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Thursday, January 29, 2009

Black Jesus, modified

I heard about an interesting article on Time regarding Obama and the Messianic reaction of so many Americans to his ascendancy to the most powerful office on the planet. It's an interesting piece, as it turns some of the prevailing talking head chatter sideways.

The point of article is that President Obama will not be liberating African-Americans from a psychology of defeatism. Instead, President Obama represents the emergent self-help attitude of African-Americans, and will liberate the rest of the world from their perception that African-Americans are self-defeating.

Two things strike me on this.

First, I don't think the self-help attitude is limited to the African-American experience. In my experience, immigrants to most any land, much less here in the US, try to move beyond their past, try whatever is possible to succeed, and demonstrate less willingness to rely on not-very-understanding governments. Obviously, there are many exceptions, as I'm merely talking about my own personal experiences. But if that self-help attitude is one that helped propel Obama to national spotlight, then I think one cannot avoid the issues of immigration.

"Barry" grew up with a "weird" name, son of an immigrant to this country and of an immigrant to a Pacific island state. He lived abroad for several years as a child. These were just as material to his character as his combined ethnicities. And if you look at his relatives, that's as diverse a potpourri of ethnicities and religions as it comes. As such, the rest of the world should learn not just what African-Americans can bring to the table, but what immigrants can as well. (And, I'm not talking the wait staff).

So, I'm not rejecting the article's notion, just expanding upon it.

Secondly, I do consider the concept of a Messiah to be important here. It's not that Barack Obama is a black Jesus per se. It's that so many people have tagged him as someone who can save us from international ostracism, who can mend the national moral fabric, who can guide us out of our economic wretchedness - - that's what is so striking in its extensiveness.

Let's face it. Many have had a deep need for a modern, secular, economic, political Messiah.

I saw it all around me in 2008. "So-and-so will fix things finally". "Someone come please clean up this mess". It's so biblical in sound.

Did we get the Messiah? No.
Did we get a Black Jesus? No.
Did we get someone who quenches our hunger for someone who can save us?

Perhaps. I was moved by the emotions leading up to and culminating in the Presidential inauguration. So many in the country have invested in Barack Obama from their hearts (because there's not much left to invest from the wallet), that one cannot help but see that we've assigned our need for a savior to him and to his administration.

But Obama isn't Jesus. He's just someone who befits the zeitgeist. We're in a mood to end the moral squalor of the past few years and a bombastic "bring it on" administration. Obama isn't the Righteous One, but if he'll just act like one for a spell, I think that many in this country is willing to go along with the casting.

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