By Amelia H.C. Ylagan
The night Oprah wept
Barack Obama strode across the platform set up at Grant Park, Chicago, and waved like royalty to a giddy crowd of over 200,000 supporters. The jungle of bodies swayed to the delirious rhythm of hidden tom-toms until he spoke, and all swooned to a hush, by some magic. “At this defining moment, change has come to America,” the new Chief declared.
On Nov. 4, 2008, Obama, 47, born of a black father from Kenya and a white mother from Kansas, was declared the winner of a fiercely fought election for President of the United States of America. On Jan. 20, 2009, he will be sworn in as the 44th US President and the first black person ever to occupy the highest position in that country. “If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible; who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time; who still questions the power of our democracy-tonight is your answer,” he declared.
In the mesmerized crowd, that night of nights for the American people, Oprah Winfrey wept tears of joy. But Oprah is not just any other black woman. Forbes magazine has called her the richest woman in the US, worth $2.7 billion as of September 2008. Her estimated income of $385 million by yearend (geometrically increasing year by year) is mostly from her Oprah Winfrey Show, the highest-rated ever in television history and watched by some 70 million people all over the world. Barack Obama, when he was a senator, had only echoed CNN, Time magazine, and Life when he called her the most influential woman in the world. Thank heavens, she was on his side in the recent US presidential elections, although she had the discipline not to endorse him directly in her super-influential “Oprah Show.”
But Oprah has become that rich, famous, and influential not because she is black. Born to a teenaged unwed mother in an inner-city neighborhood of Milwaukee, raped at the age of nine in the dysfunctional environment of a welfare-dependent family, she was sent to live with her maternal grandmother, while she learned to mould herself into an independent young woman who had to fend for herself all her life. Oprah excelled in school, and very early knew that her talent was in communication, honed in oratorical contests won and in side jobs as news reader for small-town television stations. How she built her mega-fortune from her diverse “tabloid talk shows,” production outfits, PR and advertising agencies, television stations, publications, and publishing houses is contemporary epic history — but not necessarily black history.
Oprah is any woman who has looked at her constraints and options in the eye, and clenched her fists over her heart in a determined “Yes, I can!” In an eerie parallel, there was that man standing tall over the teeming crowd of worshippers at Grant Park, Chicago, on that fateful Election Day celebration, prompting all to say the words she has shouted in a whisper to herself all her life. “America, we are in this together,” President-elect Obama said. “We face the problem of two wars [Iraq and Afghanistan] and a deep financial crisis. But, can we do it?” The crowd shouted, “Yes, we can!” And Oprah wept, as did many of those around her — black, white, yellow, red, brown. Faith, Hope, and Love have no color.
Barack Obama’s color is not black just because he is half black, for why can he not be white because he is half white anyway? Raised by his white (maternal) grandmother who stood in for his absent mother and more absent father who went back to Kenya, Barack had to mould himself into an independent young man who had to fend for himself, excelling at Harvard Law School and climbing up the political ladder by leaps and bounds from senator and now to President of the most influential country in the whole world. His epic saga is very much like Oprah’s, and very much like any charismatic leader of any color who personifies the “yes we can!” drive that people see Hope in. Even for non-Americans, Barack Obama’s victory calls eager excitement to the expected respite from the US global political and economic belligerency under the political governance now winding down.
In a paper, “Renewing American Leadership,” written by Obama for the US Foreign Affairs Journal last year (when he was still tussling with Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination as official party candidate), he defined his foreign policy:
“To renew American leadership in the world, I will strengthen our common security by investing in our common humanity. Our global engagement cannot be defined by what we are against; it must be guided by a clear sense of what we stand for. We have a significant stake in ensuring that those who live in fear and want today can live with dignity and opportunity tomorrow.
“Citizens everywhere should be able to choose their leaders in climates free of fear. America must commit to strengthening the pillars of a just society. We can help build accountable institutions that deliver services and opportunity: strong legislatures, independent judiciaries, honest police forces, free presses, vibrant civil societies. In countries wracked by poverty and conflict, citizens long to enjoy freedom from want. And since extremely poor societies and weak states provide optimal breeding grounds for disease, terrorism, and conflict, the United States has a direct national security interest in dramatically reducing global poverty and joining with our allies in sharing more of our riches to help those most in need. We need to invest in building capable, democratic states that can establish healthy and educated communities, develop markets, and generate wealth. Such states would also have greater institutional capacities to fight terrorism, halt the spread of deadly weapons, and build health-care infrastructures to prevent, detect, and treat deadly diseases such as HIV/AIDS, malaria, and avian flu.”
By Barack Obama’s own telling, the US will still be the lord of the jungle that the world has turned out to be, under the prevalent greed and corruption that neo-capitalism has nurtured. “Change,” which has been the battle cry of Obama and the now Democrat-led US Congress-elect, will be the symbol of a new philosophy to address the lapses that not only the US has committed, but also the rest of the world, in varying commissions and omissions, against what Obama emphasizes as “our common humanity.”
And we weep with Oprah at the Hope that wells in us all.