earth in less than Stephen Spielburgian grandeur. There was no epic Batman-esque entrance, no Jerry Bruckheimer type explosion in the sky, no Michael Bay type epic battle sequence at the end. In fact, Jesus Christ’s whole life on earth was more of a philosophical re-education more than it was an initiative to trounce the Roman empire, which is what the Jewish people were expecting.

The Jews were expecting a robed king coming down from the sky in chariots of fire, armies of angels and an epic Ridley Scott vs. Peter Jackson sword and sandals, digital surround sound, battle orgy where the Jews topple Rome in a massive revolt led by their carpenter boy turned super-soldier on steroids war general. All they got was more wine, some lectures, a fish and bread party, a zombie, and a wise-cracking wood hammering smartass who got his ass handed to him on a stick and 12 hoo-haas out to change the world by telling people to be more wimp and less chimp. What a let down. In fact, it was some 300 years after Christ supposedly lived before people finally got it. Can you see the epic fail in such expectations?

Barack Obama, speaking to the masses.

Fast forward 2,100 years. Enter Barack Obama. His words churn the hearts of many. He has a whole music video dedicated to him. 75% of Hollywood and the media (with the obvious exception of Faux News) get behind this guy and follow him all over the world. White people celebrate the first black man their conscience allows them to unequivocally root for and black people celebrate the first black man to get to the top. Everybody wants something different, but everybody wants something. With such immense pressure and expectation on his shoulders, I would not envy Barack at this time. But why do people have such expectations of this one guy? It’s simple really. Barack Obama, like Jesus Christ, is a messiah of sorts, a champion of hope and an icon of change in every conceivable way. The fact that he’s black plays a major role in this and I’ll explain why:

For Black People

After over 300 years of slavery, struggle, pseudo freedom, oppression, segregation, inequality and the obvious human propensity to treat people differently because of their skin colour, the fact that a black man could defy all those odds to become a real, authentic presidential candidate in the greatest nation on earth is truly epic. It’s not epic because he’s a presidential candidate. It’s epic because he is black. Even though slavery is relatively dead and racism is a by word, black people do get treated differently in America even today. But if a black man can wade through all that bullshit and make something truly awesome of himself, it creates something in black americans that wasn’t there before – HOPE. It would prove, categorically, that they can achieve these things. Indeed, the catch phrase “Yes, We Can” has gained the same level of pop culture relevance as “I have a dream”. It is interesting that both phrases were coined by black men. Some how, some way, this is only fitting:

However, like many human propensities, Hope is simultaneously our greatest strength and our greatest weakness. Obama knew that. That’s why he entitled his memoirs “The Audacity of Hope”. It’s the iconification of the idea of having the boldness to hope in an obviously hopeless situation. That’s very powerful emotional stuff and that’s why almost every black man, woman and child (even those who support the Republicans), get behind this messiah, because like Jesus Christ, he gives them the hope, that even if he doesn’t win the presidency, a black man has a shot at the white house. This means that black folks will finally realise that they aren’t doomed to fail by the colour of their skin. There’s nothing more conspicuous about Obama’s existence than that.

For White People

It’s a little bit more complicated here. Barack Obama is one of those few black men who broke the stereotypes and made it – and made it BIG. White America loves a Black man that has broken the stereotype – at least unless he sleeps with and / or harms a white woman. Thankfully, Obama is not going down that route. Barack Obama embodies one of the few exceptions to the rule. This is what has made him America’s top guy and the penultimate favourite in this political contest. White America genuinely loves this guy – even if some their motivations are questionable.

So what’s in it for white people? At least initially, lots of white folks championed Obama because he paints a positive image of America to the rest of the world. Among other things, it’s the most conspicuous way of saying “See? I’ve matured! I put a black man in the highest office of my government!“. What many of them are also saying is “Now shut the fk up about racism and all that crap.” This is a double barrelled shot gun, because it pretty much says that Obama is America’s greatest Affirmative Action poster boy. In a way, I can’t blame them. You have to understand that White America is constantly being reminded of the sins of its past. So what better way to redeem themselves than putting a black man in the white house? It’s a win-win plan that works for everyone. Additionally, the White America today is not the same White America 50 years ago. This White America is more educated, more intelligent, more rational, more humane, less racist, less blindly religious, less conservative, more liberal, and thus, more likely to put a black man in the White House.

Where Barack touched the hearts of black men, he also touched the hearts of white men. Men are still men, irrespective of what colours their genes give them. However, where ever White America supports Obama, there’s a much higher probability that he serves a dual purpose. He represents the element of change for the next generation of White America and he is simultaneously the silver bullet that is expected to end racial presuppositions once and for all (or at least, give that impression) while hopefully repairing the American image after it was effectively ruined by the worst president ever. The message of Hope is strong with Obama, with even his polical rival copying elements of his rhetoric. Just as how Christ embodied that great sentiment of hope for life, Barack Obama embodies this messianic hope for change that has now become perpetually immortalised in pop culture:

Voting for the Right Reasons

Why are you voting for Obama? If you are voting for the Democratic Ticket this year, you fall into one or more of the eight possible categories:

  1. Race – I want a black man in the white house. I would vote for Barack Obama even if he was GOP. I don’t really care about the issues. He’s a positive black icon and that’s all I need to know.
  2. Politics – I want a Democrat in the white house. I vote Democrat all the time. I’m a die-hard liberal and I would back the Democratic party irrespective of who’s running or what issues they represent.
  3. Opinion – I disagree with Republican ideas. I categorically dislike republicans. I’m probably a member of some demographic disenfranchised by the white religious right.
  4. Personality – We need a good man in the white house. I don’t like either candidate for the Republican party. I’m more likely to vote based on personality and rhetoric than the issues.
  5. Policy – Whoever has the better ideas, gets my vote. Politics means nothing to me. I only care about the issues. I’m one of those undecided or independents who only polls on election day.
  6. Change – 8 years is too long. GOP needs to GTFO. SRSLY. I probably voted in the Republicans at least once over the past two terms and now I regret it.
  7. History – The Democrats will make history this year by electing the country’s first black president. I’m really a band wagonist and I just want to be a part of that history.
  8. Inspired – Obama restored my faith in American politics and that’s why I will ensure he gets his chance. I didn’t really care about poltics or who won – until Barack Obama opened his mouth. This is my first time voting. I’m so excited!

Now here’s a fun activity for you. Check all the choices that apply:

Then go back and drag your mouse over the selections 1 – 8 above the poll and highlight all the text, right down to where it says “Now here’s a fun activity…”. It will reveal some text that explains why you made the selections you did. It will be very interesting to see how these selections stack up.

Conclusion

Allow me to do for Barack Obama what should have been done for Jesus Christ. They say that a man is only as good as his word. That would make Barack Obama beneficent or even magnanimous. But he is neither. Barack Obama is just a man – not a messiah. He’s just a guy with hopes and dreams like anyone else. He is imperfect although he has done many things perfectly. He is brave, even though he has fears. He has weaknesses inasmuch as he has strengths. He can be broken emotionally like any other man just as how he inspires so many others. He can be compelled to do as much good as evil. He makes good decisions and many mistakes. He says things he should not have said inasmuch as he says things that should have been long said before. He misjudges as much as he has been misjudged. He tries to do as much as he can for the greatest good even though sometimes that could work out for just the very opposite.

My point is simply this: When we build our expectations from political hopefuls, we are setting up ourselves for a great deal of disappointment. We shouldn’t hinge so many of our hopes and expectations on one man. Political campaigns are nothing more than glorified popularity contests. The candidates must say what they need to say to win as many voters to their cause as possible using their charm and charisma. That’s how the system works. They can’t prove their performance any other way since neither of them are actually president just yet. They must therefore appear to be impeccable when they are possibly not. They must demonstrate that they are fit for the job without actually doing the job. That’s the issue here. When you vote in November, vote because of the issues, and not because of the popularity contest. Everything else is just a clever distraction.

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  1. October 14, 2008 at 9:17 pm

    “Sometimes I like to say his name when I fall asleep at night…”

  2. September 27, 2008 at 1:12 pm

    I agree with you Al.

    I really do like Obama for all the right reasons and if I were forced to vote, I’d vote for him. However, I am wary of his cult like status in America. As much as I like the dude, I don’t like how blindly America has swooned after him. Now those links you’ve posted have made me raise an eyebrow. I need to re-read to make sure I read what I thought I just read… wow.

    Oh, a word of advice:

    When posting links, only post one per post (as you just did). I had to rescue one of your comments from the Akismet spam bin. WordPress assumes that comments with more than one link is Spam. To avoid this, do:

    www[dot]domainname[dot]com/page/page/page… etc.

    This way, WordPress won’t auto-interpret it as a link if you need to post more than one.

  3. September 26, 2008 at 10:08 pm

    Gee, maybe the Missouri state prosecutor will have to go after Obama: http://www.iht.com/articles/2008/09/26/america/26ads.php

  4. September 26, 2008 at 9:22 pm

    A part of me likes Obama, but as you point out, he is only a man.

    And he’s a deeply flawed one at that. He wants such tight control of his message, that he’s now asking law enforcement to go after certain things that he doesn’t want said: http://www.kmov.com/video/index.html?nvid=285793&shu=1

    Though minor now, this is a terrifying step in the wrong direction. What if I have reason to question his Chritianity? What if I think his plan to cut taxes will actually, in the final analysis, raise taxes? I have a right to hold such opinions and to discuss such things, but in the state of Missouri, the government will come after me for that.

    This is why I could not possibly vote for him. The freedom of speech must not be abridged.

    (McCain has sponsored legislation (McCain/Feingold campaign finance reform) which also infringes on free speech, and I can’t vote for him, either. I’m stuck this time around.)

  1. November 15, 2008 at 9:10 am

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