Posted on Tuesday, January 20th, 2009 at 6:52 am
Author: Feature Writer
Gc contributor: Renee Martin
In Canada, we have socialized medicine, same gender marriage is legal, and though we have a disparity between rich and poor it does not come close to the separation in the United States. Our rate of violent crime is also significantly lower.
What we do not have and what we desperately need is a man like Barack Obama. We do not have that one polarizing figure in Canadian politics.
There is no one challenging us to participate in our society for the sake of the greater good. There is no one whose body represents a great change to the status quo.
We remain the great white North. Our “multicultural society” is still represented by whiteness and though racism is definitely an issue, we have a tendency to focus on language and culture differences between French and English speaking Canadians. We are the great salad bowl; the mix that never integrates. The fact that our country is understood as white is certainly not deemed problematic, after all racism is something that only happens south of the border, we tell ourselves.
When Barack Obama becomes president his body will stand as an example of just how far African Americans have come. To blacks all over the world it will signify that despite the ways in which whiteness has constructed our bodies as less than, that we are capable, and intelligent. Globally blacks are among some of the world’s poorest citizens. We have been enslaved, had our lands stolen from us, been forced to mine precious jewels and minerals for the profit of others , undereducated, imprisoned, murdered and forced to watch as our women and children were raped and beaten. We remain a colonized people in a so-called free world.
Blacks from Kenya, to Great Britain, to Nunavut, will watch him take the oath office and experience a sense of validation and worth that the world has often tried to deny us. We are the bodies meant for sexual conquest or slave labour; we certainly have not been allowed to lead in any real and significant ways. Many will hold their children and earnestly whisper in their little ears; “yes you can” – and for the first time really mean it. On inauguration day, though Barack is American, blacks across the globe will claim him as our son and our leader.
I cannot help but wonder how one man can stand up under the weight of hope that we have placed upon him. The U.S. is bogged down in wars in two countries, the economy is in a recession (if not flat-out depression), and many social justice movements approach Obama with hands outstretched, demanding recognition of the ways in which their particular group is marginalized. To succeed, Obama must weigh the interests of one group against another and somehow make all sides feel as though their issues have been heard and dealt with.
Our very earth cries out to him for change. Though many claim to be environmentally aware, few have been willing to make the sacrifices necessary to honour our little blue planet. The United States is the world’s largest polluter and no significant environmental change can be made unless the US commits to a greener world. While Obama talks about creating greener jobs and encouraging the production of greener automobiles, the world requires a more fundamental change than that. He is president of a consumer nation at a time when the planet demands that we learn to conserve our resources if humanity is to survive.
Obama stands for change and hope and yet, can he ever possibly live up to the hopes and dreams of the millions across the globe? As a Canadian, I know that I exist with western privilege and yet as black woman residing in a country that has chosen to ignore the ways in which it racializes my identity, I cannot help but be envious of the possibilities that an Obama presidency has for the United States.
Canada is known worldwide as the great white north, even though it is not all white. Its bodies of colour are overrepresented in prison, make up some of its poorest citizens and have had our history specifically ignored and or rewritten to benefit white hegemony.
Today, many white Canadians are not even aware that slavery existed here. We have so pushed the idea that Canada was the last stop on underground rail road, that we have forgotten that there was a time when a black man was chattel, no different than a cow. Though we have shared in the building of this country, we have been raped, lynched, beaten and forced to watch as our homes have burned to the ground. In Canada, to be black is to be an invisible being, unless someone is looking to construct a criminal, drug abuser or prostitute.
Though my blue birth certificate says Canadian, it is often questioned by my fellow citizens. Blacks are from somewhere else because we all know that Canadian means white. I will sit like many other blacks and watch Obama take the oath, wishing that he truly belonged to my nation, wishing that there was someone like him that we could point to as an example of legitimacy and pride. We may have had a woman as prime minister but we still have not had the courage to significantly break the rule of white male hegemony. Until the day comes when my country can have the courage to do what the U.S. did last November, I can only look southward with envy in the hope that the spirit of change will infect my fellow Canadians enough for us to at least have the conversations that need to occur.
Martin Luther King once famously spoke about his dream and for some Barack is the embodiment of this dream, but for many blacks all over this planet, we are still waiting for the day when our worth will no longer be challenged. We look forward to the day when a poor child born in Sierra Leone with a history of colonization, can rise equally as a global citizen. White privilege is systemic and its destruction can and must happen on a global level, but for now an Obama victory encourages us to hold fast to the immortal words of Sam Cooke – “It’s been a long time coming, but I know a change is gonna come” – yes it will.
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