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The Rediff Interview/Jann Marie Hodge

'Obama didn't win for being black, but for being the best man'

January 19, 2009

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Jann Marie Hodge, an African American professional, holds a bachelor's degree in nursing and a master's in business administration. She is a case worker at the Children's Hospital in Denver, Colorado. She is also one of the thousands of African Americans who have come from all over the country to witness Barack Obama's [Images] historical swearing in as the nation's first black president on January 20.

In an interview with Rediff India Abroad's Aziz Haniffa, Hodge, 43, explains what Obama's victory means to her and the African American community.

Why did you travel all the way from Denver to attend the inauguration?

I am here primarily because me and many other volunteers have worked so hard to make this day come to fruition. We've sacrificed our weekends and week nights to attend neighborhood organisational meetings, lost hours of sleep worrying about whether or not we will be successful, and many of us used our lunch hours to make calls, organise, and strategise.

We've dedicated many hours and walked many miles going from door to door, park to park, neighbourhood to neighbourhood, county jail and city jails, educating and encouraging strangers, friends, neighbours, ex-cons, and co-workers, young, old and middle aged, Democrat, Republican and Independent, gay and straight; black, white, red, yellow and every shade in between to register and to get out to vote.

Even though I may not even get a glimpse of President-elect Obama taking the oath of office, I'm here because this is my day too -- I own this victory; it belongs to everyone who worked to make this happen.

What do you feel about the fact that Obama doesn't shy away from his blackness even though he was born to a white woman from Kansas and a Kenyan father, and raised by white grandparents?

The fact that President Obama embraces his blackness, despite being raised by his white family, speaks volumes. Here's a man who could have easily married a white woman, turned his back on the black community and immersed himself in white America.

In many ways this would have been an easier road to follow. It's my opinion that many black men and other men of colour make this choice in order to feel more accepted at work and within the American society.

It gives them a feeling of credibility and vitality that they may not feel if they were to fully embrace their own African-American communities. It takes an incredible strength of will, and a clear sense of self to overcome the pressure to conform, forget and abandon our blackness, and because Obama didn't fall into the either/or trap, I have the utmost respect for him.

The media has made much of the fact that Barack is married to a highly accomplished and well-educated professional black woman. What do you think would have happened had he been married to a white woman? Could he still have achieved what he has achieved today?

I have to be honest and say that if Barack had been married to a white woman, I don't think I would have voted for him. His credibility as a black man, who is in a position to be a role model for the black community, and more importantly for black youth, would have been irreparably damaged.

Many black women that I've spoken to feel the same way as I do. Could we have accepted a black man a President who would have chosen anyone but a woman of colour as his life partner? What kind of message would this send to our youth? Sure, a black man can be President, but a black woman is not good enough for him? Me and many other black people would have rejected this notion.

What do you think of Michelle Obama [Images] as a role model to the African American community?

Thank God... thank God for Michelle Obama. Without this beautiful black woman at his side, Barack Obama may not have won the black vote, and therefore could have very well lost the Presidential race.

What a wonderful role model we have in Michelle for our black children. She's the entire package... brilliant, beautiful, strong, successful, classy, a wonderful wife and mother. She embodies all that a young black woman has the potential to be.

Most importantly, Michelle does not strike me as the type of woman who will allow herself to be lost in this process, or bent by the pressures of society to be anybody other than who she is.

Do you believe that Barack's major speech on race -- in the aftermath of the controversy about his now former pastor's comments against America and white people that threatened to torpedo his campaign -- was a significant turning point?

I was really encouraged to hear Barack's speech on race. He spoke so honestly and eloquently about the racial fears, stereotypes and misconceptions that have enslaved all Americans and kept this country from reaching its full potential for hundreds of years.

To our credit, there has been an almost palpable change in the black community since Obama announced his candidacy and won the race for the Presidency.

There is a energy in the air that wasn't there before; there's a spark and a light now that was previously missing. I look around and I see a change in the way we carry ourselves, the way we speak to each other and treat each other.

When I would approach young black men or woman to ask if they were registered to vote, instead of getting 'yeah' or 'naw I ain't', it was 'yes maam' or 'no maam' and 'Thank You for asking.'

I watch black mothers and fathers with their children and they seem more willing to teach and redirect their children rather than lose patience. Even the relationship between blacks and whites has changed.

I myself have been forced to abandon many of my own stereotypes and misconceptions about white people. I've been blessed enough to have had spirited conversations and philosophical debates with people I wouldn't even have made eye contact with before.

Americans are more open, more polite and more helpful to each other. Blacks and whites are making eye contact without unfounded hostility. We're smiling and speaking to each other at the grocery store, the gas station, at work and at school.

Are you concerned that there is a media bias or a patronising attitude which particularly the conservative white media takes when it comes to recognising the merit of African American leaders, particularly of the new generation, so manifested by Barack Obama?

The media, with their self-centered, self-serving, insatiable appetite to boost their own ratings, has the potential to divide us and stymie progress rather than foster it. I am growing weary of the media's overblown emphasis on Obama being the first black President of the United States.

I'm black and even I'm sick of hearing it. I don't want this American victory to be minimised to a black victory alone. He didn't win because he is black.

Obama won because he is clearly the best person for the job. He gives Americans from all walks of life hope for the future. Through him, our credibility as Americans has been redeemed in the eyes of the world.

He embodies the definition of a transformational leader -- one who can inspire and one who will bring about major positive changes.

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