AMERICAN president Barrack Obama fought a deep psychological battle from when he first learnt to consciously discern things.
Mostly unknown to his white mother and grandparents with whom he lived, and his distant black Kenyan father who visited him only once in life, Obama recognised his parent’s colour difference early on.
From physical colour, he also learnt of the deeper psychological dividing line between his own brown colour, his mother’s milk whiteness and his father’s jet black colour and the curious hatred engendered by humankind over millennia for no known cause other than colour itself.
He grew up in beautiful Hawaii where colour difference is not as stark or as hate-filled as in America’s Deep South when he was growing up in the 1960s. But it was there in the flesh – on any day, basking along with the holiday mob on Waikiki beach, on the street or at the school grounds.
His mother remarried and for a time, he was forced to live in Indonesia in the home of his stepfather and witnessed political oppression and the squalour of extreme poverty in that land.
Although that left an indelible imprint upon his psyche, it did not move him as much as the struggles between the race of his father and that of his mother and the ground zero in between that folks like himself were forced to walk on.
He was terrified of it at first, then tried to distance himself from it, to pretend it was not there at all or that if it was, it would not affect him, then join forces with one or the other side to do battle but try as he might, he could not shake it off.
He tried alcohol and some drugs but no matter how high these things got him, he always landed and there, waiting to pounce on him the minute he emerged from the alcohol or drug-induced haze, was the colour animal – sometimes teasing, downright insulting at other times and sometimes just subtle nuances, but it was always there.
He carried it too deep in his genes to get rid of it. He had to live with it. And so he did. He walked it, worked it, slept with it and woke with it.
And he became the master of the animal.
It is certain that the hurts are way too deep for him to get rid of entirely.
In that part of the president that no man can cross, in the twilight between sleep and wakefulness occupied by him alone, there lurks the colour thing – we suspect. Even the presidency and the power that it carries are not sufficient to completely wipe that particular slate clean forever.
That he has tamed and leashed the colour animal is a lesson for us all. That alone is the reason he occupies the White House today.
And his advancing to that coveted throne is an important milestone, perhaps the single most significant milestone in the history of the colour struggle not just in America but the world over.
We take hope in that achievement but the far greater lesson is the how he got there, how Barrack Obama has doggedly weaved his way past all of America’s colour prejudices and other discriminatory practices to achieve the highest post in the entire world. It stands as a shining beacon for all to take encouragement from, to dream on and to aspire to.
Many people hear the description – “first black president” – and immediately think Obama is a descendant of a slave forbearer. He is not. He is the son of a freeman, a Kenyan, who won a scholarship to Harvard, and an American white mother.
He is a first generation African-American and were it not for an accident of circumstances surrounding his parents, he might now be languishing in Kenya as a citizen there, the cares of America, the worries of the presidency and the security of the world, not an iota of his concern.
But fate intervened. His father chose Harvard over another university where he could have brought his son and wife and there the gate on the road to Kenya shut on young Obama and the other, on the longer road to the presidency of the United States of America opened.
Obama fought mostly himself. The lesson he learnt is that the prejudices, the injustices, the discrimination, the little opportunities and life’s unfair circumstances that we see out there affect us only if we allow them to.
When we stand up to them, when we reflect on them and expunge ourselves of unnecessary hurts and inferiority complexes, that is when we win.
That is the example we ought to follow, every one of us, high and low, old and young, man and woman.