Barack Obama’s inauguration as president of the United States is “a giant leap for the black race,” said Michael John in Nigeria’s Daily Independent. For centuries, since the beginning of colonialism, the English language has used the word “black” to denote evil. We call a bad person the “black sheep” of a group, and we say extortionists are practicing “blackmail.” When the stock market falls, we call the day “Black Friday.” Yet now a black man inhabits the seat of world power, the White House. Other world leaders will find themselves deferring to a black man instead of the other way around. This could be “the ‘blackout’ for white prejudice.”
But don’t forget, Obama isn’t 100 percent black, said Sandile Memela in South Africa’s Mail & Guardian. He’s half white—what we in South Africa call mixed-race or “colored.” It may “sound a bit racist to attach this racial epithet” to America’s president. But we live in a racist world, and America is still a racist country—even among its black population. “There is intra-racism determined, largely, by complexion and class in black American society.” Light-skinned blacks find it easier to succeed than do their darker brethren. Some prefer to pass for white. History is “littered with many colored who have, suddenly, changed sides as soon as they have tasted the juicy fruits of white privilege.” Will Obama be like them? Or will he be a voice for blacks across the world, particularly here in Africa?
Neither, said Desie Heita in Namibia’s New Era. Obama was not elected either because of or in spite of his color. Africans have been celebrating his victory as if it were their vicarious “triumph over the white colonial dispensation.” But it’s time we woke up to “the painful truth that Obama is first and foremost an American, with a black skin.” His policy toward Africa is unlikely to differ much from that of his predecessor, George W. Bush. In fact, the only country that is likely to notice any improvement is Kenya, which will probably make money off American tourists who want to see Obama’s ancestral village.
That’s just as well, said Azore Opio in Cameroon’s The Post. We Africans need to learn to “stop begging.” As soon as one of our own clan achieves any position of power, we besiege him with requests for favors. Obama is lucky that he lives in America, where kinship stops with the immediate family. “If he were in Africa, you would be sure that hundreds of ‘relatives’ would have already pitched camp close to the State House, while others would have dispatched thousands of letters introducing themselves as one relation or the other.” As leader of America, Obama has a full plate that includes two wars, a financial meltdown, and enemies that strive for nuclear arms. His engagement with Africa “will only be like dessert—optional.”