To clarify the intention of the post “Messaoud Boulkheir: the real Obama story,” it is necessary to witness this occurrence, brought to this blogger’s attention by a reader: at a recent rally, Boulkheir was incapable of finishing a speech, overcome with emotion at the spirit with which his Moorish countrymen have embraced his campaign. He welled up with tears, as supporters chanted “Obama! Obama!” and he told the crowd:
لم أكن أظن يوما في حياتي أن الشعب الموريتاني يمكنه أن يقبلني فردا منه فبالأحرى رئيسا له..إنك شعب عظيم وأقدم اعتذاري لك
[. . .]
إن كنت يوما قد دعوة ضد العبودية في موريتانيا فإني بعد هذا اليوم، وهذا الحضور أهب نفسي عبدا لهذا الشعب العظيم
I did not think for one day in my life that the Mauritanian people would accept me as an individual, let alone as their president . . . I apologize to you great people, to this great people.
[. . .]
Daily I stood for the end of slavery in Mauritania and after this day I can say at this occasion that I am a slave of this great people.
He repeated this last line over and over until he shattered into tears. This is the sort of thing for hyperbolic history books and nationalist tracts (except that it is real). Still, the previous assessment stands in light of this incident: he will not be president. The commentary on the Taqadoumy article is generally sympathetic, but is also evidence of the folly of crying in public in Mauritania: readers wonder, Why does he cry so often? If he can’t get through a speech, what will he do in office?
The main purpose was to tell Boulkheir’s story, but secondarily also to poke fun at the euphoria and melodrama many have attached to the Obama presidency in terms that are flatly ahistorical and ignore the realities of the African American community, falling into the trap of political myth-making and exaggeration. It is indeed “historic” to see the first black president of the United States. It is also unfortunate to ignore the fact that President Obama is not a descendant of American slaves, whilst highlighting that he is the son of a white woman and a Kenyan student.
This is not intended whatsoever to rain on anybody’s parade, to “detract” from the good feelings many African Americans, whites and others feel about his election. Rather it is simply to note that in historical terms it will be, in this writer’s view, more momentous to see the American electorate elevate a man or woman descended from black African slaves than a biracial man who appropriated that culture to himself in his young adulthood; for historical reasons, not political ones. The social construction of blackness in America, and the politics of those who defend it rather staunchly, make such questions seem irrelevant or impolitic. That it was Obama and not some other African American says much both good and bad about where America stands in terms of race relations, and confirms a body of research in recent social science regarding differences in terms of white perceptions of African immigrants and American blacks (There is a fine chapter in this volume addressing this.) Unfortunately, it is still the case that what happens in daily life is vastly different from what is broadcast on television. But in this element, there are elements of strong comparison and deep contrast between the candidacies of Boulkheir and Obama. What is sure is that it is too soon to tell what their true significance will be for either of their countries. This but a digression. Back to the Maghreb.