Thursday, 26 May 2011

From Obama to O'bama

Barack Obama takes a seat for an expanded bilateral meeting with David Cameron and other delegates in the cabinet room
fotocredit: Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty
jacked from the Graun

Yesterday Barack Obama addressed both the Houses of Parliament (not this pic) as part of his tour to Europe. David Miliband, former Foreign Secretary, now MP of South Shields tweeted:
"Obama speech came alive talking about diverse societies. But not one non-white person on British establishment side of stage."
Though Miliband is part of the very political establishment he derides, this tweet hit home. It's been really weird, surreal even, watching Britain's political elites and media fawn over the Obamas. On Monday Obama was in Ireland visiting the village where his great great great maternal grandfather is said to have come from. And so Obama, or rather O'bama is now an Irishman. To prove it, the Guardian printed an opinion piece with a headline declaring 'Obama finds his inner Irishman.' And the Irish Times ran an interesting commentary by Gavin O'Malley on the political history of the Irish and Black American communities:
"the African American community responded by providing the votes needed to elect the first Irish Catholic president [John F. Kennedy]. The course of history changed. Black merged green and green merged black. Irish-Americans and African-Americans dropped their hyphens... and once again became one."
For those who don't know much, it's informative, but it tends to recall only the good bits about Ireland's past and seems to leave out the bad bits. Seemingly, its o'kay to leave those bits out, as the most of the UK media has done, because on this occasion it's about celebrating the visit of O'bama the 'Irish' President of America. Balance and a more critical approach, would have been a little embarrassing because as there's been plenty of solidarity, there's also been plenty of oppression too. And though present-day Ireland and America certainly paints a better picture of oneness and a people bound by a common identity, it feels strange, but positive, but also weird to watch O'bama being welcomed with a pint of Guinness and a name change. 


Even more awkward was Wednesday. Obama gave a speech in Westminster during which he mentioned his paternal grandfather: 
"It is possible for the sons and daughters of former colonies to sit here as members of this great parliament and for the grandson of a Kenyan who served as a cook in the British army to stand before you as president of the United States,"
Indeed Obama has proved it is possible for the grandson of a Kenyan cook to become President of USA, but the rapturous applause he got shows the bi-polar nature of parliament - which as David Miliband's tweet above notes, is quite unrepresentative. This is the same institution trying to wriggle out of compensating the Kenyans tortured under British colonial rule because the government is not responsible for what happened in its colonies. Obama ever the diplomat, didn't mention how cruelly the British treated his grandfather, a subject he oddly never mentions much. It's odd that, apart from Libya, the highlights of Obama's speech and general tone has been one of acknowledging migrant histories and the benefits of multiculturalism and yet this government believes in 'muscular multiculturalism' and ridiculously proposes no right of appeal on visa rejections. And now that immigration figures have just been released showing an increase in migrants coming on, one can expect to see the right hit the panic button and call for tougher immigration controls. So what was parliament clapping for or was it just the lily-livered lefties?

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