Liam points out, quite correctly, much of the media and the BBC in particular going orgasmic over Barack O’Bama’s election. At this point in time you sort of wish Edward Said was still alive, and wonder whether he would describe this as an Orientalist love affair.
But it’s clear that everybody wants a piece of the president-elect. Gordon Brown is dying for a photocall, in the hope that some of the stardust will rub off. Brian Cowen wants O’Bama to visit Ireland, to get in touch with his ancestral heritage. I believe the Kenyans have a similar idea in mind. I was also quite touched by seeing the celebrations by the citizens of Obama, Japan. It reminded me of that (possibly apocryphal) story about Palestinians cheering Gazza’s footballing exploits.
Of course, there’s also been the suggestion that the New Messiah should visit the North in order to boost the peace process. Honestly, these American presidents are like buses. We don’t get one here for 200 years, then you can’t move for the buggers. I also notice the SDLP trying to dine out on the claim that their man has won. This is based on the somewhat tendentious idea that both O’Bama and the SDLP are the modern manifestations of Dr King’s civil rights politics.
But back to the BBC. Yesterday, the O’Bama story took up approximately 70% of the day’s bulletins. There was one other major story, which was Lewis Hamilton’s homecoming to the McLaren team. Actually, the two stories were explicitly linked, with copious references to the first black US president and the first black Formula 1 champion. Hamilton himself even went so far as to name-check O’Bama as an inspirational figure. And in fact they do look a little alike, so at some points it was hard to tell where one story stopped and the other started.
Now then. I’m not a follower of Formula 1 and so don’t have any strong feelings about Hamilton or any of its other denizens, although I did used to think Schumi would look well at the helm of a U-boat. Most of the hype has passed me by. I also take with just a pinch of salt the claim that Hamilton is going to be Britain’s first sporting billionaire – Tiger Woods, who’s been around a long time, hasn’t quite made that cut, and if what Max Mosley says about F1’s financial bubble is true, the sport is heading for a serious crash. But still, he’s famous, wealthy, lauded and he’s at the top of the world in doing something he loves. Fair enough.
What has struck me is the frequent reference to Hamilton as a role model for young black men. It’s not quite the burden of expectations borne by O’Bama, but it does seem that any halfway presentable young black man who achieves prominence in Britain ends up being hailed as a role model who can steer young black men away from knives and drugs. It helps, I suppose, that Hamilton, like O’Bama, isn’t all that black – and I’m not referring here to his mixed-race background as such, but more to the fact that he hasn’t grown up surrounded by black street culture. He doesn’t wear chav clothing and say “innit” all the time. A lot of the praise of Hamilton centres around how nice and polite and well-spoken he is. And just as the US electorate haven’t just sent Chuck D to the White House, he doesn’t show any signs of being uppity like, say, Linford was.
In short, he’s just the sort of young black man who middle-class white suburbanites can take to their hearts, because really he isn’t too far from being one of their own. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with that, of course. But what it has to do with gangs and knife crime beats me. I say, let the young lad enjoy his success and don’t burden him with having to be a poster boy for some Daily Mail view of what black folks should be like. That won’t do anybody any good at all.