Dream come true

2009-01-21 00:00

On August 28, 1963, standing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC., Martin Luther King Jnr delivered what is now known as the “I have a dream” speech, in which he spoke out against the “manacles of segregation” and the “chains of discrimination”. Central to his dream was his longing for his own children to grow up to be judged, not “by the colour of their skin, but by the content of their character”.

During the inauguration of President Barack Obama yesterday — nearly half a century after that iconic speech was made — many Americans believed that King’s dream was, at least symbolically, being realised. For, as became clear during the presidential campaign, the choice of Obama was not colour-driven or based on his cultural or social background, but made in recognition of “the content of his character”, his personal qualities, his vision and the values he holds dear. For that reason it was momentous, breaking the age-old Wasp-ish tradition of the United States presidency, and showing the world that the U.S. has come of age socially and politically. It’s a reminder, too, of the inherent greatness of the U.S., the first nation bold enough to break the “shackles” and “manacles” of prejudice and discrimination once and for all.

Of course, Obama faces immense challenges. He now has charge of a nation in serious financial turmoil, committed to two wars and beset with the continuing threat of terrorist attacks. Further, he has the task of restoring the status of the U.S. in the world — severely damaged by the policies of George W. Bush — and of accomplishing this without diminishing national security: not easy when a major part of the job entails the dismantling of the apparatus of war. And it must not be forgotten that he, more than any president before him, will be viewed as a target by those eager to disrupt or shatter the “dream”, whether individuals within the country, or elsewhere, who are bent on destabilising the richest and most powerful nation in the world.

Inevitably, as he gets to grips with his huge responsibilities, Obama’s persona will shrink, and he’ll show himself as fallibly human. For now, his election and inauguration remind us of how much we need inclusivity and co-operation instead of festering animosity. Let us hope that this particular message is one the Obama presidency will persistently and consistently send to the world at large.

Let us hope also that everyone everywhere will come to accept that the dream of a better life for all can best be fulfilled by emphasis on competence, integrity and character, and not on colour or cultural or religious or racial differences.

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