President Obama’s inauguration impacts us too, writes Patrick Vernon


I do believe that the effect of Barack Obama’s 2012 Presidential victory and his inauguration will have a major impact on current and potential development of black politicians and community activism in Britain over the next few years leading up to the 2015 General Election.

This victory in many ways is more important and successful than 2008 since there has been a systematic campaign by the Tea Party and the right in America to use social media and negative campaigning to dehumanise and vilify him. However, Obama rose above this and has defied all the odds in becoming the 16th President to serve two terms.

Young people can now see that it is a realistic proposition that we can have our own Black Prime Minster in their life time in Britain. In Hackney and elsewhere I meet young people who can relate to Obama and the history of the American civil rights movement. That is not surprising, for some reason American civil rights history is in our national curriculum but our own history of black struggle and fighting the “colour bar’ has been generally omitted. The history of the Windrush Generation is relegated to events which take place every ten years. That is why we need to campaign not only for Mary Seacole and Olaudah Equiano to kept in the national curriculum but we need to have additional historical figures like Septimus Severus a Roman Emperor who was the equivalent of a Prime Minster back in AD 200.

However, black activists and politicians are more wary of this optimism for a first 21st century Black Prime Minster. More cautious perceptions are based on personal experiences of racism and sexism in selection processes of political parties and the lack of power sharing at all levels of decision making even where diversity and the black contribution to political debate and leadership are valued. Having a Black Prime Minister could be potentially unlikely as a Black Manager for the English Football Team, Director of Royal Opera House, Director General of the BBC, Doctor Who, James Bond or even M!!

The real lesson from the Obama victory is a sense of collective hope at grass roots and community coalition politics. This was the catalyst for the emergence and development of the Windrush Generation and the rights and privileges that we take for granted today which are now being eroded by the Coalition government.

The Windrush Generation legacy is now under threat as we have not preserved and created the narratives and the lessons for young people today. This is reflected in my documentary A Charmed Life about the life of the late WW2 war veteran Eddie Martin Noble and the history of the Windrush Generation.

I question whether my generation have not done enough to pass on this legacy of political and community campaigning from the 1950s to the 1990s. I also believe that the Windrush Generation must also equally take their share of the responsibility as they still hold on to their power, status and knowledge. They have not briefed us or shared and given us the leadership opportunities. Perhaps they didn’t have the confidence, mutual respect or dialogue to pass on the baton, sometimes until their deathbeds, so that their children could feel empowered. Inter-generational learning is necessary as is creating sustainable political agendas for all generations.

That is why Barack Obama’s inauguration and the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr. ‘I Have a Dream’ speech has the capacity to restored and energised our self-belief and confidence in our humanity that we can achieve despite the challenges that we face as a community at a personal, national and international level.

2013 has to be our year that we put our differences (whether what part of the Caribbean or Africa you are from or even post code!!) a side and work together to influence challenge and advocate for a better quality of life in our schools, hospitals, employment opportunities, and housing conditions etc.

The campaign for Mary Seacole and Olaudah Equiano for them to remain on the national curriculum has generated not only public outrage with over 33,000 people signing the Operation Black Vote petition but has led to our own ‘Yes We Can’ mood and feel for campaigning on race equality and social justice.

Just imagine if we could covert this energy and passion to influence the selection of more black and minority ethnic candidates along with deciding who gets elected as MPs, MEPs and Councillors over the next two years.

Let’s celebrate Obama’s inauguration ceremony but also let starting planning for a better tomorrow and legacy for our children and grandchildren.

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