By Osa Amadi
Barack Obama’s A Promised Land, due for release tomorrow, November 17, 2020, can be viewed as a continuation of the story that began in Alex Haley’s Roots (we all remember Kunta Kinte) where white vandals, in connivance with some black people as they still exist till today, broke into Africa, raped and carried away black people to the United States of America, planted them in the soil and continued the raping and killings until, like the biblical Joseph in Egypt, God led the black man into the White House. And then, the vandals, pushed to the fringes by a big coalition of blacks and white people of conscience, could not, and still cannot take it.
The 768-page memoir, published by Crown, is the first of a two volumes that Obama has written based on his tenure as President of the United States from 2009 to 2017.
Written and probably targeted to be released at a significant juncture in the political history of the United States, Obama, according to CNN, says in the anxiously awaited memoir that “Americans, spooked by black man in White House, led to Trump presidency.”
The word ‘spooked’ means to be startled, surprised, shocked, alarmed or agitated. “Donald Trump promised an elixir for the racial anxiety of millions of Americans spooked by a black man in the White House…My very presence in the White House triggered a deep-seated panic,” Obama writes in the memoir.
For that reason, many Americans became victims of “the dark spirits that had long been lurking on the edges of the modern Republican party – xenophobia, anti-intellectualism, paranoid conspiracy theories, an antipathy toward black and brown folks”. In reality and in retrospect, those ‘dark spirits’ are not different from those that had possessed and driven the white slave raiders into the jungles of Africa.
That is quite understandable, and to understand it better, one only needs to return in memory to the middle of that forest in Juffure village, The Gambia, in West Africa (in Alex Haley’s Roots, p.143-144) where Kunta Kinte was kidnapped by the forefathers of those ‘Americans (who are now) spooked by black man in White House’ that Obama speaks about in this hilarious memoir
From that classic Roots by Alex Haley, we read how He (Kunta Kinte) was bending over a likely prospect (a choice of a tree he wanted to cut for wood to make a drum for himself) when he heard the sharp crackle of a twig, followed quickly by the squawk of a parrot overhead. It was probably the dog (his dog) returning, he thought in the back of his mind. But no grown dog ever cracked a twig, he flashed whirling in the same instant. In a blur, rushing at him, he saw a white face, a club upraised; heard heavy footfalls behind him. Toubob! White men!
They wrestled Kunta and subdued him, though not without a gallant fight, and brought him to the United States of America and planted him on the soil of America, never to be uprooted, no matter how much the vandals and those “…spooked by black man in the White House” had wished and aspired to do.
That, more or less, was how the black man ironically came to be co-owners of the United States of America, and rightly so too, because USA was build by the blood and wealth of the black man and Africa. The day the kidnapping and raping in the name of slavery started in Africa was the day the journey to the Promised Land which Obama, the Joshua that led the people of God into the Promised Land, speaks about in this memoire.
It has been a tortuous road paved with the blood of black people and a bitter struggle that saw the prevailing of good over evil – the evil of slavery, rape, murder, racism, xenophobia and exploitation. As a Juffure elder had observed in that historically-based novel, “Greed and treason – these are the things toubob (the white man) has given us (the black man) in exchange for those he has stolen away” (Roots, p.118).
The grotesqueness of Donald Trump presidency discussed by Obama in the memoire is perhaps the most fascinating part, coming at a time the world is quietly celebrating the defeat of Donald Trump by Joe Biden in the November 3 US presidential election. Trump’s present embarrassing refusal to concede defeat, his continued baseless claims of electoral fraud against him, and false declaration of himself as winner of the election all bear relationships to Trump’s pathological hatred for Obama’s achievements, best exemplified when he made himself the agent of what has come to be known as the “birther lie” against Obama:
“It was as if my very presence in the White House had triggered a deep-seated panic,” Obama writes, “a sense that the natural order had been disrupted. Which is exactly what Donald Trump understood when he started peddling assertions that I had not been born in the United States and was thus an illegitimate president.”
Between 2011 and 2016, Donald Trump had spread the lie that former President Barack Obama was not a US citizen and therefore not eligible to be president. Obama eventually released his birth certificate which showed he was born in Hawaii, the only Island state of USA located in the Pacific Ocean and in the tropics.
On Thursday, August 13, 2020, Trump started promoting a similar racist lie that Senator Kamala Harris, who is now the Vice President-elect, was not eligible to be vice president because her parents were immigrants. But Kamala Harris, whose parents were Indian and Jamaican immigrants, was actually born in Oakland, California. Under the 14th Amendment, anyone born in the US is a US citizen.
As would be expected, agent Trump did not act alone. People like Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, former House speaker John Boehner, Attorney General William Barr, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and other accomplices had helped Trump to brainwash the 70 million Americans who voted for him in the just concluded presidential election.
“In that sense, there wasn’t much difference between Trump and Boehner or McConnell. They, too, understood that it didn’t matter whether what they said was true … in fact, the only difference between Trump’s style of politics and theirs was Trump’s lack of inhibition,” Obama writes.
They could not stand a Black Presidency. For that reason, Obama chose Biden, his Vice-President, to be his emissary to Mitch McConnell because he was aware “that in McConnell’s mind, negotiations with the Vice-President didn’t inflame the Republican base in quite the same way that any appearance of co-operation with (black, Muslim socialist) Obama was bound to do,” Obama writes.
In Peter Bergen’s “A Promised Land: What happened on the way to Obama’s ‘Promised Land”, Bergen writes that “Trump hangs over Obama’s moving, beautifully written memoir of his first three years in office like an onrushing train that both the reader and author know is hurtling down the tracks to collide with what Obama hoped to achieve.”
Obama writes that he was trying to “see if we can actually live up to the meaning of our creed” and to continue the work-in-progress of making a more perfect, racially equitable “promised land” that has already produced “Thomas Edison and the Wright brothers…Jackie Robinson…Chuck Berry and Bob Dylan, Billie Holliday…Lincoln at Gettysburg.”
In A Promised Land, Obama describes his early political career as a senator in Illinois, his “time as a junior US senator and his first idealistic run for the presidency.” Obama contested against Senator Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primary and Senator John McCain in the general election.”
Obama’s memoire also tells of Sarah Palin, McCain’s 2008 running mate. He calls Palin a ‘proto-Trump’. As Trump had falsely accused Obama of not being born in US, Palin had also accused Obama of “palling around with terrorists.”
It breaks Obama’s heart that his mother died of cancer in 1995 and he was not at her bedside in Hawaii because he was running for Illinois state senate. “Me not there,” writes Obama, “so busy with my grand pursuits. I know I could never get that moment back. On top of my sorrow, I felt great shame.”
Obama also talks about his two children, Sasha and Malia, and the failure that is usually an integral part of success when he lost his race for a US House seat in Illinois in year 2000.
“A Promised Land” also discusses the greatest risk Obama took as the President of United States: the operation to bring bin Laden to justice. According to him, “I was likely to end up a one-term president if I got it wrong.”
Obama writes in the memoire that Biden, now the President-elect who at that time was the Vice-President “also advised against the raid option, given the enormous consequences of failure. “The fact that it was a 50-50 call if bin Laden was even at the compound in Pakistan still made it the best bet to find the al-Qaeda’s leader since he had disappeared in the months after 9/11,” writes Bergen.
Thanks to God; the operation was successful.
To have a sense of how hot and important the Obama’s memoire is, the publishing giant, Penguin Random House, was reported to have paid Obama and his wife, Michelle, a sum of $65m for books about their time in the White House. Michelle’s memoir titled “Becoming” was published in 2018.
At a trying moment when Obama had doubted his own ability and timing to lead the way into the Promised Land, Ted Kennedy reportedly told him: “You don’t choose the time. The time chooses you.”
“If Kennedy’s words suggest a sense of destiny,” Bergen writes, “it isn’t clear how much Obama himself wants it. He is a conflicted and sometimes reluctant participant in politics, a man who feels increasingly lonely as the size of his crowds swells, an unlikely leader with both a bohemian distrust of established politics and a realist’s resignation to it.”
Bergen also describes in few sentences how Obama was catapulted into the presidency: “He attended the Democratic National Convention in 2000, invited by a friend, his fortune in tatters, unable to rent a car because his credit card was maxed out, barred from the convention floor because his credential was too low-rank. And then four years later he gave the keynote speech that ultimately propelled him to the presidency.”
All said and done, Barrack Obama is under no illusion that the battle is over: “But I also know that no single election will settle the matter. Our divisions run deep; our challenges are daunting.”