Last night, for the majority of Americans of all backgrounds, especially for African-Americans and other minority groups, was an intensely moving one--one that, as Michael Sean Winters wrote, will take time to appreciate, digest and analyze. But it was not simply a profound moment for Americans. As Andrew Sullivan wrote a few months ago in a prescient article in Atlantic magazine, Barack Obama’s election is a clear sign to the rest of the world about our country:
"Consider this hypothetical. It’s November 2008. A young Pakistani Muslim is watching television and sees that this man--Barack Hussein Obama--is the new face of America. In one simple image, America’s soft power has been ratcheted up not a notch, but a logarithm. A brown-skinned man whose father was an African, who grew up in Indonesia and Hawaii, who attended a majority-Muslim school as a boy, is now the alleged enemy. If you wanted the crudest but most effective weapon against the demonization of America that fuels Islamist ideology, Obama’s face gets close. It proves them wrong about what America is in ways no words can. "
Yes, it can. And just above these words is a small bit of evidence. For a few years during my Jesuit training I worked in the slums of Nairobi, including Kibera, one of the largest and poorest neighborhoods in the world. So when someone sent me this video this morning from East Africa, I was transfixed: these are people from Kibera are cheering for their "native" son, Barack Obama, the son of a man from the Luo peoples, one of the indigenous ethnic groups in the country. (Nearly 85% have names that begin with "O": Odhiambo, Okello, Ochieng...). Listen carefully. At one point a man shouts out the praise for the new president from the "Watu wa Kibera," that is, "People of Kibera!" Today, as reported in The Daily Nation, is a national holiday in Kenya.
And below, the celebrations in Kisumu, near the homeland of Obama’s father:
There is a wonderful Swahili word "Harambee," the motto on the Kenyan coat of arms. Loosely translated it means "working together for a common purpose." It is often shouted out in political rallies and gatherings. Let this election help us all to do just that. Work together for a common purpose. Harambee!
James Martin, SJ